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The potential downside of Buffalo's no-huddle offense

If you pay even the slightest bit of attention to the Buffalo Bills, you're probably well aware of the three predominant story lines surrounding the team right now (other than the very obvious story of Terrell Owens): the re-structured offensive line, the worries about the pass rush, and most fascinating of all, the new no-huddle offense.

ESPN's John Clayton is the latest to discuss the no-huddle.  He calls the move "one of the most interesting studies in the NFL this summer," believes that QB Trent Edwards "has all the skills to be a good no-huddle quarterback," and voices concerns over the potential downsides of running the scheme.  We examine a few of those downsides after the jump.

Running more plays
When an offense is gifted with as many talented playmakers as Buffalo's offense currently boasts, naturally, if you're a coaching staff, you want to run as many offensive plays as possible to, obviously, make as many plays and score as many points as possible.  We recently spent a good chunk of time discussing the Bills' desire for NFL refs to pick up the pace in spotting the ball so that the team's no-huddle can operate at their preferred pace.

In 2008, Buffalo's offense - which, clearly, was not a no-huddle attack at that point - ran the seventh-fewest amount of plays in the NFL, snapping the ball just 956 times in 16 games (roughly 60 snaps per game).  Of the six teams that finished below the Bills in this category, five of them finished .500 or below, with the Carolina Panthers the lone exception.

While more plays equal more opportunities for big plays and points, it's also indicative of other things going on - such as solid time of possession and being put in advantageous situations by your defense.  Though the intent of Buffalo's no-huddle isn't to speed up the tempo of the offense, you can bet that the tempo will be quick more often than it isn't.  The Bills want to be unpredictable in this department.  That sounds great if it leads to points, but if it doesn't work, it could hamper what the team does defensively.

Time of possession
Buffalo runs a zone-based, 4-3 defensive scheme.  The players they employ are light, quick, and - at least in theory - are on the field to disrupt and impact, rather than grind.  Teams that employ a Cover 2 scheme like Buffalo does need, therefore, to be a bit better in time of possession than teams that run other defensive schemes.

Buffalo held on to the ball for an average of 30:04 per game in 2008.  This was a middle-of-the-pack ranking (No. 17), but with the aforementioned defensive issue exacerbated by injuries along the defensive line, Buffalo's defense routinely wore down in games.

Here's the problem: the Bills play 11 of 16 games this coming season against teams that finished in the top half of the league in time of possession, including four games against three teams that finished in the Top 5 in the category (New England, No. 3; Tampa Bay, No. 4; Houston, No. 5).  Meanwhile, one team that you might expect to see in this list - the Indianapolis Colts - aren't one of those 11 games.  The Colts were No. 26 in the league in time of possession in 2008, running their no-huddle without much of a rushing attack.

You see the downside from the Indy example - if one thing is wrong, the no-huddle can have adverse effects, even if you score enough points to win a lot of games (which the Colts obviously did, finishing 12-4).  Tired defenses struggle to rush the passer, and if that's not happening, your defense isn't turning in enough big plays.  Again, this has little to do with the tempo of the offense; it has more to do with the no-huddle being efficient enough to sustain drives.

Turnover differential
The Bills intercepted just 10 passes (No. 27 in the league) and recorded just 24 sacks in 2008.  If you've spent any time following the Bills, you're painfully aware of those facts.  Buffalo forced 22 defensive turnovers in 2008, tied for the ninth-lowest total in the league (with three other teams).  Of the dozen teams at the bottom of the league in this category, just two - the Giants (22 turnovers) and Falcons (18) - made the playoffs.  Both lost in their first post-season contests.

In terms of turnover differential, the Bills fared poorly, finishing sixth-worst in the league with a -8 differential.  Only Detroit, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco and Denver - not exactly 2008 powerhouses - fared worse.

The potential exists for the no-huddle attack to hurt this area as well.  A more aggressive and unpredictable offense means a more aggressive quarterback; Bills fans have been screaming for Trent Edwards to be more assertive going down the field for the better part of two years.  If that happens, what's to say the impact won't be felt in this critical category?

In the end, it's all about points
Ultimately, the most important stat in a football game is the numbers on the scoreboard.  If Buffalo scores more points this season, they'll win more games.  It's really that simple.  Ponder this question for a moment: if the Bills get 10 touchdowns from Terrell Owens in 2008, are they a playoff team? Even the most cynical responses will admit that their chances would have skyrocketed.

That's what the no-huddle is all about.  The Bills don't have to be perfect to win football games, they just need to score more points.  If the no-huddle offense helps them do that against a far tougher 2009 schedule than the one they played last season, the move will have been worth it.  It certainly fits the team's personnel well.  But if things aren't going well in a given week, these potential drawbacks are things the coaches will certainly bear in mind.