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Easy to run, hard to stop

The NFL's trendiest scheme thrives on speed, simplicity -- and options

Originally Published: November 1, 2013
By Field Yates | ESPN The Magazine

DON'T LET YOUR EYES, or Peyton Manning, deceive you: Not all NFL offenses are overly complicated. At least a dozen teams, including Cam Newton's Panthers, are running what's known as packaged plays, which have built-in options for both the run and the pass. That means the QB can call one play, then read the defense's movement and initiate a different play. See a corner backing off his coverage? Throw a quick screen to a wide receiver. See a weak box? Run right at it, either with a QB keeper or a traditional handoff.

Packaged plays aren't new at any level -- colleges and high schools have run them frequently the past decade -- but they're gaining momentum in the NFL, especially for teams with inexperienced quarterbacks. The beauty of packaged plays is that they replace verbose playcalls and endless presnap audibles with simple, sometimes one-word, plays that bundle several options into one. That's a big reason the Bills, with three green QBs, were running one play every 23.4 seconds through Week 7, second fastest in the NFL.

The only team faster? The Eagles, who are also using packaged plays as the backbone of their offense. Philly's three-point Week 7 clunker notwithstanding, coach Chip Kelly has designed one of the NFL's most potent offenses, averaging 6.2 yards per play (third in the league) and rattling off a snap every 22.6 seconds. In Week 3 against Kansas City, the Eagles put up 431 total yards (6.8 yards per play) and had two 40-yard runs against the stout Chiefs defense. They have been the only 40-yard rushes surrendered by KC all season, and both came off packaged plays. "It's very different, that college-style stuff," Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson says of Kelly's offense. "It's difficult because it's different."

Here's a look at how the Panthers, Eagles and Bears -- the NFL's three most successful packaged-play teams -- are making it hard on defenses through simplicity.

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