No-huddle offense makes perfect sense for Bills

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
After several years of offensive tedium, the Buffalo Bills might actually be changing the way they operate.

A team source says the Bills are gearing up to run a no-huddle offense in 2009. It would maximize their skill players and perhaps neutralize any offensive-line deficiencies by wearing out defenders.

Sam Wyche, the coach who pioneered the up-tempo, three-receiver offense, thinks the Bills have assembled the components to support such a transformation.

"Buffalo's sitting pretty with all those guys," Wyche said from his home in South Carolina. "Believe me."

Wyche installed the entertaining no-huddle offense as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s. Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert learned the no-huddle as quarterback Boomer Esiason's backup. Schonert also was Wyche's quarterbacks coach when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran the no-huddle in the 1990s.

Bills fans became enamored with a no-huddle offense known as the K-Gun, which Jim Kelly so masterfully conducted during their Super Bowl years. A significant reason the Bills tried it was because Wyche's no-huddle Bengals beat them in the 1988 AFC title game.

The timing would be right for a reprise.

The Bills have dangerous receivers Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Josh Reed, versatile running backs Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes and quarterback Trent Edwards, who they believe can make quick decisions at the line of scrimmage.

"The no-huddle lends itself to guys that are big-play guys," Wyche said, "because if you get a defense that's just a little fatigued, just a little off their first-step quickness, and you get the explosive guys, they can hit the home run.

"They have those quick-strike guys."

The Bills also signed a brainy center to make the line calls. Geoff Hangartner scored 47 out of 50 on his Wonderlic intelligence test before the 2005 draft. That's supposedly the record among offensive linemen.

The Bills declined to draft a potential replacement for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, choosing instead to select guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.

Jim Ritcher, Buffalo's left guard on those K-Gun teams, noted the importance of mobility in a no-huddle offense.

"We were sort of smaller and could run better than some of the other lineman in the league that were much bigger than us," Ritcher said from his home in North Carolina.

Wyche said the no-huddle offense works on three levels.

"No. 1, you cut down the recovery time and the defense wears down," Wyche said. "No. 2, the defense has a real tough time getting substitutes in, and the offense gets natural mismatches. No. 3, defensive coordinators have a hard time sending in intricate blitzes because of the time it takes, and you never know when it's going to be a quick snap. So you simplify the defenses you're going to see."

Defenses usually can keep up for about a quarter before they begin to fatigue against a persistent no-huddle attack.

"Every 20 seconds we were getting off a play," Ritcher said. "It's not really difficult, but you have to be in good shape. Defense is so much tougher than offense anyways, when you're running all over the field like a defensive player has to do. It's much more tiring.

"Teams saw that they couldn't replace their defense or change their schemes. They stayed in their defense the whole series until there was a timeout or a penalty. We could just exploit whatever they were in with Jim Kelly and Frank Reich knowing what to do."

Wyche is familiar with much of the Bills' personnel. He was their quarterbacks coach under Mike Mularkey in 2004 and 2005. Wyche did not work with Edwards, who was drafted in 2007, but thinks highly of him.

"You always look for two things in quarterbacks: They've got to be smart, and they've got to be accurate," Wyche said. "If they're tall, that's a plus. If they can run, that's a plus. If they got a rifle arm, that's a plus. But if they're smart and accurate you can figure out a way to win."

Edwards, a Stanford graduate, completed 65.5 percent of his passes last year. That was the NFL's seventh-best efficiency rate.

One of the overlooked elements of a no-huddle offense is a sure-handed tight end. The Bills released the droptastic Robert Royal and drafted Shawn Nelson out of Southern Miss in the fourth round. Nelson is balanced, but known more for his catching ability than his blocking.

"Where the no-huddle is most effective is if you got a tight end that can step out a few yards and be a quick receiver and you've got a running back who can cheat out to the weak side and be a quick receiver out of the backfield," Wyche said.

"You don't have to substitute to get four wide receivers. You can get your third and fourth receiver from your tight end or your backs. That's when you really optimize your offense."

All three Buffalo backs can catch. Lynch had 47 receptions for 300 yards and a touchdown last year. Jackson had 37 catches for 317 yards. Rhodes caught 45 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns as a part-time starter for the Indianapolis Colts, the preeminent no-huddle team.

"It's not that hard, and the players get to really like it because they get more involved in the offense," Wyche said. "They get to feel like they're more in charge.

"In the no-huddle everything is lining up at a much faster tempo. You're not in a two-minute mode, but you're not in slow-mo either. The Bills' opponents can't practice that tempo."