Monday, September 14, 2009

Young Patriots must adapt to no-huddle

One of Bill Belichick's earliest memories of defending a no-huddle offense came almost two decades ago when Jim Kelly ran the "K-Gun" with the Buffalo Bills. He'd seen what the Cincinnati Bengals called a "sugar huddle," a short and sweet meeting in the backfield that limited the amount of time defenses had to make substitutions.

But what Kelly and the Bills did surpassed what the Bengals did: They eschewed the huddle entirely and lined up as quickly as possible at the conclusion of every play. The tempo made it almost impossible for opposing defenses to make substitutions and anything but minor adjustments. If executed properly, it gave opposing defenses no chance to game-plan against it.

"The ball got snapped with sometimes as much as 20 seconds left on the 40 second clock," Belchick said, "so it was a much faster pace than, for example, the Cincinnati no-huddle. The big difference here is speed and communication. ... You usually have time to get your communication and do what you want to do, but when they’re going that fast, you’ve got to be ready to match the speed of the game that they’re playing at."

With former Kelly backup Alex Van Pelt now the Bills' quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller with the Bills, the offense once again will employ an up-tempo, no-huddle offense against a Belichick defense at Gillette Stadium tonight.

Both the Bills on offense and the Patriots on defense will feature relatively young and inexperienced units -- and with the no-huddle relying so heavily on flawless execution, it might pose a substantial challenge for both sides.

Bills quarterback Trent Edwards has the pockey savvy and the accuracy to make it work. What he doesn't have, though, is much familiarity with his best wide receiver and his offensive line. Terrell Owens joined the Bills during the offseason and appeared in just one preseason game. Two rookie guards and a second-year left tackle make up most of the offensive line, something that likely will make last-second protection adjustments difficult.

The Patriots, though, face a similar lack of experience. Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are stalwarts up front, but Jarvis Green has been a part-time player throughout his career. Behind the defensive line, second-year middle linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton will bear most of the burden for filling gaps and for making sure gaping seams don't emerge. Outside linebacker Pierre Woods iisn't exactly swimming in experience, either, and cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs both are in their first season with the Patriots.

Patriots coaches, of course, will use the first half to do some on-the-fly teaching to those younger players, to point out adjustments that should have been made or formations that weren't precise.

The no-huddle even makes that a challenge, though.

When there's time to make substitutions, a player can come out and get an earful from a coach between plays and get right back on the field. With the no-huddle, though, no such luck.

"The players and the coaches, we’re standing on the sideline and have had eight or nine plays and, in all honesty, some of them are running together," Belichick said. "At the normal pace, most of the time if you say, 'Hey, what happened on that play?', the player will say, ‘Well, here’s what happened,’ and they know the play and they know the situation you’re talking about and all of that.

"In a no-huddle, they’re saying, 'On that play, what happened? Did that? Did he? Did he pass protect or did he fake and then check out? What play are you talking about, now?'"

Employing and defending the no-huddle offense both are about understanding of the game plan and flawless execution.

With so many new faces on both sides of the ball, there's no way to predict who has an edge.

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