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Defending the No-Huddle Offense

by: David Purdum
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The no-huddle offense can give even the most talented defenses fits. In Georgia’s season opener against Oklahoma State, the Bulldogs struggled to get lined up correctly when the Cowboys mixed in the no-huddle on two first half scoring drives.

“Early in the game, they were getting us off-balance and we weren’t getting lined up (because of the no-huddle),” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That was probably our biggest halftime adjustment – making sure we were lined up on time. I think there was a momentum change when they tried to pull a fast play on us in the second half and [linebacker] Brandon Miller drilled the guy in the backfield. I told our guys if we could do that once, they would stop running those hurry-up plays on us, and that’s what happened.”

Getting aligned quickly and properly is just one of the many challenges the no-huddle offense poses to defenses. The no-huddle is also difficult to simulate in practice. It limits a defense’s ability to substitute, which can result in worn-down players in the second half. Plus, the no-huddle is no longer reserved for two-minute drills and hurry-up situations. Offenses are now utilizing the no-huddle throughout games in an attempt to change the tempo, force defenses to show their hands or catch them with the wrong personnel.

But as Richt noted above there are ways to disrupt the no-huddle.

Delta State coach Ron Roberts, whose Statesmen face the no-huddle several times each year, shares his strategy about attacking the no-huddle by pinpointing tendencies, disguising pre-snap defenses and baiting the offense into certain anticipated play calls.

Preparing for the No-Huddle Offense

According to Roberts, the most important part in preparing for the no-huddle is getting a feel for the tempo that the offense prefers to run.

But due to the brevity of film cut-ups, on which video generally begins at each snap, discovering what pace an offense is playing at can be difficult. In fact, that kind of confusion and deception is one of the primary reasons Northwest Missouri State head coach Mel Tjeerdsma employs the no-huddle offense.

“The problem on film is that you don’t get to see the whole sequence,” said Tjeerdsma. “That’s one of the problems the no-huddle causes. It makes it very hard to practice and simulate with the scout team.”

Says Roberts, “You really have to see them live or have played them before to get a good feel for their tempo. What we have found is that defining those tempos is as important as anything.” Roberts breaks down no-huddle offenses into two basic categories: First is a fast-paced, hurry-up style, often seen during the two-minute drill. Second is the slower “read-tempo” or “check-with-me” where the QB comes to the line, checks out the defensive alignment and pauses to look at the sideline. That is where the coaches decide whether or not to check out of the play-call.

Defending the Read-Tempo

While pinpointing a no-huddle offense’s tempo on tape is difficult, Roberts says you can pick up some key tendencies from game film. He adds that no-huddle offenses usually stick to these tendencies more often than normal offenses, especially ones that use a “read-tempo.” An offense that uses a read-tempo often will get locked into certain plays and you can use this to your advantage.

“Every time there’s five in the box, they’re going to run,” Roberts said as an example. “Every time it’s six in the box, it’s going to be a pass. If it’s two-high (safeties), they run certain routes. Or if it’s one-high they run certain routes. It becomes a pattern.”

Recognizing these tendencies allows Roberts to disguise and bait no-huddle offenses into certain plays. For instance, Delta State is a 3-3-5 base defense. They’ll try to trick offenses into certain plays by originally giving a two-safety look, only to roll into a one-safety look after the snap or vice versa. “It becomes important against the read-tempo to coordinate and disguise your looks,” said Roberts. “You don’t want to disguise just for the sake of disguise. You want to bait them into certain things, depending on what their reads are.”

This gives offenses (like Northwest Missouri’s) trouble. “The teams that have the flexibility to stem around,” explained Tjeerdsma, “and give you one look pre-snap then switch into another look are hard for no-huddle offenses.”

Before deciding on these defensive disguises, Roberts looks on film. He wants to determine whether the offense is strictly reading how many defenders are in the box or if they’re reacting to the safeties. He then disguises his pre-snap looks accordingly in an attempt to entice a certain pattern or route. For example, if Delta State shows a one-high safety look before the snap, they are anticipating that the offense will attack vertically. So when Roberts’ defense drops a second safety back after the snap, they hope to have the vertical routes covered.

