Versatility Opens Up Play Book For No Huddle Offense

Every offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks about a no huddle offense that never actually comes to fruition in the way he would like by the time the games start to matter.

Scott Kacsmar for Football Outsiders even took the liberty of collecting snippets over the years on the subject of what he calls “Big Ben’s Groundhog Day”.

But it seems as though Roethlisberger may have finally woken up to find the tomorrow he’s been looking for last season when the Steelers actually began to run the no huddle more frequently during the second half of the season.

By Mark Kaboly’s numbers, the Steelers ran approximately 250 or so plays out of the no huddle in 2013. Roethlisberger completed 102 of 163 passes for 1221 yards and 10 touchdowns out of the no huddle, while the team also ran the ball on 76 occasions.

Whether or not the 11th-year quarterback gets to wake up to the day after tomorrow in 2014, in which the no huddle is a regular part of the offense, remains to be seen. As is the annual tradition, however, there has been plenty of talk about it.

The Steelers have reportedly been working on installing aspects of the no huddle earlier and more frequently than they have in the past, in large part due to the fact that they have had to replace two-thirds of the top end of their wide receiver depth chart.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the team’s efforts to make the no huddle a more viable option, however, is in their attempts to maximize the versatility of a pair of young players that can add a variety of offensive looks without swapping personnel.

Those two—rookie Dri Archer and third-year Will Johnson—enter this season set to take on dual roles and responsibilities in the offense.

As I wrote about yesterday, Johnson, who spent his first two years almost exclusively lined up as a fullback in the backfield, has temporarily been moved to the tight end meeting rooms rather in order to help hone his skills as an in-line blocker, which is also something that his predecessor, David Johnson, had to learn.

The Steelers almost exclusively ran some variation of the ‘11’ personnel package in the no huddle last year, which includes three wide receivers on the field. Getting Johnson some reps as an in-line blocker will help get him on the field in no huddle situations and, due to his receiving ability, will help disguise whether the coming play is a run or a pass.

Archer, meanwhile, has been attending meetings with both the running backs and the wide receivers. The 5’8”, 173-pounder did plenty of both during his college career, and he will be expected to do the same with the Steelers.

Both Archer and Johnson can line up either in the backfield or along the line. They could shift from one position to the other pre-snap—perhaps both on the same play. That could certainly help catch the defense in a misalignment.

One of the primary concerns with the no huddle that this versatility could help alleviate is the difficulty of swapping personnel while running it.

With players such as Archer and Johnson that can factor into both the running game and the passing game, the latter as both a blocker and a receiving option, Roethlisberger can command greater flexibility when choosing a play at the line of scrimmage.

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