Should the Redskins go no huddle?

Should the Redskins go no huddle?
May 15, 2013, 10:45 am
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One of the things that many Redskins fans have on their wish lists for the 2013 season is to see Robert Griffin III run the no-huddle, fast tempo offense. They look at what the Patriots did in 2012, running a league-leading 1191 plays while going for long stretches without going into a huddle. According to this article by Chase Stuart New England ran one play every 24.9 seconds of offensive possession time.

New England led the league in both yards gained (6846) and points scored (557). The Saints also ran at a fast tempo. Drew Brees and company ran a play every 26.1 seconds. They were second in the league in yardage and third in scoring.

The thought of RG3 at the helm of the Redskins’ offense, whether they keep the read option and Pistol packages as either a staple of the attack or as wrinkles, firing away without the defense having a chance to regroup is one that makes many fans smile.

But not so fast. The fast-paced offense is not necessarily a ticket to offensive success. Rated third and fourth in seconds per play were the Ravens and Eagles. They were 16th and 15th in offensive yardage, respectively, and while Baltimore was a respectable 10th in scoring, Philly was 29th.

Let’s look at the two teams that ran the “slowest” offenses. The 49ers ran a play every 31.5 seconds and the Seahawks were only slightly quicker to get the ball off with a play every 31.4 seconds.

But their offenses fared just fine. Both were above the league average in both scoring and yardage. And, by the way, both of them posted double-digit win totals and made the playoffs.

The Redskins were 27th with 30.1 seconds passing between plays. But they still had one of the most effective offenses in the league. They were fifth in yards gained and fourth in scoring. Washington led the league in yards per play with 6.2.

Some of the “slower pace” has to do with how often the clock stops after a given play. The Redskins, 49ers, and Seahawks were the three teams with the fewest incomplete passes. With fewer clock-stopping incompletions they could move at the exact same pace between snaps as, say, the Lions, who had the most incompletions in the league last year, and have more seconds off the clock in between plays.

That trio of teams also were among the top eight in the league in rushing attempts. But the Patriots were second in the league in rushing attempts and had the ninth-most incomplete passes so it’s not all about play selection and passing efficiency.

Here are some of the advantages of running a no-huddle attack:

  • More plays, more touches, more yards.
  • Limit defensive substitutions and communication.
  • Regulate the defense.
  • Change tempo of the offense

But there are some downsides as well. Offenses have been huddling up almost since the inception of football for a reason. More plays also means more of a chance of getting sacked and/or committing a turnover. By limiting defensive substitutions you also limit your own substitutions. Under the rules, if the offense runs subs into the game without huddling, the snap of the ball must be held up to give the defense a chance to make a matching substitution.

So a fast-paced offense is not necessarily an effective one and one that takes more time in between plays can work very well.  

But the question of interest here is, should the Redskins run the up tempo offense? Last year they only ran no-huddle out of necessity, never as a strategic maneuver. Kyle Shanahan is certainly open to wrinkles that will help the offense and cater to Griffin’s strengths. One would think that Griffin is sharp enough to handle the no-huddle and that with his myriad of talents he could have the defense back on its heels. Throw in the likes of Alfred Morris carrying the ball, Pierre Garçon and Fred Davis running pass patterns and a wild card like Jordan Reed or Chris Thompson and you could see defenses reeling.

I think we will see the no-huddle employed strategically this year but not as much as some might like. The limitation won’t be because of the offense but due to issues on the other side of the ball.

The Redskins’ defense remains a work in progress and if the Redskins consistently score or give up possession without burning much time off of the clock that will put the weaker of the two units on the field more frequently. Until they can establish a pass rush and see if the rookies can help resolve the leaky secondary it is best to have the defense on the field as little as possible.

That means a faster pace as a change of pace but don’t look for the huddle to disappear from the Redskins’ offense any time soon.