Hurry Up: Breaking down the no-huddle in the NFL

With Chip Kelly now at the helm in Philadelphia, talk continues about the migration of fast-paced offenses from college ranks to the NFL – such that there’s even been some question as to whether or not referees will let Kelly’s Eagles play at his preferred pace. But before Kelly was hired, Bill Belichick had been conferring with him at Oregon, and also with Urban Meyer when he was at Florida. In 2012, his Patriots went no-huddle more than any team in 2012 – and his offense showed concrete gains thanks to it.

Though no team was fully dedicated to a no-huddle system in 2012 – the Eagles might change that in 2013 – several teams ran a high number of fast-paced plays. As you’ll see by the teams that ran it most prominently, no-huddle offenses weren’t most common in oft-losing teams trying to get back into games with limited time on the clock. Indeed, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the style was Joe Flacco, en route to a Superbowl victory.

Overall, just fewer than 7% of total offensive plays last season were run without a huddle. Slightly more pass plays were run out of the no-huddle (as a function of overall plays) than run plays; given that pass plays account for the majority of all plays in the NFL, teams ran twice as many no-huddle pass plays than run plays by volume in 2012. (All play-by-play stats from armchairanalysis.com.)

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Note that spiked passes are removed from passes in both the huddle and no-huddle cases. We gauged no-huddle plays versus those from the huddle on: yards per play (YPP); success rate (SR%); and yards-above-success-per-yards-below-success (YAS/YBS). For a refresher on those stats, see this post.

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Overall, the no-huddle was more productive than huddled plays by a significant margin; rush and pass plays both crossed 50% on SR%, while YAS/YBS neared 2.00, relative to 1.17 for huddled plays.

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The passing game got slightly more added production than the rushing game. However, the difference made by no-huddle plays was quite small – only a 0.49% boost on SR%, because it was used so sparingly in the league as a whole. To get a better gauge of its effectiveness – and potential drawbacks – it’s best to examine the teams that ran the no-huddle most often.

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Six teams used the no-huddle offense on more than 10% of offensive plays in 2012: the Patriots; Ravens; Packers; Raiders; Broncos; and Chiefs. Four of those teams – all except the Raiders and Chiefs, who were quite miserable – made the playoffs. Three of the six are housed in the AFC West; and with former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy now in charge in San Diego, the Chargers might pick it up, too.

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Five of the six teams saw improvements in offensive output from the no-huddle; the exception is the Broncos – who were plenty prolific in their normally-paced system. The Raiders got a major boost from the no-huddle, where they were actually more effective than the Ravens on each of the three categories listed. Still, the top three teams that ran it – the Patriots, Ravens, and Packers – saw significantly higher success rates and YAS/YBS from the no-huddle than from the huddle.

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However, these six teams ran slightly different packages from one another within their no-huddle systems. The Ravens, Packers, Raiders, and Broncos ran pass plays from it more than 60% of the time, and the latter two ran pass plays more than 70% of the time. The Patriots and Chiefs were more even-keeled; indeed, the Patriots were the only team in the league than ran more rush plays from the no-huddle than pass plays.

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You might remember from this post that Palmer and Joe Flacco actually had fairly similar numbers last year – in fact, Palmer’s numbers were slightly better, albeit on a terrible Raiders team that passed often. Like Palmer, Flacco’s numbers also saw a major boost from running the no-huddle: a 1.25% increase in revised completion percentage (RC%); a near-2% boost in success rate; and 0.20 additional YAS/YBS.

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As for the more even-keeled teams, the Chiefs saw small gains only – their offense wasn’t a major threat last year, regardless of style. The Patriots, however, found a way to do even more damage to defenses with the no-huddle than out of normal sets. Somewhat counter-intuitively, they didn’t rip off massively more chunks of yardage with the no-huddle – their yardage per play was bared improved – they were, however, much more efficient.

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Overall, the takeaways are:

The Patriots made an already-strong rushing attack even stronger through the no-huddle. The Pats had a rushing success rate of more than 61% out of the no-huddle, which only added to an already-strong attack – rushing SR% from the huddle was 52.8%. A big part of that boost was Danny Woodhead; he took only 9% of the Patriots’ rush attempt from the huddle, though managed a SR% of 50% and 4.0 yards per carry. He took 27.5% of the team’s carries from the no-huddle and achieved a SR% of 58.5%, at 3.8 yards per carry. That took carries away from primary back Stevan Ridley, but even he ran to a 62% SR% out of the no-huddle, a full ten points higher than his SR% from the huddle. Ridley also got more yards per carry from the no-huddle – but Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Woodhead, each saw a slight dip by that metric. So even though the Patriots got fewer yards per carry overall rushing from the no-huddle, they became more efficient, and also got a bump in YAS/YBS. Sneaks by Brady didn’t factor heavily here, as Brady only accounted for 4% of rushes out of the no-huddle. Vereen or someone else will need to prove capable of filling the hole left by Woodhead, now in San Diego.

The Broncos were just fine running out of the huddle. Peyton Manning’s season last year was such that Denver probably didn’t need to sprint the other team out of the stadium – the Broncos were the best team from the huddle on SR%, YAS/YBS, and YPP among the teams highlighted above, both overall and on passing alone. However, perhaps utilizing the run a bit more out of the no-huddle would have benefitted the team last year, considering that Willis McGahee had an under-appreciated season.

Bruce Arians would be wise to adopt more no-huddle in Arizona. Between the addition of Carson Palmer and the presence of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd – and a generally better team than the Raiders – Palmer could turn the Cardinals offense around quickly. The Colts went no-huddle on 5.37% of plays last year under Arians, and Palmer was the best passer out of the no-huddle of those from the six teams highlighted above – better than Brady – though it’s safe to assume the Raiders were behind in most, if not all, of the situations when they ran it. Still, it was a remarkable contrast from his more pedestrian numbers out of the huddle; they’d be wise to crank up the speed in the desert.

Watch for the Lions, too. The Lions missed the cut from this list, but they were the only other team to run more than 100 no-huddle plays, accounting for 9% of their total; they ran 1,151 plays overall, second only to the Patriots. Of their no-huddle plays, 62.5% were passes, on which they saw modest improvement (a 1.44% SR% increase) – but they passed to a 63% SR% from it, relative to 46% from the huddle. Adding Reggie Bush gives the Lions another versatile weapon, and if they make the no-huddle a bigger part of their offense, it could increase output much more this season.

The no-huddle wasn’t an instant path to added success: winning teams like the Patriots, Ravens, and Packers, used it to increase overall output while the Broncos didn’t see much of a tangible benefit, aside from increasing the pace of play in losing scenarios. Nor was it a passing-only scheme, as the Patriots showed, despite what some may think. But early adopters have shown the ability to create an advantage with relatively small tweaks to the game like the no-huddle, despite using it less than 25% of the time – and though the gains may be incremental, note the successful teams deploying it most. Expect both a lot more ‘idea sharing’ – thanks largely to the arrival of Chip Kelly, as well as increased prominence generally, accelerating adoption – to increase the no-huddle’s prevalence around the league, and the accompanying scramble by defensive coaches to figure out how to counter.

 

 
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    One Comment

    1. i’d like to see no huddle stats with desperation drives removed, i.e late game drives in lopsided games, where the defense gives up everything underneath to teams that are running hurry up, no huddle offenses in an effort to catch up. same goes for end of first half drives. i think you would find that both situations inflate no huddle stats vs no huddle stats.

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