Friday, January 20, 2012 Updated: January 21, 7:53 AM ET
Pats hurry up to slow down opposition
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is quick to point out, every team in the NFL runs a no-huddle offense.
So why don't most teams use it outside of the final two minutes of each half?
Fans who have ever sat screaming at the television as their favorite team lets precious time tick away and lacks any semblance of offensive continuity while operating without a huddle knows that answer:
Huddling for no-huddle: When the hurry-up offense works for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots, Brady's completion rate can skyrocket, as it did against the Broncos in the divisional playoffs.
It ain't easy.
The Patriots have turned the no-huddle offense into an art form in recent years. At times it looks so seamless, some wonder why they ever bother to huddle.
Indeed, New England has identified the no-huddle as a key weapon in its arsenal, a chance to crank the tempo to 11 and perhaps the best way to generate touchdowns.
"I know, defensively, we look at other teams; every team we play, they mix [the no-huddle] in during the game or you certainly see it when time is at a premium," Belichick said. "Tom [Brady] does a good job with it; we've done that for years. He has a good presence on the field."
"It's really all 11 guys being able to do it, it's not just the quarterback," he said. "He can call something, but everybody else has to make their adjustments, make their calls, recognize what the defense is in, they're scrambling around to get lined up, you're scrambling around to get lined up."
Belichick explained the no-huddle can appear confusing, but it's all part of the game plan.
"A lot of times it isn't a real clean look," he said. "It's incumbent on everybody, not just the quarterback, but all 11 guys to be able to get the play and execute it based on whatever the look is. A lot of times those looks aren't static.
"People are moving into position and they're adjusting and you're trying to play fast and they're trying to play fast. It's not as clean as it sometimes when you go up there and stand at the line for 10 seconds."
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Official box score data suggests the Patriots operated out of the no-huddle at a little less than a quarter of their total plays during the 2011 regular season. But last week against the Broncos, sensing an opportunity to really put some pressure on the opposition, New England ramped up that number.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Patriots ran 33 of 64 offensive plays without a huddle against the Broncos in the divisional playoffs. In those no-huddle situations, Brady posted an 85 percent completion rate, averaging 11.8 yards per passing atempt (and 7.3 yards per rush) and generating 21 first downs and four touchdowns.
With a huddle? Those stats dropped to 64.3 percent completion rate, 9.1 yards per attempt, 3 yards per rush, seven first downs, and two touchdowns.
While Belichick noted that it's an 11-man operation, having a quick thinker like Brady on the field certainly aids New England's cause.
"He's like an offensive coordinator out there, the way he prepares for [each game]," said Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. He does it every day, that preparation he puts in -- film study and all that stuff. He's one of the best at it."
The hurry-up offense could very well be a key to slowing down a Baltimore Ravens defense eager to put pressure on Brady during Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens did a good job of getting to Brady during their 33-14 wild-card playoff win here in 2009, and we've seen pressure as one of the few ways teams have been able to topple the Patriots in recent seasons.
The ability to mix in the no-huddle attack gives New England an opportunity to prevent Baltimore from designing a strategy to attack Brady and forces the Ravens' defensive personnel to think on the fly.
"I think it's hard for [opponents] to get lined up, and it's hard for them to get their calls," said New England wide receiver Wes Welker. "[It's hard] for them to make substitutions from first-and-10 to second-and-2, and different things like that. It makes it tough on a defense. And the faster we can go, the harder we make it on them. It's been successful for us."
Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher offered a defensive perspective:
"You gotta get a lot going on out there with the hurry-up offense," he said. "You gotta get your signals in. You gotta get your front lined up that much quicker. And you gotta get the coverage organized that much quicker."
The no-huddle is a calculated risk, however. As Welker points out, a three-and-out off a no-huddle situation can be a disaster, as it quickly puts New England's defense back on the field.
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Which is a reason the Pats also tend to be cautious in their usage, dipping into the no-huddle toolbox for something most teams don't have -- or don't trust -- when the offense needs a jolt or senses the chance to pounce.
"I think our coaches do a good job of finding the times that work well for that and the times that don't and just kind of going from there," Welker said.
There's another downside to the no-huddle: It can exhaust an offense as much as the defense.
"Whatever we have to do to move the ball," Welker said. "It tires us out, too. But at the same time, whatever we have to do to move the ball, that's what we're there for and what we're planning on trying to do."
New England lineman Logan Mankins agreed:
"It's hard on your conditioning, [but if the opposing defensive players are] not in good shape, it's tough on them," he said. "You're just making them think fast and play fast and react fast. You're putting a lot of pressure on them."
And for fans of an opposing team slumped in front of the TV, watching Brady and Co. slice up their defense in the hurry-up, they're left observing the same thing:
The Patriots make it look too easy.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.