Ben Roethlisberger would like to clarify something. Pittsburgh’s new ”no-huddle” offense doesn’t mean ”no rules.” Nor is it an invitation for the quarterback to turn every snap into a chance to chuck it deep.
”People need to realize that just because we’re in the no-huddle and we’re calling the plays doesn’t mean I’m calling all passes,” Roethlisberger said.
Until the Steelers were forced into catch-up mode late in last Sunday’s 31-19 loss to Denver, Roethlisberger mixed it up pretty evenly. The Steelers ran 26 times in all, most of them coming on plays Roethlisberger called at the line of scrimmage.
The no-huddle look is one favored by offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who believes it allows the offense to get into a rhythm. Pittsburgh looked in sync for long stretches in the middle of the game, putting together a pair of lengthy scoring drives that kept Denver quarterback Peyton Manning on the sideline.
The Steelers held the ball for more than 35 minutes as Roethlisberger stayed patient even with the Broncos taking away the deep ball.
”We did a lot of good things,” Haley said. ”Obviously, we didn’t do enough good things, but the fact that we were able to control the football and hang onto it for a long time was good.”
So was Roethlisberger’s mastery of the playbook. The quarterback likened Haley’s system to learning a whole new language during the offseason and was less than thrilled with having good friend Bruce Arians shown the door.
Still, he appeared at ease until the final moments against the Broncos, when a late interception return for a score and a 12-point deficit allowed Denver to blitz heavily. Roethlisberger brushed aside three late sacks, saying they had more to do with the game situation than poor protection.
While he would have preferred to come out of Denver with a win, things could have been worse. The Steelers were efficient, converting 11 of 19 third downs, and looked miles ahead of where they were in the 2011 opener, when rival Baltimore overwhelmed them in a 35-7 whipping.
Haley saw how effective Roethlisberger was in the no huddle he opted to give his quarterback some room.
”We had a specific plan, to get to it early, and as we had success we chose to stay in it,” Haley said. ”So, that took us out of some other things that we wanted to do, but … we were out there 15, 16 plays, so I thought we did a good job of wearing down their defense.”
Don’t confuse the ”no huddle” with the hurry up. Roethlisberger took his time at the line, doing his best Peyton Manning impression as he gestured to get his teammates in the right position and bark out signals. Often he wouldn’t get the snap until the play clock was dangerously close to zero, just as he would if the team had huddled first.
The Steelers also committed three false start penalties, though that was largely due to the hostile environment in Denver.
They’re the kind of mistakes Pittsburgh would like to clean up on Sunday against the New York Jets (1-0). Quieter working conditions at home should help, though don’t expect the Steelers to go no-huddle all the time.
”You have to have a good balance,” Roethlisberger said. ”There’s times that there are plays that are not in the no-huddle that we have to run. Whether it’s certain play-action plays, short yardage plays, or trick plays, things like that. I think we’re good when we do it so I think we could have a good balance of doing it.”
Even if the offense could use a little better balance between the run and the pass. The Steelers averaged just 2.9 yards on 26 carries in Denver and Isaac Redman couldn’t get started while taking most of his handoffs while lining up next to Roethlisberger in the shotgun.
Redman, who rolled up 121 yards while working out of a regular huddle in a playoff loss to Denver last January, had 20 yards on 11 carries in the opener. Backup Jonathan Dwyer’s quickness was a bit more effective in similar situations, rushing for 43 yards and adding a pair of receptions.
There’s a chance injured starter Rashard Mendenhall could make his season debut. Mendenhall tore the ACL in his right knee in the 2011 regular season finale against Cleveland. He underwent knee surgery in January and was a full participant in practice on Thursday.
Haley demurred to coach Mike Tomlin when it came to Mendenhall’s availability, but added ”every day he looks better to me.” Mendenhall’s return would give Roethlisberger another dangerous option in an offense that may be the best he’s had in his career regardless of how, or who, calls the plays.
”This offense and the players we’ve got have big-play potential,” Roethlisberger said. ”We need to keep utilizing that and trying to do the best we can to get those opportunities and connect when we do call them.”