It's not often that the NFL undergoes a schematic transition. In reality, the league is pretty bland when it comes to coaching, but in the past couple of years, things have changed.
There are more and more formations and concepts that are being brought over from the college ranks, as witnessed this past season with the implementation of the pistol and zone read. Another addition (or expansion) has been the no-huddle attack.
Teams are using an up-tempo offense more than just in the final stages of a half. They're using it in the middle of drives and quarters, making it difficult for defenses to keep pace with them. The New England Patriots are best known for this right now, but it's something that goes back many years, dating back to at least the early '90s with the Buffalo Bills' K-Gun offense.
There are three keys to successfully using a no-huddle attack: controlling tempo, cutting down terminology and using simpler concepts to move the ball.
Controlling tempo is the biggest advantage in sports right now. I frequently compare the sport of football to basketball because a lot of the concepts and philosophies are similar, and it's no different here.
In basketball, there are teams like the San Antonio Spurs, for example, that do a great job of controlling the game. They know when to push the game and when to sit back. It's a fine line and one that many football play-callers don't understand because they don't have a feel for it.
There have been NFL coaches who have done well with the no-huddle in the past, such as Chan Gailey.
Although Gailey hasn't had much overall success recently, he's one of the brighter minds in the game because of his understanding of offenses. He's familiar with tempo, as he once explained using gears as an analogy, via AFCAStore.com:
By lining up at the LOS [and not huddling], we push the defense into a tempo they are not accustomed to. We relate this idea to gears in a car. First gear is the gear most everyone uses. Both teams huddle then go to the LOS and execute their plays. In second gear, the offense does not huddle; therefore, the defense cannot huddle either. This changes the tempo. Third gear is hurry-hurry offense; with the no-huddle, you can get into this tempo at any time. Now we have the ability to speed up the game or slow it down according to our wants and needs. This keeps the defense off balance.
Keeping the defense off balance is one of the keys to winning games, whether it's done through scheme or tempo. The Denver Broncos and aforementioned Patriots do a good job of this. A big reason why they're so successful at it is because they've cut down their verbiage.
Verbiage or terminology, as it's often called, is another big key to mastering a no-huddle attack. Long play calls are not always necessary, and teams have started to figure this out.
One man who has had it long figured out is Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles and formerly of the University of Oregon. Kelly is a mastermind when it comes to terminology, using poster cutouts as signals and simple one-word play calls.
A word or picture tells the offense the formation, play and blocking scheme, as former Oregon and current Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson told The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard. It can be mind-bending for offensive players at first, but it becomes easier through practice, as Dickson explained:
It’s kind of easy. It comes with repetition. A lot of guys learn different. Myself, I just needed to be out there repping those plays. The more comfortable you get, the faster you’ll go. He wants to make it easier to where you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just going fast. Make it as simple as guys can learn it so you can go really fast. That’s the key, making it simple for your players so they can play at top speed.
A no-huddle attack is different from a huddled one because it uses simpler plays, most of which come from the traditional three-step passing game.
The three-step game consists of screens, slants and other quick-hitting plays that get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly and makes the defense run. The quicker the ball moves, the quicker the defense moves, making them more tired than usual.
What Kelly has done over the past few years is build his passing game off of his running game, which he did a great job of explaining to Urban Meyer a couple of years ago on ESPN.
See how Kelly's quarterback fakes the run and then throws the bubble screen in the video? It's simple, yet effective. It all looks the same, consequently putting the defense in a bind and making the players think the wrong thing.
That's what other NFL teams are going to start doing more of. With more college quarterbacks coming out of school unprepared for the pros, coaches will start to adopt more of the offense that their quarterbacks ran in college. We've already seen the Washington Redskins do it with Robert Griffin III, one of the deadliest dual-threat quarterbacks to come to the pros in recent time.
With teams looking to acquire more mobile passers that they can speed up the transition of to the pros, there will be more simple college concepts that feature the signal-caller as a runner or passer. That's difficult to deal with, especially when it's played at a fast tempo.