What NFL Teams Can Do to Counter the No-Huddle Offense
It was more than two decades ago when Sam Wyche was an innovative offensive mind that changed the way football masterminds looked at offenses, and he nearly helped the Bengals win the Super Bowl in 1988.
He brought a fast-paced offense that did not huddle a whole lot, used the entire width of the field when passing and ran the ball with stretch-run concepts that had defenses playing laterally when they should have been going forward.
They were the inside and outside zone-run concepts, and that was the no-huddle offense, both of which still give defenses fits today.
It seems like long ago when the Bengals were running up scores on offenses at an unmatched pace under Wyche's guidance, but the remains of the offense still have a place in modern-day playbooks.
Last season, the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots were two of the few teams that used the no-huddle in more than just the final minutes of halves that we're so used to seeing.
In the process, they were excellent at manipulating the pace of the game along with preventing the defense from realizing the potential of their game plans by spacing them out the width of the field.
But how does one slow down the pace of the game and control offensive output instead of simply reacting to it?
One place we can start is the 1991 Super Bowl between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, where the Jim Kelly-led Bills met their match when they encountered Bill Belichick's defense.
Kelly was the trigger man for Buffalo's "K-Gun," which was an up-tempo offense that had an abundance of talent and constantly wore out defenses, much like Wyche's in Cincinnati. But despite being the highest-scoring offense during the 1991 season, the Bills ran into issues in the Super Bowl against the Giants' defense.
Belichick meticulously devised a game plan against the Bills' offense that featured several simple tricks and moments of brilliance.
The tricks consisted of the defenders laying on top of the ball-carrier after tackling him while also "accidentally" moving the placement of the ball before the snap in order to give the defense an extra breath before the snap.
Simultaneously, the defensive mastermind used a variety of fronts and personnel packages that caused problems for the Bills before the snap.
The Bills had issues identifying who was rushing and who was dropping in coverage. Belichick's scheme sometimes featured an extra linebacker that replaced a defensive lineman, or an extra defensive back that replaced a linebacker. It also had one down lineman at times, while at other times having two and roaming linebackers behind them.
In addition to this, the Bills were unable to get the proper matchup advantages that offenses seek so often because of the constant movement pf the Giants' defenders before the snap.
Ultimately, the defensive performance was just enough to win the Super Bowl, as the Giants narrowly escaped the Bills when kicker Scott Norwood missed an attempted field goal wide right that would have won the game.
Learning from the past
What can we take to the future from the past?
According to Glenn Warciski of Ultimate NYG, Bill Belichick's defensive game plan sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame today for a reason, and what we can take from it is that all aspects of the game have to be considered when looking to slow down the no-huddle offense.
The first and most obvious way to slow down the offense is by keeping it off the field via possession. If the offense can't get on the field, then they can't put points on the scoreboard. The Giants did this with success in the aforementioned Super Bowl by setting a record for total possession with more than 40 minutes.
Moreover, we've seen defenses fake injuries in the past, such as the Giants doing it on multiple occasions this past season, in order to force the referee to stop the game, consequently giving defenders a break from the action. This method came under fire last season from the media, but it was effective, and referees can't judge if a defender is truly injured or not.
From a tactical standpoint, defenses have to continue to throw various looks at offenses by utilizing various fronts like Belichick employed in the Super Bowl. This is done to keep the quarterback and blockers off balance.
The defensive coordinator should consider having his pass defenders give false looks more often before the snap, subsequently rotating or dropping his defenders after the snap to the desired coverage.
An example of this would be a defense showing two deep split-field safeties and the cornerbacks rolled up to the line of scrimmage in a "press" alignment before the snap, which suggests that an "even" coverage (i.e. Cover 2) is going to be played.
However, after the snap, one of the safeties rotates down into the box. Meanwhile, the cornerbacks backpedal from their press alignment to a loose one and play an "odd" coverage such as Cover 3.
Also, coaches could consider shifting, or "stemming," the defensive line to create further issues with the blocking assignments of the offensive line. With the defensive line constantly shifting before the snap, the assignments of the blockers change, consequently creating confusion as to which defender gets blocked.
Last but not least, communication is key because the no-huddle offense forces defenses to play "base" coverages.
What this means is that they force them to revert to their base coverage, which is simply used as a framework to install the rest of the coverage concepts used, because they don't have the time to signal in a different one. When the offense knows what the defense is doing, it quickly becomes problematic.
To avoid this issue, defenses should look to cut down the terminology of their calls by using single digits, or consider divorcing their secondary from their front, which has been debated endlessly by football coaches in the past.
More than 20 years ago, current NFL.com writer and former football coach Sam Wyche was one of the NFL's brightest minds.
While coaching the Cincinnati Bengals, he invented a dynamic offense known as the "no-huddle" offense, which was an up-tempo, no-huddle scheme that spread defenses out the width of the field and ran zone-run concepts. This led Wyche to his highest achievement—taking the Bengals to the 1988 Super Bowl, where they ultimately fell short to the Walsh-led San Francisco 49ers.
Can NFL defenses slow down the no-huddle offense?
Despite their shortcoming, Wyche's system was the talk of the NFL and continues to influence offenses today. This has become difficult to slow down for defenses despite offensive coordinators never fully committing to it.
Last season, the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers used it more often than other teams and had a significant amount of success. This forced defenses to devise game plans that have their roots in the 1991 defensive masterpiece that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick put together to slow down the Buffalo Bills' offense in Super Bowl XXV.
Belichick offered various looks before the snap in his fronts and coverages to the Bills' offense. This confused quarterback Jim Kelly and the offensive line at the line of scrimmage, forcing them to struggle in executing their offense properly.
Along with shortened terminology, these are some of the things that defensive coordinators should look to in order to slow down the no-huddle offenses of today.
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