EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL has seen its fair share of growth in hurry-up offenses over the last 30 years.
In the mid-80s, Sam Wyche and the Cincinnati Bengals invented the “sugar huddle,” in which their offense would come together for only a couple seconds before hustling back up to the line of scrimmage.
“Sometimes we use it to keep personnel off the field, sometimes to change the tempo of the game, and sometimes to force defenses out of a certain coverage,” Wyche said in 1986.
Before the Bengals’ Super Bowl matchup with the San Francisco 49ers in 1989, Wyche had a different way to describe it:
“We call it the attack offense,” he said. “We are attacking the defense. It’s an attempt to restrict the matchups to the previous down, to try to freeze the defense from bringing in its nickel defense. We think it gives us an edge.”
The Buffalo Bills and the “K-Gun” offense went to four Super Bowls using a no-huddle offense.
Years later, the NFL saw Peyton Manning call everything at the line of scrimmage. And then Chip Kelly burst on the scene in 2013 with an up-tempo style that led the Eagles to a top-ranked offense.
As they always do, NFL defenses made adaptations, but offenses took from Manning and Kelly. Last year, the New York Times found that some teams were using no-huddle for around 25 plays per game.
The 2018 Minnesota Vikings have not been that type of team.
No-huddle data can be murky because of differences in definition by play-by-play scorers from stadium to stadium, but according to Pro-Football Reference, quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown 51 passes with his team in hurry-up offense, completing 37 for 418 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.6 rating.
Comparing those numbers to other QBs around the league, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has 112 no-huddle passes whereas Saints QB Drew Brees has just 11 throws out of no-huddle.
In a 24-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Vikings’ only touchdown drive came when they flipped the up-tempo switch at the end of the half. Cousins completed five straight passes — two of which went for more than 20 yards — and finished the drive with a five-yard TD throw to Adam Thielen.
“They were giving us a lot of really unorthodox looks defensively, so that was part of it, not to allow them to get into those things and get right on the ball so they can’t substitute, some of that,” head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday. “I think there’s a place for some of that, and they did that to us some. They’d get up on the ball and snap it quick. Then they’d get up on the ball and make their checks and do whatever they need to do there. I’ve always said that I think there’s a place for that.”
The drive’s biggest play came on a no-huddle throw to tight end Kyle Rudolph, which came right after a 23-yard quick slant to Stefon Diggs.
New England’s defense got set, but left Rudolph one-on-one with a defensive back — a clear mismatch.
The Vikings rushed up to the line of scrimmage and ran a read-option. At this point, the Patriots’ defense appeared to be reeling after giving up two big plays. Notice right before Cousins takes the snap, New England’s defenders are just getting set. Cook bursts forward for five yards.
Zimmer said that advantage of going no-huddle is giving the defense the feeling of playing catch-up.
“I tell the team all the time, when teams get in the huddle and get out of the huddle and get up to the line fast, snap the ball or don’t snap the ball, change the tempo throughout the course of the ballgame, all they’re trying to do is take your breath away,” Zimmer said. “You know, ‘Oh, I can’t catch my breath, we’re doing this, they’re doing that, where do we line up?’ Yeah, it puts a lot of stress on the defense. That’s part of why you do it.”
After a completion and timeout, the Vikings threw a short pass to Cook for no gain and then ran back up to the line of scrimmage to run another play. This time, Cook motioned out, which caused some confusion on the Patriots’ defense. Notice No. 23 is waived over by No. 21 to cover Cook. That gives Cousins an indicator that the Pats are in man coverage — a good look for a quick screen to Diggs.
Former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker wrote an article in favor of using the no-huddle offense several years ago. One of his main points was that it helps a team’s offensive line. He wrote:
The biggest benefit by far, however, is the effect that the no-huddle has on the conditioning of the defense, and the defensive line in particular.
Watch the defensive line try to rush the passer the next time when a team goes into the no-huddle offense. By the third or fourth consecutive play, the defensive linemen look like they are in quicksand. Rushing the passer takes great energy and force, and the lactic acid builds up in linemen’s muscles to the point where they have little to no shot of getting to the quarterback. Quarterbacks have all kinds of time then to throw and can simply pick apart the opposing team’s secondary.
Cousins has only been sacked once in no-huddle this year, per PFR.
Cook has only run the ball seven times out of no-huddle, so there isn’t much that can be taken from that data, but he is having far more success running out of the shotgun than from under center. Most times when teams run no-huddle, they use shotgun. Cook averages 7.0 yards per carry when his QB isn’t under center and just 2.6 YPC under center.
The Vikings certainly shouldn’t switch to a high tempo all of the time based on one good drive in New England, but Cousins said using it more could be a consideration.
“I think it’s something we have to talk about,” Cousins said. “Any time you can do as well as we’ve done in that two-minute mode it has to say something about what we do well or trying to emphasize something we could be good at. The coaches have to look and decide what they want to do. We seem to have been productive in it.”
As Zimmer pointed out last week, if the Vikings go three-and-out and the drive only takes one minute off the clock, Minnesota’s defense will be stressed. The Vikings already rank 25th in the amount of average time they hold the ball per drive at 2:33.
The Vikings will have to make some tweaks this week. Next up is a key matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, who are tied for the ninth best defense in points allowed with the Patriots.