“In the one-high safety look, we’re expecting a high-horizontal stretch, where they’re trying to stretch the free safety, four vertical,” said Roberts. “One-high, Cover-3 look, we’ll call it a zone pass. They’re creating a strong area of stretch against that strong safety, whether it be with curl flat or with a bubble slant. Somewhere they’re reading that flat defender.

“In the two-safety look,” Roberts continued, “you see a lot of the smash concept, the hitch/corner. Again, they’re trying to stretch your corner in the flat. We’ll see that, or we’ll see the vertical stretch out of a trips look, where they’ll put the No. 3 (receiver) down the seam. Then, ideally, we’ll roll back to it in the vertical and run them right into our free safety.”

Defending the Fast-Paced No-Huddle

One of the ways Roberts has countered the no-huddle offense is by going no-huddle on defense. About nine years ago, he saw the popularity of the no-huddle offense increasing and decided that it would be beneficial for his defense not to have to huddle as well.

“We were having to change every time when we saw a no-huddle,” Roberts explained. “So by going to a no-huddle defense, each time we face a no-huddle offense or are in the two-minute drill, it’s not going to affect us.”

The Delta State’s no-huddle defense is based out of the 3-3-5. Roberts also has a personnel package with two down linemen, three linebackers and six defensive backs. Every player is taught all of the signals and looks to the sideline between each play.

Communication, both verbally and non-verbally, is critical. Roberts installs an automatic check into the game plan that is used in situations where offenses try to hurry up and catch the defense out of position or with the wrong personnel.

Keeping players fresh, especially on the defensive line, is also a priority against a fast-paced no-huddle offense. “We like to try to play a lot of guys. You have to keep those guys fresh in the games where you’re facing no-huddle teams,” emphasized Roberts. “What happens is they start wearing you down and start scoring all those points in the second half.”

Roberts emphasizes the importance of keeping his defensive linemen fresh and prefers to rotate as many as six down linemen. The Statesmen try not to leave any linemen on the field for more than five consecutive plays. Defensive backs and linebackers can last ten plays. Matching your defensive personnel with the offense’s personnel is actually easier against a no-huddle, says Roberts. “They’re running two on or two off,” said Roberts, “and they’re running to two spots so you know if they’re a wide receiver or a running back.”

Conditioning is another factor that comes into play against a no-huddle offense.

Tjeerdsma loves to change the tempo with his offense but does not always speed things up. “Sometimes we’ll slow things down a little and make those defensive linemen stick in their stance for a while,” said Tjeerdsma. “They’ll get pretty antsy when they stay down for 20 seconds or so.”

To ensure that his players are properly conditioned to defend the no-huddle, Roberts practices the two-minute drill twice a week, matching the first-team defense against the first-team offense at full speed. The Statesmen focus on anaerobic conditioning, relying on short sprints to help simulate game conditions.

Two-Minute Drill

In the two-minute drill, when offenses are in a hurry-up no-huddle, Roberts focuses his strategy on the opposing quarterback. When he’s facing a hot quarterback, Roberts will dial up some blitzes and attempt to pressure. If the quarterback is more of a runner and has not been successful throwing the football throughout the game, Roberts prefers to sit back in a zone and cover. “The guy that’s on rhythm, you have to pressure him,” Roberts said. “The guy that hasn’t hit his mark and is not the best thrower in the world, we’re going to cover that guy. We’re going to pressure the good ones and cover the bad ones.”

One-or two-high: A pre-snap defensive look referring to the number of safeties being used.

Read-tempo: A type of no-huddle offense where the quarterback will come to the line and look at the defense’s alignment before checking with the sidelines to see if they need to check out of the play call.

Baiting an offense: Showing a certain pre-snap defensive alignment in order to give an offense a false read that encourages a certain play.


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