- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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One defensive coordinator even told me that his team was considering taking a linebacker off the field on first downs in some situations and replacing him with a physical, mobile safety.
The use of three-wide sets is skyrocketing. In 2009, 40% of offensive snaps in the NFL featured three or more wide receivers, according to the website Pro Football Focus. In '11, that number was up to 49. The increase in three-wide sets and the popularity of the no-huddle add up to more plays, especially more passes.
Meanwhile, defensive players are playing with a mental harness. With the rules tending to favor the offense, and with the commissioner's office cracking down on excessive or borderline violent hits, it makes sense that coordinators these days are more comfortable than ever sending their wideouts over the middle.
Defining Factoid of the Era No. 3: Offenses are not running significantly less. Teams rushed an average of 439 times in 1991; 441 in 2001; and 437 last season. But compared with 1991, teams last year called an average of 48 more pass plays (attempts plus sacks) over the course of the season.
TODAY'S GAME is simply faster than ever before. On a tour of training camps this summer, one thing that stood out to me, after 28 years of observing, was the speed at which some practices were run. New Orleans has a drill for quarterbacks and receivers that mimics game speed. Every seven seconds Brees and the other passers take a snap, drop back at full bore and fire at a receiver, over and over. After each pass the receivers have to run back to the line as if it mattered. The Packers, Dolphins and Falcons all run equally fast in their passing game workouts.
"We don't do sprints," says new Miami coach Joe Philbin, "because we practice with a tempo, and our guys are gassed [from] practicing the way we're going to play."
That's a key to the success of the no-huddle in Green Bay too. (No surprise, Philbin spent the past five years as the Packers' offensive coordinator.) "Punches, punches, punches," says McCarthy. "I believe in attacking. I'm not trying to shorten the game when we run the no-huddle. I'm not trying to win by three, or win by making fewer mistakes. That's not us."
That no-huddle, with Rodgers at the helm, is the reason why Green Bay—which averaged 35 points per game in 2011—could be even better on offense this season. Every key receiver will have at least two years' experience in the offense. (Speedy wideout Randall Cobb, in his second year, is the neophyte.) The veterans can pick up signals in the scheme simply from Rodgers's stare.
When the Super Bowl XLV MVP stands at the line, freezing the defense, he has an array of on-the-fly options. First, he can take the snap whenever he wants, a task that will be made easier with veteran Jeff Saturday at center. Then he can run any of seven plays from three distinct categories. He can call a "three-way play," choosing a strongside run, a run to the backside or a prescribed pass based on that week's scouting report. He can call a "two-way play," with a run or pass, also based on that week's scouting report. Or he can call a "two-way pass play," either a play-action or a regular drop-back pass.
It's dizzying to consider the power Rodgers has at the line of scrimmage. McCarthy says he "never dreamed" he'd be giving his quarterback so much independence. "If I'm ever going to caution Aaron," he says, "it's about playing too fast. The way he's wired, he's so fast and so smart on his feet."