Can forcing the biggest, slowest guys on the field to run more plays, at a more rapid pace, with less rest, actually make their job easier? This former NFL offensive lineman thinks so. It seems counter-intuitive, but the advantage lies in the inherent differences between offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
Defensive linemen are trained from a young age to chase every play as if they’re the only guys who can make the tackle on a ball carrier downfield, never assuming one of their teammates will make the stop. It is branded on their brains through years of drills on pursuit angles and gang-tackling, and seared on their souls by memories of coaches cussing them out for “loafing” or not getting into the frame by the time the film cuts off for that specific play. While offensive linemen are also encouraged to hustle downfield for the purpose of throwing additional blocks or recovering fumbles, the expectation level and pressure put on them to sprint after every play is several standard deviations lower than for the defensive linemen. This is why, on any given Sunday, a team might rotate seven or eight defensive linemen, but that same team, barring injury, will play the same five offensive linemen on every snap.
Last season, when New England and Denver decided to play in their up-tempo, no-huddle, hurry-up mode, they did not give the opposing defenses a chance to substitute. Not as big of a deal for defensive backs, but the defensive linemen who faced those attacks have been haunted ever since by flashbacks of gasping for air while Peyton Manning yells “Hurry, Hurry” or Tom Brady calls “Alpha Go.”
Chip Kelly's high speed attack could give Philadelphia's offensive line an advantage over the opposition.
Now with Chip Kelly bringing his fast-break Oregon pace to Philadelphia, and established NFL offensive coordinators warming up to the idea of running more plays, faster, more athletic training staffs better store more oxygen tanks behind the defensive line bench.
The teams I played on primarily used a hurry-up offense in times of desperation when we were behind on the scoreboard and short on time, often referred to as a “2-minute offense.” While it was not a good situation, there were certain advantages this approach afforded to both myself and my fellow offensive linemen. In addition to lacking the ability to wave fresh guys into the game, the defense also didn’t have the time to dial up blitzes, so the schemes we faced were rather vanilla. The defensive line could always try to call a twist or line stunt, but we were operating at the line of scrimmage. So when we would see them whispering to each other or hear them call “Tex,” “Cover Me,” “Outlaw” or “Vegas,” it was a little like Elmer Fudd tiptoeing through the woods “Hunting Wabbits.”
The obvious downside for us was that everyone in the stadium knew we were going to throw the ball on virtually every down. That knowledge gave the defense the freedom to rush the passer with reckless abandon and no regard for stopping the run.
The architects of the new lightning-speed NFL offenses, by operating a balanced run/pass attack throughout the game at a “2-minute” tempo, intend to take full advantage of the aforementioned pros without the con. When facing a stud defensive end like Michael Strahan, Julius Peppers or Jared Allen, I would have loved to come out in a no-huddle, hurry-up mode running a bubble screen followed by two running plays and then a three-step drop pass. That would have gotten those aforementioned defensive ends nice and exhausted.
At that point the trap would have been set for our offense to take a deep shot down the field.
There seems to be a potential feast or famine component to offenses operating so quickly. NFL defenses will undoubtedly be reeling. The only caveat is that teams will want to make sure it is the opposing defense on their heels. If your hurry-up offense turns into a “hurry-up and punt” offense, the defense you’ll be wearing down will be none other than your own.
There are many unanswered questions relating to the warp-speed offenses currently existing or set to join the NFL. Will these offenses be able to execute quickly both at home and in the midst of deafening crowd noise on the road? Will coaches stick with the game plan after a few rough outings that wind up gassing their own defense? Will the officiating crews be able to keep up? Will the league be able to get in all the advertising opportunities that drive the greatest revenue juggernaut in all of professional sports?
Amidst all of the unanswered questions, I see two certainties. First, offensive linemen, as the worst athletes on the field who often have to deal with the best athletes on the field, will hold tight (pun intended) to every advantage afforded to them.
Second, referee Ed Hochuli may want to swap out his bicep-intensive bodybuilding regimen in favor of wind sprints and a three-hour cardio circuit.
Adam Goldberg is a retired NFL offensive lineman of nine seasons who played with the Minnesota Vikings from 2003-2005 and the St. Louis Rams from 2006-2011 after having graduated from the University of Wyoming in 2003. Goldberg currently resides in Denver, Colorado.