Fri, 27 May 2005
The No Huddle Offense
I was fortunate to have had Sam Wyche as my Head Coach in Cincinnati, this guy had a very unique way of looking at problems and some very ingenious solutions to these problems. Sam to me was a mad scientist that was so far ahead of the curve on innovation in the game of football it was ridiculous. Where most people would see problems, Sam saw opportunity. As a player I really enjoyed playing for him, because I learned all the time. He is a teacher and does a wonderful job teaching the nuances of football.
Now, don't get me wrong Sam was as nutty as anyone I ever been around. But I really enjoyed playing for him. Although, at the time I didn't realize it as much as I have should. I could tell Sam Wyche stories until I was blue in the face and still have much more to say. The only thing predictable about Sam was his unpredictability. As a player you spend a great deal of time trying to figure out your coaches, so you kind of know what to expect. With Sam you just didn't know...which was good and bad.
Regardless of what the Buffalo Bills say...the Bengals were the first team in the NFL to put in the NO HUDDLE offense. And if it wasn't for Boomer Esiason calling his good friend Frank Reich and raving about the offense I doubt seriously that the Bills would have used it as much as they did or at least they would have been much slower in implementing it.
Defenses began to use situational substitution quite a bit in the early 80's, what happened was the defense would bring in the big run stopping lineman and linebackers on first and second down and then bring in their pass rushers and small backers/nickel guys on third and long situations. You would see a hoard of guys run in the game and another hoard run off the field. The defense was just trying to get their best personnel into the game to deal with the expected type of play that they would face.
Sam saw a weakness in this and began exploiting it, what he saw was 16 or more defensive guys on the field at one time and that as you know is against the rules. So Sam exploited that by coming up with a simple "SET ALERT" play, When Boomer saw a platoon of guys coming onto the field and another platoon running off ...he would scream set alert and we would rush to the line of scrimmage and run a QB Sneak on the first sound. After a few "too many players penalties" and easy five yard gains for us the opposing team had to make a decision....do we stick with the run stoppers or do we put in the nickel or come with a hybrid. The only time we would let them make substitutions was when the clock was stopped for time out or incomplete pass.
From the simple beginning of a QB sneak, a whole offense was developed that could be run from the line of scrimmage. Many people say that it was no difference than the old "hurry up" offense. But it was much different, the hurry up has been used for years to save time and score quickly at the end of the half or game. The "No Huddle" is not the same tempo....we could take our time if we wanted or up tempo the offense if we thought that gave us an advantage. It was flexible and potent...we moved the ball on a lot of good defenses with this and it was . It was espionage type of stuff with code words for formation and more code words for direction and finally code words for play types and another set of code words for snap count.
It wasn't all smooth in the development and many times it was hilarious...I am not sure you have ever saw the movie the Dirty Dozen...In that movie they have a rhyme that corresponds to each step of their mission. Well we had the same type of rhyme where each number rhymed with the type of play we were going to use. At meetings Sam would say the number out of the blue and we would then recite the corresponding rhyme...needless to say when the bullets started flying the rhymes went down the toilet with half of the guys getting it and the other half scratching their heads.
So then we developed plan B ...code words for everything, we always worried that defenses would pick up the codes so we changed them often as far as I could tell no one ever picked up what we were doing...lets face most defensive players I met would never have been picked for Bletchley Park code breaking duties during WWII. Most of these guys had a tough time just remembering where to line up. I learned to never over estimate the intelligence of the defensive guys.
Ok back to the point of this blog the no huddle turned into a complete offense that we could run at any time. It trained us to ready for anything, because you never knew when you would get the "AT THE LINE" call from Boomer. AT THE LINE meant to line up and get ready with hands on knees. You learned that you didn't want to get in a stance until you heard all required information. Once a play was establish and snap count we could get down...I usually went over the ball earlier than the rest because just in case we did get the set alert call I needed to be ready to snap the ball right away.
A funny thing happened the first season we put in the "NO HUDDLE" we were still in pre season and playing the Detroit Lions in Detroit. Sam had the idea of practicing the "NO HUDDLE" in the parking lot of the hotel before the game. We had just installed hand signals for plays which were going to be used in noisy situations where we couldn't hear one another. The funny thing was we were only expecting 30-40,000 people for the game and in pre-season the crowd is pretty quiet...but just in case we had all these new hand signals ready. So here we are in the parking lot of the Hilton and we are going over our hand signals and for some reason some guys were having trouble remembering what the hand signal represented. Boomer would then give the hand signal and if he thought some guys didn't understand he would mumble or cough and say the play so they could hear it. After a while of this Sam was getting pissed at Boomer, didn't want him saying what the play was...so after his tirade he started looking around and found a old guy who was cutting the grass... he waved him over and the guy came over with his lawn mower. He is a professional football team that has a game in a bout 5 hours in the parking lot of the Hilton which is strange enough...but now here is a guy who was cutting the grass a few minutes before and now is amongst the team. Sam looks a t the guys and say hey can you rev up the lawn mower while Boomer does the hand signals. The guys looks bewildered buy says sure...so the guy rolls his lawn mower in front of the offense and starts revving the mower. Sam wanted to simulate crowd noise...and it was as noisy as hell and then all the rocks/pebbles on the parking lot around the mower was were being whipped around and hitting guys in the legs, guys were screaming like little girls...and Sam just laughed his ass off....meeting adjourned.
That Sam was a character!