No no-huddle? Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers offense adapting to Matt Canada's play calls

PITTSBURGH -- In between postgame assertions that he needed to get better, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped a curious observation about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game plan in the Week 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

They didn’t have a no-huddle offense. Not really.

“We don't really have a no-huddle, it's kind of like our two-minute offense,” said Roethlisberger, answering a question about the up-tempo, 75-yard, seven-play second-quarter scoring drive. “So that was the change-up, just going kind of a two-minute, just pick-it-up type of pace.”

Matt Canada was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in the offseason to revamp an offense that had grown predictable and stale, but reducing a longtime staple of Roethlisberger’s weapons is an unexpected byproduct.

Coach Mike Tomlin insisted that the Steelers still have the option in their season-long playbook, but it simply wasn’t a part of the plan against the Raiders.

“He was probably referencing last week,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “It wasn't in the plan last week. We don't try to limit ourselves in any way. Last week's plan is last week's plan. This week's plan could be this week's plan. That's the mentality that I have, and we have.

“Obviously, you guys who have watched us for any length of time know that we're no-huddle capable.”

Even if the Steelers are no-huddle capable, they’re running it differently this year.

Roethlisberger has the option to use the up-tempo, two-minute offense, but the menu of plays is paired down from the smorgasbord of previous seasons. That partly reflects the newness of the offense, but it’s still a significant change for an instinctual quarterback who previously had greater latitude to take the reins of the offense.

“We don’t have it in the sense of what we’ve had in years past,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “You always have a no-huddle in the sense that you have a two-minute offense, and you’re not huddling in a two-minute offense. In that sense, we have 10 to 12 different plays where in the past maybe we’ve had 50 to 100 plays.

“It’s different, the way we run it. It depends on how you technically define a no-huddle offense.”

The unit seemed to hum best when Roethlisberger went into that two-minute offense with more than nine minutes left in the second quarter. The three-minute drive wasn’t quite as fast as a normal no-huddle would go, but it was a hybrid of sorts. Roethlisberger started with a 13-yard pass to Diontae Johnson followed by a 14-yard run by Najee Harris. Chase Claypool’s failed hurdle on a left end got blown up for a loss of three yards, but two plays later, the offense bounced back for a 41-yard reception by Johnson on third-and-8. After one more run by Harris, JuJu Smith-Schuster found his way into the end zone thanks to a pre-snap motion that bunched the unit into a tight formation and an inside handoff. The drive felt like the perfect marriage of Roethlisberger’s strengths in the up-tempo offense and Canada’s imaginative misdirection and motion.

Yet it wasn’t replicated the rest of the afternoon.

Like his quarterback on Sunday, Canada blamed himself for the loss, taking ownership of the play calls.

“I need to be better,” he said Thursday. “We thought we had matchups, we thought we had things right. I told the offense that. We didn’t win and we’ve gotta do better. We’ve gotta win. That’s all that matters: winning. … We’ve got to put our players in position to make plays. We thought we did that, but we didn’t win so we didn’t do that.”

Roethlisberger appeared to voice some frustration with the play calls after the loss in response to a question about frequently used formations.

“That's what he's calling, what we're going with,” Roethlisberger said. “We got some really good football players that you want to get on the football field. So, if you don't have them out there, they're sitting on the bench doing nothing.”

But during the week, Roethlisberger insisted he’s on the same page with his offensive coordinator.

“Yeah, for sure,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s done a great job. Coaches call plays, players need to execute it. We need to execute better.”

There could be more no-huddle in the future, with Canada affirming, like Tomlin, the presence of no-huddle depends on the individual game plan.

“It’s a week-to-week deal,” Canada said. “Week-to-week, we have different things we wanna do. Again, there's a million things we're trying to get done with our offense with new pieces and young guys and all those things. We'll use that.

“We obviously know Ben’s strengths and certainly try to lean on him between series and do what he wants to do, what he sees, what we see. Ultimately, the things that I chose didn't work well enough for us to win, but we certainly will use that when we think we need to. We'll go from there.”

And if Roethlisberger wants more of the thing that made him so successful throughout his nearly two-decade career?

“Ben and I talk all the time,” Canada said. “If he wants to go, we find ways to do that.”