The no-huddle could be a no-brainer for this offense

September 09, 2012|Mike Preston

One way or another, 2012 is a coming-out season for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Soon after the 2011 season, coach John Harbaugh told offensive coordinator Cam Cameron he wanted to test the limits of the offense and nothing should slow it down.

The no-huddle has come to Baltimore: down, set and ready to go.

"Oh, they're going to be running it in Baltimore?" asked former Colts and Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who installed the offense when he was offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills from 1989 to 1991.

"They've certainly got the thrower," Marchibroda said, referring to Flacco. "I've never met the kid, but the arm strength is there. Mentally, though, I don't know much about him."

That's the intriguing part, but the Ravens appear willing to commit to their fifth-year quarterback. A year ago, the Ravens had the 19th-ranked offense in the NFL but still came within a dropped pass of playing in the Super Bowl.

But the team's traditionally strong defense is going through a youth movement this season, which means the Ravens will need more from the offense.

Flacco has to carry the offense with his arm and his brain.

"This is something we always wanted to do," Cameron said. "But doing what you want and doing what you should do doesn't always happen when you want it to. Obviously, this is something John wanted to do, and the whole staff was on board. As we've seen in the preseason, Joe is a great communicator, and that's the key to the offense."

Fans have been clamoring for the no-huddle for years. That's where Flacco appeared the most comfortable and productive.

He ran the offense for two years at Delaware, throwing for 4,263 yards and setting 20 school records.

"He loves that tempo of no-huddle, the opportunity to make decisions," Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said. "He loves those things. He's a bright guy, and he loves to keep his head in the game like that. When you go no-huddle, it's a mindset, an energy you can produce. Joe enjoys that and has done well with it."

Keeler appears almost as happy as Flacco.

"I think the biggest thing is, that's what successful offenses do," Flacco said. "That's what you need to do to be a successful offense these days because the way defenses can throw different looks at you and how good they are, week in and week out, especially in this division, you have to do all you can to keep them off balance. The no-huddle does a good job doing that."

Marchibroda sees other advantages as well.

"At first I didn't run the offense because I didn't have the guts," Marchibroda said. "But this offense forces teams out of their comfort zone even in the way they have to prepare for it during the week. The more time they have to prepare for it, the less they have for something else.

"Offensive linemen love it because those big, 300-pound defensive linemen get tired and it gives the offensive linemen an edge," Marchibroda said. "I'm sure more teams in the NFL would run it, but everybody doesn't have the quarterback to pull it off."

You need a smart center who can recognize schemes and call out blocking assignments, and the Ravens have one in Matt Birk.

Except for possible rookie guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele, who might start, the Ravens have an experienced offensive line.

"You've got to be able to communicate," Cameron said. "A lot of our guys are back from last year. This is the fewest bunch of new guys we've had in a while. It starts with quarterback and center, and if those two guys can do it, then you've got a chance because then you can pass everything out from guard to tackles to tight ends to receivers.

"If you've got a veteran team playing together over time, it gets better and better."

Some teams fear using the no-huddle on the road because the crowd noise could put them at a disadvantage.

Cameron disagrees.

He believes that could work in the Ravens' favor because they know where they are going on the plays, and the crowd noise could prevent the defensive players from hearing their own calls.

Regardless, the no-huddle won't have much effect on Flacco's decision-making process. He still has to be aware of the score, down and distance, defensive personnel and alignment, then decide which play is the best within 40 seconds.

It sounds like a lot, but quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly and Boomer Esiason were great at it. The Ravens have talked about turning Flacco loose. So it's either his time or the Ravens have faked out a lot of people, including Flacco.

"We've been working on it in practice, and we started working on it over the summer," Flacco said. "If that's what we're going to be working on, I would expect to go out there and run it. I would be disappointed if we didn't."

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