On Monday, Rob Demovsky of ESPN published an article discussing the Green Bay Packers' offense and how head coach Mike McCarthy is hoping to increase the number of plays his offense runs in each game. According to Demovsky, the Packers finished 11th in the NFL in 2013 in plays per game at just over 67. That's relatively fast, obviously near the top third of the league, but it's not where McCarthy wants to be in 2014.
McCarthy is quoted in the article saying "We play pretty fast, but you always want to play faster." Okay, that makes sense, especially when taken along with the quote that "I've always been of the belief of getting as many shots as you can, so we've always emphasized playing as fast as you can." More plays = more opportunities for Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and company to find the end zone Got it.
But what are some of the drawbacks (or barriers, for that matter) to running the no-huddle offense? McCarthy notes that it comes down to personnel:
When you have as many three-down players as you can possibly have, obviously your substitution patterns are cleaner. You're not subbing because you have to, you're subbing just when you need to.
This is where it gets interesting, and what brought us to the point of this article. The critical piece here is having a group of players who can play multiple positions and shift between them on consecutive plays; that forces the defense to react to the offense, instead of the other way around.
With that in mind, we identify the critical pieces to the Packers' plan to use the no-huddle offense and how each of them will make the puzzle come together to give Green Bay and even more potent attack this season.
One of the critical pieces to this plan from the Packers' perspective is having a true three-down back on the field. A year ago, Eddie Lacy showed signs of being that back. We know what Lacy can do on handoffs - that's the biggest reason why he's the starting back. But his receiving and blocking chops were both very good in 2013, and showed signs of only improving in the future.
Lacy caught 35 passes for 253 yards during the regular season season - a 7.3 yard average - and added another two receptions for seven yards in the Wild-Card game. That's not mind-blowing, but it's a sign that he's got talent in the receiving game. According to Pro Football Focus, he also posted just three drops on 44 targets, which is a pretty low rate for a running back in today's NFL. Furthermore, his 85% catch rate is very impressive, and he did well when running routes on both the right and left sides.
On to blocking. Lacy was actually the most effective pass blocker of any Packers running back, according to PFF's grading. He allowed three total pressures in 124 pass blocking snaps, while earning the third-highest Pass Blocking Efficiency grade of any running back in the NFL. John Kuhn was effective as well, with three hurries in 70 snaps, but Lacy was just as good if not better at keeping Aaron Rodgers and company clean.
With his receiving and blocking ability in play, Lacy should be able to stay on the field for all three downs when the team goes into a no-huddle situation and allow the team to remain effective and dangerous without substituting players.
The next key is the versatility of the Packers' tight ends. Really, any combination of one or two of the players on the roster could be crucial. A player like Andrew Quarless or even Colt Lyerla could line up in-line, at H-back, or split out in the slot, forcing the defense to account for them in all possible cases without substituting. Lyerla could even take the occasional carry or two out of the backfield to throw a little surprise in for the defense. Then imagine a two-tight end set with one of the converted wide receivers (Brandon Bostick or Richard Rodgers) flexed out in the slot or even split wide. That would give a cornerback a very tough assignment or force a linebacker to cover in space on the perimeter - a tall task against one of these tall, physical players.
Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson
One of the silver linings to Randall Cobb's injury last season was that it forced Jordy Nelson to work more out of the slot and become more comfortable running routes from that alignment. Therefore, the Packers could utilize him and Cobb interchangeably on the outside or in the slot to maximize the best matchups with slot corners or safeties.
Cobb, on the other hand, has already shown the ability to play both in the slot and split wide, and was a weapon out of the backfield early last season as well. Good luck figuring out where he'll line up on a play-by-play basis.
Overall, imagine all the possible alignments that a Packers' offense would pose for a defense when consisting of Nelson, Cobb, Bostick, Lyerla, and Lacy. The only player whose alignment would be accounted for on every play would be Lacy, and even then he would be a threat to run, receive a pass, or stay in as a pass-blocker and he could line up in a split-I formation, as a single-back, or flanking Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun.
Oh, and speaking of that Aaron Rodgers guy - he'd be pretty important, too. And as one of the smartest QBs in the league who is known for making adjustments and calling plays at the line of scrimmage, he'll get his guys in the right place and running the right routes.
As far as fielding players with the athletic ability and versatility to make a defense get out of its comfort zone in a no-huddle situation, the Packers are well-equipped. We'll see just mow much Mike McCarthy elects to use that tactic starting on September 4th.