The most exciting play in sports is the Two-Minute/No Huddle/Hurry Up Offense, slight variations on the same assault. Once reserved for the end of games when teams are desperate to score, it’s becoming more common to see the no huddle during the first half and at regular times during games in the NFL. You see players on offense marching efficiently and precisely down the field as the frantic defense retreats and looks to the sideline for help, and the quarterback barks directions like a mad man behind a runaway sled. The best teams I’ve played on use this drill as a jolt of energy to start AND finish practice.
Legendary teams use it to finish opponents and seal championships. See Eli Manning vs. NE Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI.
The no-huddle isn’t simply about Xs and Os, it’s about speed of execution and mental focus. Its sudden pressure makes it the offensive equivalent of the blitz. Spread your best athletes out in space and explosive plays will follow. It’s not about short yardage or grinding it out, it’s about ramming it down Main Street and air mailing it to the end zone. The worst and most common responses on defense are panic and penalties. Another bad idea is the Prevent defense where pass rushing is light while the secondary coverage is loose but responsible for every man and every zone on the field simultaneously at once. Makes sense? No, and that’s why it’s fun to watch it implode.
There are a few coaching reasons to set off a two-minute style attack early in a game. It can be used to catch the other team off guard, exploit personnel match ups, and pressure the other coach to burn timeouts. Either way, the offense races to the back of the end zone repeatedly and forces the defense to adjust on the fly or lose the game fast and early.
The true reason coaches love the no-huddle is that it allows them to set the tone and control the tempo of the game. It exposes the poorly conditioned and mentally weak defenders, and defensive units that are poorly coordinated. Not every defensive line is physically capable of playing even one quarter of uptempo football. Those are the ones most susceptible to being run into the ground.
A foundation of trust is necessary between a coach and his QB to run the no-huddle effectively, similar to the experience a quarterback needs with his offensive line and receivers. Peyton Manning used to be the best hurry-up QB in the league when he was a Colt, but he lacks the same cohesion with his unit in Denver. This past Sunday Tom Brady repeatedly showed his ability to direct the chaos quickly and effectively. It’s easy for anyone to freelance, but among quarterbacks the two-minute offense separates marksmen and shot callers from ball handlers and game managers. Alex Smith and Drew Brees put on an absolute clinic in their two-minute offenses during the 2011 Divisional Round playoffs. The term “field general” fell short of describing either one of them that day.
Calling plays on the go requires having a feel for the flow of the game. Some teams will start their drive by calling two plays in the huddle and run them in sequence regardless of the down and distance. Others call two plays in the huddle and pick one at the line depending on the look they get.
Football audibles are a language unto themselves, and each team has its own slightly modified dialect.
In high school my team had eight plays in our entire no-huddle package, and we called out numbers at the line of scrimmage. Any number with four in it was play four, any number with a six was play six and so on, and number eight was a PAT.
In university our quarterback would call two plays in the huddle and we ran them in sequence. If the clock stopped, we’d huddle up. If not, we’d keep moving and audible on the go. Double Slot Ace 599 X Swoop became Spread Eagle. Gun 628 Inside Out became Empty Silver Bang Bang. When you’re racing back to the line of scrimmage focused on the snap count and your assignment, you don’t have time to stop and laugh.
Until you’re in the end zone that is, and it’s time for play No. 8.