It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the way in which a quarterback frames something may be different than the manner in which his coaches might decide to frame it. Following Sunday’s victory against the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger characterized the style of offense that they ran in the second half of the game as backyard football.
In so many words, he said that they were making up plays on the fly. Head coach Mike Tomlin would not characterize it that way. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner gave a more nuanced answer that, I think, paints a clearer picture of exactly what that process looks like.
If you were watching the game on Sunday, you probably noticed that Roethlisberger would walk over to one side and yell a word or phrase to the receivers on that side. He might do the same on the other side; he might not. Of course, one word or phrase does not give three players distinct routes, combinations, and strategies ‘on the fly’. It’s ‘fostered’, in Fichtner’s words.
What Roethlisberger is doing in these instances is signaling a route concept to that side of the field, which involves multiple players running complementary routes in combination with one another. He is not giving three players unique, individual assignments. And it stems from the work that they do in practice.
“You have to devote it”, Fichtner said of having time to work on running a no-huddle offense. “Mike T does a great job giving us an opportunity once a week to go no huddle versus our own defense, so it’s goods-on-goods if you will. Their 11 versus our 11. They can play whatever they want to play. We can do whatever we want to do, whatever personnel group we choose to do. It’s been fostered, if you will, over time”.
In other words, what you saw on Sunday is roughly reflective of what they see in practice in these no-huddle drills. While it is, in a certain sense, creating an offense on the fly, what it is more accurately is the product of a practice session geared toward building cohesion and comfort in working on the fly, and within trained concepts.
Of course, when you’re the quarterback, it sounds a lot better to say that it was all done on the back of a napkin, even though in his comments he really wasn’t taking credit, per se, for the offense, and instead deferred that to his players.
“We really have solid coaches that coach details and concepts”, Fichtner said. “What may look like a lot when Ben talks to the left side, that would be different than maybe the right side, he’s telling them a two-man combination, a three-man combination and the trust that they all understand their place and timing is supposed to be within that. We do practice a lot”.