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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Updated: September 21, 8:59 AM ET
Quick: Why is no-huddle so popular?

By Ross Tucker
ESPN.com

Football is constantly evolving, and the next step appears to be the no-huddle offense. It started with the Green Bay Packers on the very first series of their season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints and has continued through the first two weeks. The St. Louis Rams operated almost exclusively without a huddle against the New York Giants on Monday night in the final game of Week 2.

Given the success that teams such as the New England Patriots have had with it thus far, don't expect it to go away anytime soon.

In fact, expect more teams, especially those that truly trust their quarterbacks, to begin to employ the fast-paced system. It provides offenses an advantage in their ongoing chess match with increasingly complex blitz schemes. The no-huddle appears to be the offenses' best chance to combat those exotic defenses, and that is exactly why it has been so prevalent.

"I equate it to the offense's version of 'blitzing' the defense," Saints coach Sean Payton said on Sirius XM NFL Radio on Monday morning, adding, "It allows the offense to change and dictate tempo, be unpredictable and thereby make the defense uncomfortable."

Offensive coordinators are tired of trying to react to all of the different blitz variations that defensive coordinators concoct every week. They want to turn the tables and make the defenses adjust to what they are doing.

There are three major benefits of the no-huddle offense.

First, the quarterback controls the play-calling. They like that. It allows him to get the offense into a play that he feels totally comfortable with. Most of those guys, at least the great ones, are control freaks anyway, so the opportunity for more control is very appealing to them and allows them to get into a rhythm.

Second, even though the pace can vary and is not necessarily always the breakneck speed of a two-minute drill, no-huddle does not allow the defenses to substitute. That is critical in a game that has become all about matchups and situational substitutions. The defense can't substitute because the quarterback can always just get under the center, snap the ball and get a cheap 5 yards on a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty.

The biggest benefit by far, however, is the effect that the no-huddle has on the conditioning of the defense, and the defensive line in particular.

Watch the defensive line try to rush the passer the next time when a team goes into the no-huddle offense. By the third or fourth consecutive play, the defensive linemen look like they are in quicksand. Rushing the passer takes great energy and force, and the lactic acid builds up in linemen's muscles to the point where they have little to no shot of getting to the quarterback. Quarterbacks have all kinds of time then to throw and can simply pick apart the opposing team's secondary.

In fact, the only tactic left to slow down these no-huddle attacks is a less-than-honorable one: the fake injury. The Chargers are suspected of employing that tactic Sunday in their matchup with the Patriots. The Giants took it to a new level on Monday night when two players, Jacquian Williams and Deon Grant, simultaneously fell to the ground long after the previous play had ended. It was pathetic, but unfortunately common, to see players act in that way, as instructed by their coaches. Some will say it is a legitimate tactic in order to slow down the onslaught while others decry it as football's equivalent of "taking a dive" in soccer.

Either way, get used to it. The no-huddle is not going anywhere anytime soon.

This is not an altogether new phenomenon. The Cincinnati Bengals of the late '80s and the Buffalo Bills with their "K-Gun" offense in the early '90s first popularized the no-huddle attack. It has become increasingly common at the college level; the Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners rode their breakneck offensive pace to BCS bowls last season.

The boxing match between offenses and defenses will continue, but right now the best punch for those charged with scoring points appears to be the no-huddle. Let's hope defensive coordinators can come up with something better than faking an injury for their counterpunch.

From the inbox

Q: Simple question: Is Tony Romo ever going to "get it"? I have always supported him when the nay-sayers start to talk, but I'm getting tired of him blowing games the Cowboys should win. After six seasons as a starter he should play smarter, but he always finds a way to blow it. Yes, he wasn't the reason for the blocked punt, but if he hadn't fumbled and the Cowboys kick a field goal from the 2, the blocked punt doesn't matter. Is he ever going to learn or are Cowboys fans in for more heartbreaking losses like the one on Sept. 11?

Bryan from Mount Airy, Md.

A:
Romo had a horrible fourth quarter against the Jets and there is no disputing that, but how many times has he really made critical errors late in games like that? The dropped hold in the Seattle game? I wonder why he was even holding in the first place as the starting quarterback. The interception against the Giants? Time was running out and they needed a touchdown, so he threw the ball in the end zone. Big deal. I think this Romo stuff has been way overblown. If he does it a couple more times this year, then fine. But he is a very good player, and he proved it again on Sunday in the win over San Francisco.

Q: How do you feel about the blood testing before games? Does it not leave the possibility of infection, which I believe was a problem for a team some time ago.

Joe from Fresno, Calif.

A:
I'm fully in favor of it. I suppose there is a chance that the drawing of blood could lead to an infection, but I believe that is way overblown. How many people get blood drawn around the world every single day without incident? I believe you are referencing the Cleveland Browns and their problem with staph infections, though it does seem as if things have improved in that area. It was usually guys who had undergone surgical procedures who had those issues. Ultimately, the game needs to be as clean as the league and players can possibly make it, so more testing is better in my book. It is my understanding that HGH can leave the bloodstream quickly, and that is why having some testing on game day is important.

Q: I love reading your columns because it gives me the player's perspective. I would like your take on the running back position. There are often arguments about a running back only being as good as the run-blocking skills of the offensive line. Is there any truth to this? If so, then how do you evaluate the skills of a running back in isolation without being too simplistic?

Shivanand from Owensboro, Ky.

A:
Giving the players' -- or at least one player's -- perspective on different topics has always been my goal. A lot of players can run the ball extremely effectively if they are given some room. Only a few backs in the league are truly difference-makers. What separates backs in the NFL is ability in other aspects of the game like receiving and pass protection.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.