It’s quite rare that your football team is ever going to have an offensive coordinator who is actually popular and well-liked. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Matt Canada has delivered far below average results through a season and a half in the chair, he is not alone in receiving the ire of his team’s fanbase.
Why, they ask, can’t they go back to the way it was in the old days when the quarterbacks used to call their own plays? Well, sometimes they do, if a team has a quarterback who is capable of doing that. Former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his Footbahlin podcast yesterday that he would often call 98-99 percent of the plays when they were in the no-huddle, which he often favored. He explained why he liked calling his own plays so much, describing it as a chess match.
“The difference when the quarterback is calling it, it’s less guesswork and it’s more what I see”, he said, contrasting it to how coaches on the sideline call in plays. “So now I’m not guessing what the defense might be doing. I’m calling something off of what I’m seeing the defense doing. So you can get yourself in a better play because you’re actually seeing it and you can predict it a little bit better”.
One very important distinction between a coach on the sideline calling plays and a player on the field calling plays is the simple logistical, technological reality of it.
The earpiece in the headset gets cut off when the play clock gets down to 15 seconds, so the offensive coordinator can’t even communicate with the quarterback after that. So anything the quarterback sees with his own eyes beyond that point, he has to adjust to on his own.
“I enjoyed doing that because I enjoyed having the freedom to call whatever”, he went on. I” enjoyed feeling it out on the field, like, ‘Okay, so-and-so has a hot hand, one of our receivers, he’s feeling it right now, I’m getting him the ball whenever I can’. Or maybe the line’s a little bit tired. Maybe I need to get the ball out quick, or maybe I need to run a boot or naked where I can get out of the pocket and they don’t have to block as long. Maybe they’re telling me, ‘Hey Ben, the d-line is gassed, we need to just pound them right now’”.
Now, the helmet with the green dot only has one-day communication. There’s an earpiece. Not a microphone. That means a quarterback, at least verbally, can’t communicate those ideas like ‘throw to the hot hand’ or ‘call bootlegs’ or ‘call runs, the d-line is gasping for air’.
Roethlisberger also said that it took him years to learn the offense and the defense well enough to be able to comfortably and confidently call plays the way that he would later in his career. It’s not something that you would expect, for example, rookie Kenny Pickett to be able to handle to the same extent.