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To Huddle or not to Huddle: That is not the Question

September 18th, 2013 at 7:30 AM
By Chuck Chapman

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For the second consecutive week, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford excelled directing the Rams' offense in a "no-huddle" fashion. Of course, it was also the second consecutive week the Rams were down by two scores in the fourth quarter before turning to the more fast-paced offense. 

That prompted some to question whether or not the Rams ought to consider utilizing the no-huddle throughout the game, not just when trying to rally from behind. Head coach Jeff Fisher gave that suggestion an emphatic "no."

"You look at Sam’s 300-plus yards passing games over his career, they’ve won two. We have the ability to do it and there’s a time do to it and a time not to do it."

Fisher went on to discern between a "no-huddle" and a "hurry-up" attack. Therein lies the real issue with Fisher's disdain for running the no-huddle.

Fisher's first comments about not running the no-huddle belie his knowledge of how it works. Fisher told reporters he wouldn't use the no-huddle for two spurious reasons: time of possession (which gives the defense time to rest) and balance between the run and pass. 

Obviously this line of reasoning is a dodge. Anyone who's watched Peyton Manning or Tom Brady run the "no-huddle" knows that time of possession isn't an issue. As Fisher points out, a no-huddle offense can bleed the play clock every bit as effectively as a traditional offense, with the added benefit of keeping the defense from making situational substitutions. This keeps them in a consistent package and makes attacking the defense much easier.

The no-huddle also doesn't preclude running the ball. Thurman Thomas, who ran in the pioneer no-huddle attack in Buffalo, is in the Hall of Fame and 14th on the NFL's all-time rushing list with over 12,000 yards. In the present, through two games, LeSean McCoy, who plays in more of a "hurry-up" than a no-huddle in Philadelphia, leads the NFL in rushing. Three other runners in the top 10 in rushing (CJ Spiller, Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden) also play in no-huddle attacks. 

If anything, the no-huddle can actually help a running game, especially for those teams that don't employ road graders on the interior of the offensive line (I'm looking at you, St. Louis). By spreading the field, it keeps the defense from loading the tackle box, and the line splits are usually wider, making for better rushing lanes. The no-huddle is extremely amenable to running the football.

So if it isn't about time of possession or balancing the run and pass, what's the real reason Jeff Fisher is so antagonistic toward the no-huddle? There are two reasons, not mutually exclusive.

The Rams don't have the personnel. That's the most obvious reason not to run the no huddle. Running this offense requires a certain level of depth and conditioning. I'm not sure the Rams are there yet. It also requires a rather "fixed" number of formations. Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer like to show different looks. We'll see single-back/three receiver sets with Bradford under center, two back/two tight end sets in short yardage, and single back/four wide sets with Bradford in the shotgun. The Rams built their roster for that kind of variety and it's not really all that prudent to try to shift that in mid-season.

The coaching staff doesn't trust Bradford at the line of scrimmage. This is less obvious, and more concerning. Teams that run a true no-huddle give their quarterbacks a lot of leeway to make sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage. As we noted after week one, that doesn't seem to be the case in St. Louis, even when Bradford is under center.

In just two games, there have already been several occasions where the play call appeared to be playing right into the defensive alignment. Yet we don't see Bradford back away from the line of scrimmage and change the play into something more favorable. Either Bradford isn't adept at making accurate pre-snap reads, or the Rams coaching staff doesn't want to relinquish that control to him. 

In the hurry-up, Bradford's not really calling plays. There's a set package of prescribed options depending on down and distance, but nothing that really requires Sam to make a pre-snap read and adjust. 

Fisher isn't dumb. He knows very well what the no-huddle offense is. What's more, he can see exactly what we see, too: Bradford is much more comfortable when the offense is in the no-huddle rhythm. 

Whether it's personnel, Bradford's maturity, or a little of both, Fisher doesn't feel comfortable going to the no-huddle this season. But let's at least be honest and cite the real reasons why.

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