Return of No-Huddle
George Bush was praised for wrapping up the war with Iraq so quickly. A new Terminator sequel topped the box office.
Roseanne topped the TV ratings, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” burned up the charts.
And the Buffalo Bills’ K-Gun no-huddle offense struck fear in opposing defenses.
The newest page in the Bills 2009 playbook might be a dog-eared yellowing one that just turned 18 years old.
Buffalo’s flirtation with the no-huddle has been rumored in recent weeks, and it might be the only way to explain several of the team‘s roster moves.
According to official NFL play-by-plays, the Bills used the no-huddle for at least part of 16 drives last season. Like most teams, most of them were in hurry-up situations when the team trailed late (see Week 3, vs. Oakland) or in the last two minutes of halves and games.
The team scored a total of 47 points on those drives, or just shy of a field goal per possession, which is about 50 percent higher than the team scored on drives that featured a huddle.
Quarterback Trent Edwards showed he was capable of running the no-huddle, completing 66 percent of his 59 passes for 463 yards. Wide receivers Lee Evans and Josh Reed each caught nine balls in the offense, Evans for 131 yards and Reed for 121.
Bills running backs also excelled in the offense, with Marshawn Lynch averaging 4.8 yards per carry and Fred Jackson averaging 6.7.
Viewed through the prism of the no-huddle, what once were projected as weaknesses and holes remaining in the depth chart might, in fact, be part of a systematic plan to implement the offense.
Small mobile line: In order to speed up and down the field, a no-huddle team usually sports a smaller than average offensive line.
So when replaced tackle Jason Peters (340 lbs), guard Derrick Dockery (330) , and center Duke Preston (326) with a group of veterans and rookies, the heaviest of which is 310, it’s possible they were downsizing, not downgrading.
Simplified playbook: In getting smaller linemen, the team also took a hit in experience level. There will be a different starter at all five positions on the line.
Two rookies (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) will likely see significant playing time, and longtime reserves Geoff Hangartner and Seth McKinney might get extended starting time.
With Trent Edwards calling plays at the line, the team will likely not go as deep into their playbook, minimizing the impact of an experienced group up front.
Intelligent players: The Bills’ first two free agent acquisitions earned them some good-natured teasing. First the team brought in Hangartner scored a 47 out of 50 on his Wonderlic test.
When the team then targeted backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of the few Harvard products to make the league, many thought that the Bills were hoping to do well on the written portion of the season.
Calling plays at the line takes quick thinking and the ability to process a lot of information, however. Having a bright center snapping the ball to a Stanford-bred quarterback, with a Harvard man backing him up, certainly fits the bill.
Previous experience in the system: In a surprising move, the Bills added running back Dominic Rhodes. While Marshawn Lynch will miss the start of the season, it is hard to believe that Rhodes was brought in to compete with Fred Jackson for a three-game starting gig.
However, if Buffalo is looking to implement the no-huddle, it would help to have a player somewhat familiar with calling plays at the line.
While Rhodes’ former teammate Peyton Manning doesn’t run a pure no-huddle in Indianapolis, his frequent use of audibles while the offense is about the closest NFL experience available, at least in the last 15 years or so.
Impact on the defense: One of the reasons the no-huddle didn’t stick as a base NFL offense is that it wore down the defense of both teams. Everything is faster in the hurry-up, from scoring to three-and-outs.
The Super Bowl Bills of the early 1990s were frequently on the short end of some lopsided time of possession statistics, even in games that they won. As a result, the team had to make changes to their defense to help support a possible no-huddle attack.
The Bills’ draft targets on defense had one thing in common: Players that are small for their position.
Linebacker-sized Aaron Maybin is penciled in as a pass rushing defensive end, college corner Jairus Byrd is expected to play safety, and former safety Nic Harris is getting a look at linebacker.
The question is which takes more out of a defender, the running or the hitting? While smaller players aren’t going to get run down throughout the course of a game, the hits that accumulate over the season might end up wearing them down.
To counteract that, the team might look to blitz less. The drafting of Maybin, a pure pass rusher, and a healthy Aaron Schobel should allow the team to pressure the quarterback with a four-man rush, and save their safeties for hits on small receivers.
Safeties Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott, and George Wilson and cornerback Ashton Youboty all recorded sacks last year. Linebacker Kawika Mitchell tallied four. Not coincidentally, several of those same players battled late-season injuries.
One third of the team’s sacks came from blitzers last year, a number that should go down significantly.
The Simpsons were in their second season. No one would ever be a better Joker than Jack Nicholson. Digital technology referred to a wristwatch.
Buffalo’s K-Gun offense just turned 18 years old. It might just be time for a comeback.
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