Going no-huddle can drive defenses mad
FOXBOROUGH - The sight of an offense scurrying to the line can cause anxiety throughout a defense.
In the moment a defensive player realizes an offense has eschewed the huddle, pressure builds.
“I don’t care if it’s fast or slow, it’s just a sense of urgency,’’ said Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. “Communication is a big, big key when they go no-huddle. That’s something we practice with our offense all the time because that’s what they do. But it’s tough on a defense because you have to get checks, you have to get the call from the sideline, you have to do all these different things even though it’s still regular time.’’
Bottom line, “I don’t think any defense likes a no-huddle,’’ Wilfork said.
Everything a defense hates is what an offense loves about going to a no-huddle attack, and the Patriots’ offense has used it to its advantage this season. After the offense sputtered in the first half against the Jets last Sunday, the Patriots saw an opening in the second half and looked to the no-huddle to jolt the offense into a rhythm.
On two drives, the Patriots shifted to no-huddle, each resulting in a touchdown. The first was an eight-play drive in the third quarter that ended with Tom Brady completing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots were in no-huddle for six consecutive plays covering 36 yards in 64 seconds.
On their next possession, the Patriots waited three plays before shifting to the no-huddle, again for six consecutive plays, on a drive that ended with Brady completing an 8-yard pass to Deion Branch for a touchdown.
Last week, the uptempo approach produced points, but success is determined by execution, which hasn’t been perfect this season.
“I think the times that we’ve done it well, we’ve strung together a bunch of plays which has really allowed us to get the ball into the scoring area,’’ Brady said. “It’s hard to overcome penalties in those situations and we have opportunities to complete passes and we don’t hit them. There are definitely things that are good about it and there are things that haven’t been so good. We’re trying to do the things that we’ve done well and try to do those more often.’’
This season, 23 percent (137 of 603) of the Patriots’ offensive plays have been run out of a no-huddle. The element of surprise is not only there for a defense, but for members of the offense who never know when they will be called upon to change the pace.
“It’s different elements of the game which calls for us to get into that style of offense,’’ Branch said. “It’s not something you would come into the game and say we’re going to run this all game. They just hit us out of nowhere. You think about the Jets game, it just happened. It was during the course of a series and they said, ‘Let’s go.’ ’’
Keeping up with the pace is demanding for all players involved. Once fatigue sets in, penalties and mistakes likely will follow.
“It gets pretty tiring, but they’re getting tired too, so that’s the main thing,’’ said Patriots guard Logan Mankins. “It’s nice to do it occasionally when it’s working good. We like it. The D-line, I think they get more tired than we actually do because they have to chase the ball. But it does get pretty tiring in there, you don’t have the rest between plays like in the huddle.’’
In the season opener against the Dolphins, the Patriots ran 28 of 71 plays out of the no-huddle. Brady completed 13 of 19 passes for 187 yards in those 28 plays in the 38-24 win.
Running a hurry-up offense might not always result in points, which the Patriots discovered against the Cowboys in Week 6. The Patriots ran a season-high 36 of 69 plays out of a no-huddle. It wasn’t until their final possession that the Patriots were able to secure the 20-16 victory.
“We tried to run it [against] Dallas and didn’t score a lot of points, and we tried to run it in Pittsburgh [in Week 8] and didn’t score a lot of points,’’ Brady said. “To me, it’s more about the execution and the tempo of the game. I think if we execute well, whether we huddle or whether we don’t huddle, we’re going to be able to score points. Sometimes when you go out there and you try no-huddle and it doesn’t work, you go, ‘We’re not doing that anymore, let’s go back to huddling.’ If it works, you stay with it. If it doesn’t work, you move on.’’
Brady has been effective when running the no-huddle, completing 71 percent of his passes (61 of 86) for 754 yards. Whether it is trying to take advantage of a mismatch or wear down an opponent, everyone has to be ready for the shift.
“I think it’s a good change of pace for us . . . you just keep it going and keep the defense on their toes and get us in sort of a rhythm,’’ said wide receiver Wes Welker.
Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said the Patriots aren’t relying on the no-huddle any more than in previous seasons, but at times it proves to be the best choice.
“It’s just something that our players have executed well to this point, for the most part. I wouldn’t say it’s been great all year,’’ said O’Brien. “But at times it’s been good for us, and it’s basically because the players have done a good job with it.’’