Showtime: No-huddle could boost already high-octane Packers offense
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – In Buffalo, chemistry was years in the making. In Indianapolis, same deal. After thousands of snaps with the same receivers, Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning turned their offenses into well-oiled, no-huddle machines.
With more possessions came more cracks at the end zone. Games became wind sprints. Huddling was a nuisance.
“Short yardage and goal line,” said Jeff Saturday, Manning’s center. “That was it.”
“You saw it in the fourth quarter,” added Green Bay running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, Kelly’s backup for two years. “You saw it in the defense getting worn down.”
This is how the Packers’ offense is staying fresh, is continuing to evolve. In 2012, the Packers may use the no-huddle with more regularity. It takes a cerebral quarterback, receivers who read his mind, an experienced center as the point man and – of course – rare conditioning.
The Packers scored 560 points last season. Aaron Rodgers set the passer rating record. But there’s still innovation around here. Mike McCarthy’s offense has reached the tipping point Kelly’s Bills and Manning’s Colts did.
Experienced personnel will likely lead to more no-huddle.
“I would say so,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “I guess we saw what we did last year to teams when they get fatigued and tired. We’re trying to put a little bit more of that in the offense this year. I think it’s a plus.”
Van Pelt wasn’t around for Kelly’s peak in Buffalo, but he was exposed to that manic pace in 1995 and 1996. The Hall of Famer wasted no time between plays, remaining in constant two-minute mode. And the “K-Gun” attack promptly finished sixth, first, second and sixth offensively during its four-year Super Bowl run.
There are similarities here, Van Pelt says. Everything is called at the line – and most of it is called by the quarterback.
“Maybe a difference in the K-Gun is you weren’t always trying to get in the right play, you were just trying to go super fast,” Van Pelt said. “You might be in the wrong play and have an extra guy in the hole in the run game but eventually you wear them down with the tempo. Here, we do a nice job of getting into the right play.
“It’s a little slower in tempo than the K-Gun as far as time snapped on the 25-second clock. But there were definite similarities.”
After three straight no-huddle drives against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday night’s 27-13 win at Cincinnati was another sneak peek. Rodgers led two first-quarter scoring drives that ended in his touchdown runs. One five-play, 75-yard drive lasted 2 minutes 6 seconds. The other seven-play, 69-yard drive lasted only 3 minutes 14 seconds.
The Bengals were on the heels by the end of each drive with Rodgers racing to each pylon for scores.
“The play number we had in the first half was excellent,” Rodgers said. “It’s good for our conditioning, I’ll tell you that much. There were a lot of plays. . . . That’s good for us. It was up-tempo.”
A year ago, the no-huddle served more as a shot in the arm. When the offense stagnated, McCarthy sped things up. Now with Rodgers clearly in his prime, he’ll likely have more freedom at the line.
The Bills truly saw the effect of the no-huddle in the fourth quarter. Defenses wore down and running back Thurman Thomas went for the jugular. His 4.9 yards per carry led the NFL in 1991. Gaping holes – ones like those that had Cedric Benson smiling Thursday night – opened up.
Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, whoever’s at running back could become second-half closers in this regard.
“You saw it with short runs popping into big runs,” Van Pelt said. “You’d get 2 yards in the first half. Then it’s 8, 10, 12 yards in the second half. And you saw the pass rush die. By the end of the game, those guys are so gassed it’s tough to get a good pass rush.”
With freedom comes responsibility. Kicker Scott Norwood was vilified and immortalized in Buffalo’s crushing 20-19 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. But the game should have never boiled down to a 47-yard field goal attempt. Kelly threw the ball (30 attempts) twice as many times as Thomas ran it (15 carries), even though Thomas was averaging 9 yards a carry.
The Bills were crushed in time of possession, 40:33 to 19:27. If he is given the reins to this offense, Rodgers must find a balance.
Also, Van Pelt points to center Kent Hull as the “quiet piece” that held everything together up front. The center must keep up with the quarterback, must make all protection calls in a snap. In Saturday, the Packers may have that player. Manning, Saturday and the Colts took the K-Gun to another level one decade later.
The Packers aren’t operating as fast as those Bills and Colts teams right now, carefully making sure they’re in the right play at the line. Saturday will be key in speeding the process up.
In Indianapolis, Saturday was responsible for “controlling the tempo,” he said.
“You get more shots at the end zone,” Saturday said. “You increase your ability to have opportunities for big plays as long as you’re a consistent offense. The negative to it is you can go three and out quick and it puts your defense in a strain, but if you keep the tempo going and you’re an efficient offense, you can be very productive.”
Manning didn’t calibrate with his receivers overnight. Neither did Kelly. Saturday said the Colts went no-huddle full-time about five years into Manning’s career. That’s why the time is right for the Packers. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Finley have all played with Rodgers at least four seasons.
Right now, the short-term concern for the Packers’ no-huddle offense may be conditioning. Jennings and Finley missed a large chunk of training camp due to injuries. Finley says one series of the no-huddle can feel “like you’ve been playing the whole game.” They’ll be busy receivers at practice now until the season opener Sept. 9 against San Francisco.
Keeping defenders huffing and puffing for four quarters is the goal.
“It’s just that consistent tempo,” Finley said. “You get up to the ball and…. Full story here