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Falcons find great success with the no huddle

Also, water is wet.

Atlanta Falcons v Oakland Raiders Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Matt Ryan is pretty good at running the no-huddle offense. As in years past, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the Falcons would use the no-huddle more this year, and whether offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was deathly allergic to it in the first place. Both Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan have insisted that they’re not opposed to it, but the game against the Raiders was one of the first to feature it more than sparingly.

The results, as you can imagine, were very telling.

The Tale of the Tape

In total, the Falcons offense ran 24 plays out of the no-huddle on Sunday against the Raiders. This represented over 13 of the offense (64 total plays), which was the largest amount of no-huddle the team has ran since Shanahan came on board in 2015.

Of those 24 plays, 10 were running plays and 14 were passing plays. Contrary to popular belief, the offense was pretty balanced while in the no-huddle.

Those running plays were wildly successful as well, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman averaging 5.6 yards per carry over those 10 carries. All but two of the runs went for 3 or more yards and none went for less than at least one yard.

As for the passing game, it was extremely successful. Other than giving up one sack early in the game, here are the pertinent numbers:

11 of 13 (84.6% completion rate), 220 yards, 2TDs, 0 INTs, 16.9 yards/attempt, for a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

To be frank, those numbers are almost ridiculous. In contrast, here are Ryan’s statistics when passing out of the huddle:

14 of 20 (70% completion rate), 176 yards, 1TD, 1 INT, 8.8 yards/attempt for a QB rating of 92.9.

Those numbers aren’t that bad, but the contrast is quite telling. Clearly, Ryan had far more success out of the no-huddle on Sunday, which doesn’t help with the idea that “it doesn’t fit well with our offense.”

Does this indict Shanahan?

Naturally, the success in the no-huddle has immediately lead to criticism of Kyle Shanahan, with many fans using these statistics to condemn the polarizing offensive coordinator. So, does the success of the no-huddle truly indict Shanahan?

Yes and no.

First, let’s not forget that even though Matt was running the no-huddle, he was running plays that Shanahan designed. The no-huddle isn’t some new or separate offense. The fact that it was highly successful may actually speak strongly of the plays that the coordinator has put together. It’s entirely unfair to condemn Shanahan for being a QB “killer” while also ignoring how good his QB looked running his plays.

Second, the team did use the no-huddle, showing that Shanahan is willing to adapt and try something new in order to put points on the board. Clearly, the first real test of the no-huddle under Shanahan was a rousing success, so one would think the Falcons will look to exploit it again in the future.

Naturally, this leads to the following question:

Why wasn’t it used more before Sunday?

This is a good question. Truthfully, there are a couple of critical factors that may explain why the game against the Raiders was one of the first extensive uses of the no-huddle under Kyle Shanahan.

First, the team finally has a good center guiding the offensive line in Alex Mack. Mack had experience in this offensive system before, which undoubtedly helped ease the transition of going to a new team. Mack’s impact on the offense can’t be understated. Not only has he solidified the middle with his play, but the communication within the entire OL is better and Ryan clearly feels more comfortable with Mack making the line calls.

Second, the offensive weapons are better overall. Last year, the team trotted out Julio Jones, Leonard Hankerson, Roddy White and Nick Williams as their primary receivers for most of the year. Jacob Tamme was new to the team and the system, and Tevin Coleman was a rookie. Hankerson ended up being injured for most of the year, and it appeared that Roddy White’s best days were already well behind him. Incidentally, the offense performed at it’s peak when Hankerson was healthy, and I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Fast forward to this year, where Hankerson/Roddy have been replaced with Mohamed Sanu. Nick Williams has been replaced by two speedy receivers in Aldrick Robinson and Taylor Gabriel - both of whom were familiar with the system coming in. Additionally, players like Ryan, Julio, Devonta, Jacob and Tevin all are in their second year in the system as well. Simply put, the 2016 Falcons are far more versed in the offense than the 2015 version was, along with being more talented.

To be blunt, I’m not sure that the 2015 version of the Falcons was ready or capable of running the no-huddle. I can’t speak to why it wasn’t used more against the Bucs in game one, but it’s clear now that it can work - and that it can work very well.

Going forward

Don’t expect the Falcons to become a heavy no-huddle team under Kyle Shanahan. In fact, I would say the percentage of no-huddle you saw against the Raiders is probably the max you’ll see in any given game. Personally, I have no issue with it, as the offense managed to put up 35 points and probably could have put up even more were it not for the red zone interception Ryan threw.

At the very least, we now know that the no-huddle can work and that Shanahan is now willing to use it. The success they had with it against the Raiders will also make it hard for the Falcons brass to deny that using it could be very beneficial. Hopefully, the Raiders game was a peek at what the team will do throughout the 2016 season. Giving Ryan the wheel in the past has proven to be successful, and with these numbers staring the coaches in the face, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll want to revert back anytime soon.