The hurry-up offense is an American football offensive style which has two different but related forms in which the offensive team avoids delays between plays. The no-huddle offense refers to avoiding or shortening the huddle to limit or disrupt defensive strategies and flexibility. The two-minute drill is a clock-management strategy that may limit huddles but also emphasizes plays that stop the game clock. While the two-minute drill refers to parts of the game with little time remaining on the game clock, the no-huddle may be used in some form at any time. The no-huddle offense was pioneered by the Cincinnati Bengals and reached its most famous and complete usage by the Buffalo Bills, nicknamed the "K-Gun", during the 1990s under head coach Marv Levy and offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda.
The no-huddle offense is usually employed as part of a hurry-up offense, but it is not necessarily an attempt to snap the ball (begin the play) quicker. Rather, the lack of huddle allows the offense to threaten to snap the ball quickly, denying the defending team time to substitute players and communicate effectively between coaches and players. When operating in the no-huddle, the offense typically lines up in a predetermined[clarification needed] formation at scrimmage, possibly with a predetermined play in mind. The quarterback may then call an audible, altering the play call based on a perceived weakness in the defense's response. Some teams use this methodology to react to the defense and will remain at this pre-snap state for a considerable time as the clock runs down, providing a stream of actual and counterfeit play changes.
Development as a standard method
The first team to employ a version of the no-huddle approach as the normal offensive play strategy was the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals under Sam Wyche with Boomer Esiason as the quarterback. This approach, called the "attack offense," involved a number of strategies including shortened huddles and huddling much closer to the line of scrimmage than usual. The no-huddle approach was used by many teams before but in specific situations for a limited time. This strategy proved to be very effective in limiting substitutions, creating fatigue in the opposing defense, creating play-calling issues for the defense, and various other advantages. The Bengals' regular employment of this offense was extremely effective. The employment of this version of the "no-huddle" propelled the Bengals to their second appearance in the Super Bowl.
The Buffalo Bills, defeated in the AFC Championship game by the "no-huddle" Bengals, soon adopted this approach. Under head coach Marv Levy and offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, the Bills were the first team to truly adopt the no-huddle offense, and with Jim Kelly quarterbacking the no-huddle "K-Gun" offense, the Bills became the only team in NFL history to appear in four consecutive Super Bowls, from 1991-1994. The Bills are considered the only team to ever use the no-huddle offense consistently and completely throughout an entire game for several seasons. This means that the "K-Gun" offense always used the scheme as their primary offensive philosophy. Quarterback Jim Kelly would call and signal the plays himself on the field, throughout the entire game. That is a unique achievement that has never been truly duplicated, therefore, the "K-Gun" offense earned a reputation as the most famous and complete hurry-up offense in football. The "K-Gun" offense is commonly thought to named after quarterback Jim Kelly, but was actually named for the Bills tight end, Keith McKeller.
In recent times Peyton Manning, formerly with the Indianapolis Colts, and now with the Denver Broncos is most well known for this technique, frequently changing the play at the line of scrimmage depending on the coverage that he sees from the opposing defense.
In recent years the New England Patriots with Tom Brady, the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan and the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger employ their own limited variations of this approach. As of the 2012 NFL season, other teams such as the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers and the Miami Dolphins under new head coach Joe Philbin have or will also adopt use of the no-huddle. OC Josh McDaniels also used the no-huddle with the St. Louis Rams in a game against the New York Giants early in the 2011 NFL season. The Baltimore Ravens and Joe Flacco have also employed this technique.
The Bills, again, with quarterback Trent Edwards, ran the no-huddle style offense in the 2009 season. It was scratched mid way through the season, however, due to the lack of efficient personnel.
Differences between the NFL and college approaches
While several NFL teams have begun using the offense in various ways, many college football programs have used the no-huddle or hurry-up as a way to gain an advantage when lacking talent in comparison to the teams they are playing. One twist on this approach is that often a college team will hurry-up to the line of scrimmage and line up in a set formation. Based on what the defense is showing in terms of alignment, the quarterback has the option of calling the determined play at the line of scrimmage or stepping back and looking towards the sidelines where the head coach or an assistant will relay a better play to attack the coverage the defense is showing.
The two-minute drill is a high-pressure and fast-paced situational strategy where a team will focus on clock management, maximizing the number of plays available for a scoring attempt before a half (or game) expires. The tactics employed during this time involve managing players, substitutions, time-outs, and clock-stopping plays to get as many plays in as possible. In the first half, either team may employ the two-minute drill; however, near the end of the game, only a team tied or losing employs the strategy. Most famously, the two-minute drill references end-of-game drives by a team tied or trailing by one possession.
The two-minute drill is named for the point in the game, frequently after the two minute warning, when it is employed. If significantly more time remains, a team's standard strategies are still viable; if significantly less, a team has little option beyond a Hail Mary pass.
Play calling during the two-minute drill emphasizes high probabilities of significant yardage gains or clock stoppages. To help control the clock, teams tend to pass rather than run and to pass near the sidelines rather than the middle of the field. The former provides for incomplete passes while the latter allows the receiver to run out of bounds, both stopping the clock. When plays that do not stop the clock occur, the offense relies on a combination of hurry-up plays and spiking the football – a play where the quarterback stops the clock by immediately throwing the ball into the ground (sacrificing a down by doing so) – and time-outs to minimize time lost. Additionally, in college football, the offense can temporarily stop the clock by gaining a first down.
Finally, as the offense gets closer to scoring, their clock management stance may shift towards running out the clock in an effort to deny the opponent their own opportunity for a two-minute drill.
In Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants executed a two-minute drill culminating in the game-winning touchdown against the New England Patriots. Taking possession with 2:39 remaining, the Giants' play calling broke down as:
- 11 called passes versus 1 called running play
- 7 passes to sidelines versus 2 passes to midfield
When plays did not stop the clock automatically, the Giants took action as follows:
- The clock was allowed to run normally once, 30 seconds between plays
- Hurry-up plays were run twice, average 15 seconds between plays
- Time-outs were used three times, average 11 seconds between plays
For comparison, the six plays which stopped the clock by rule averaged 5 seconds between plays.
In total, the Giants' two-minute drill ran 12 plays for 83 yards in 2:07 of game time. By contrast, the Patriots' preceding drive (run without hurry-up) ran 12 plays for 80 yards in 5:12.
- Malzahn, Gus. "The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy", p. 11.
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- "Wyche likes Bengals' retro no-huddle", Associated Press. Available online at sportingnews.com
- Eskenazi, G. "No-Huddle Rule Wasn't An Easy Snap for Esiason". New York Times, January 11, 1989. Available online at nytimes.com
- Super Bowl team records, available online at nfl.com
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- Super Bowl XLII play-by-play, ESPN.com