As the Steelers offense has evolved this season, the unit has come to rely less on the no-huddle approach and more on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger making run-pass checks at the line of scrimmage.
"We might be doing a little more of it," Roethlisberger allowed. "I think the confidence and the trust the coaches have in me is that I'm going to make the right decision."
Roethlisberger estimated that about 75 percent of the time he's impacting the plays the Steelers run when they aren't in no-huddle mode with some type of check call at the line of scrimmage.
That might mean changing a run from left to right, or vice-versa. That might mean changing from a run to a pass, or vice-versa (often one of each is called in the huddle so that the players know what they'll be checking to if a check call is made). That might even mean calling for a pass from a run via hand signals with a wide receiver.
"No one else knows (a pass is coming) except me and the receiver," Roethlisberger explained of such instances.
The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
So there's been a great deal happening between the Steelers breaking the huddle and the ball eventually getting snapped.
"And we have to make it work," Roethlisberger said. "If I call a run and they give us a 'pass' look (a defense the Steelers should have attempted to throw against), well, guess what? We have to make it work because we can't make the perfect call every single time."
In response, defenses often resort to plenty of pre-snap shifting in an attempt to disguise things such as what type of coverage is being played, if players will be blitzing, how many players might be blitzing, which players might be blitzing, and how many players are going to end up in the box to stop the run.
It comes down to nothing more complex than a guessing game sometimes, as it did on Dec. 7 in Cincinnati.
The Steelers led, 28-21, and faced a first-and-10 from their 6-yard line with 8:43 left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers initially called for a deep pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
But the two-deep zone the Bengals initially showed suggested Roethlisberger check to the accompanying running play that also had been called in the huddle as an alternative to the deep pass, just in case.
Except this time Roethlisberger never made the check.
"You talk to (quarterbacks coach) Randy (Fichtner) and some of (the offensive coaches) afterwards, when I didn't check it they were freaking out," Roethlisberger said. "'Why is he not checking this? What's he doing? He's throwing it and it's not the right coverage (to throw against).'
"Sure enough, they gave us the right coverage at the snap of the ball. Whether it was intuition, whether I saw something, whether I got lucky, who knows what it was? Sometimes you have to get lucky and make it work."
In this instance what happened just before the ball was snapped was Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson came down out of his deep Cover-2 deployment and into the box, most likely anticipating a check to a running play against what had been a defensive formation designed to stop the deep pass.
The result was a 94-yard touchdown and a 35-21 Steelers lead, a dagger on the way to a 42-21 Steelers victory.
"I don't know if it was (Nelson's) body language or what it was," Roethlisberger said. "It felt like he was going to come down (into the box). If he didn't, who knows what would have happened? Gut (feel), luck, chance; it just worked out that they did the thing I thought they were going to do."
Roethlisberger said Fichtner, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and backup quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones deserve "a lot" of credit for helping him to see what he needs to see to get the Steelers into the right play against the right defense consistently throughout a game.
"It's all of us working together," Roethlisberger said. "I'm going to screw up every once in a while, but if I get it right more than wrong, that's good. It's everyone believing in each other and the system, that whatever's called is going to work."