Price: Just ask Pats -- health trumps late-season momentum as playoff predictor
by: Christopher Price on Fri, 01/18/2013 - 1:14am
FOXBORO -- Time for the Patriots to put their foot on the gas.
In their two previous meetings against the Ravens, the New England offense has utilized a lot of no-huddle -- according to NFL gamebooks, in last year’s AFC title game, the Patriots went no-huddle on 35 of their 68 offensive snaps in their 23-20 win. And earlier this season in Baltimore, New England went no-huddle on 34 of 77 offensive snaps in a 31-30 loss.
But then again, when it comes to the Ravens, New England has always gone fast. In all, the last five times the Patriots have played Baltimore (dating back to the 2009 season), the New England offense has run 108 of its 346 plays in the no-huddle, a rate of 31 percent -- slightly higher than its usual average.
And in the wake of the Ravens playing a physical double-overtime divisional playoff game on the road against the Broncos -- a contest in which they played roughly 77 minutes in the thin air of Denver -- it would seem to make sense that the Patriots do everything then can to try to tire out one of the oldest defenses in the league.
It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between hurry-up and no-huddle. While the two aren’t always mutually exclusive, in the hurry-up, more often than not, it’s about getting to the line quickly and snapping as soon as you can get set. Usually, the no-huddle means you keep the same personnel on the field and call plays from the line of scrimmage. You do this to keep the same defensive personnel on the field to tire the defense and/or press an advantage.
It’s also important to remember that there needs to be some context to the no-huddle numbers -- a team is more inclined to run no-huddle on certain occasions, like if it's fallen into a sizable deficit. (To that end, it’s no surprise that New England went heavy on the no-huddle when it fell behind the Niners -- the Patriots went no-huddle on 40 of a possible 92 snaps against San Francisco.) Conversely, there are plenty of reasons to ease up on the gas -- if you’re looking to play a ball-control offense or four-minute offense, or don’t have good matchups, it makes sense to slow things down.
But for the last two seasons, regardless of the context, it’s clear that no team has used more no-huddle than the Patriots. As was the case last year, the New England offense ran plenty of no-huddle over the course of the 2012 season. During the 2011 regular season, according to NFL gamebooks, the Patriots went no-huddle on 242 of their 1,082 snaps, a rate of 22 percent. That number increased dramatically in the postseason, when the offense was in no-huddle on 78 of its 194 snaps in the postseason, a rate of 40 percent. In all -- including the playoffs -- the 2011 Patriots were in the no-huddle for 320 of their 1,276 plays from scrimmage, a rate of 25 percent.
Those numbers are fairly comparable this year. The Patriots ran 1,191 total plays during the 2012 regular season, and 294 of those plays came out of a no-huddle set -- 24.685 percent of the time. (In addition, they used it on 10 of 65 plays in their divisional playoff win over the Texans. However, it’s important to note that even though they didn’t use a lot of no-huddle comparatively against Houston, the Patriots certainly went uptempo. New England had seven scoring drives Sunday against the Texans, and none of them went more than four minutes.)
Here are the top five no-huddle games of the 2012 regular season:
1. 45 of their 89 snaps against the Broncos, 10/7/12 (51 percent)
2. 40 of their 92 snaps against the Niners 12/16/12 (44 percent)
2. 34 of their 77 snaps against the Ravens 9/23/12 (44 percent)
4. 28 of their 74 snaps against the Jets 10/21/12 (38 percent, OT)
5. 23 of their 68 snaps against the Bills 11/11/12 (34 percent)
(On the other end of the spectrum, the Patriots did not run a single play out of no-huddle in wins over the Rams and Dolphins.)
In October, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked if he’d ever seen a team play as fast as the Patriots, and he mentioned the University of Oregon. On Thursday, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer backed that up, saying that New England had done a good job taking elements from uptempo college teams and applying it to its own offensive philosophy.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘steal.’ I think they’ve learned through the college games some of the best ways to implement it into the pro game,” said Dilfer. “I think they’ve studied not just the mechanism of a line of scrimmage, but the communication -- both signaling the play callin with single syllable words and the communication at the line of scrimmage. I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘innovative.’ I think they’ve just streamlined it. I think it’s a better term and they’ve created a small enough volume to where they can execute at a very high level. So they get a lot of repetition at it.
“People have played fast before. Nobody’s ever played super-fast. And they’re showing the advantage you can have when you can play super-fast, because [it creates] substitution issues for the defense, personnel matchups. You saw the touchdown run last week where literally nobody’s on the offensive left side; the defensive line of scrimmage are running around in chaos. [There’s an] advantage to playing super-fast, and they’ve capitalized on it.”
With that in mind, it’s clear the Ravens are ready for some fast football. Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday there’s no real way you can really simulate New England’s approach in practice, but, “You can sure show them on film and talk in the classroom and just keep beating it into their heads. That’s what we have to do.”
“The key thing about them is they’ve done it so much, and they’ve done it for so long that if you watch teams, just like in this last game, if you don’t get lined up right and right way, you’ve got no chance,” Pees said.
“The key, to me, on defense is that you have to play fundamentally sound,” he added. “The No. 1 priority, first of all, is just to get lined up and be ready to play. Don’t be looking around, don’t be talking back to somebody else and then the ball is being snapped and then you have to try to react to what’s going on. You have to be out, you have to be set, you better be ready to go. A little bit of that is on me making the calls, and a lot is on the players getting ready.”
The stakes are clear. For the second straight year, the Patriots are likely to try to blaze a one-of-a-kind, “super-fast” trail to the Super Bowl. Whether or not the Ravens can keep up is likely to determine which team will be on the road to New Orleans.