With Matt Ryan in his third year as a professional and going into year three of working in Mike Mularkey's offense, the Falcons are working on opening up the play book. Mularkey has talked about getting the backs more involved in the passing game, for one.
But one of the big ideas that we've already seen carried over into the preseason games is an expanded use of the no-huddle offense. It's not a new installation, since Ryan was running some no-huddle even during his rookie year, but the hope is the Falcons will open it up and run entirely on the no-huddle for longer stretches. Back in June, when Mularkey first mentioned his desire to install more plays for the no-huddle, D. Orlander Ledbetter examined every usage of it from 2009 (please, take the time to read that). As you can see, it got some mixed results, with perhaps the best play being the touchdown which was returned on a pass interference call on Michael Jenkins.
Part of the reason for its occasional ineffectiveness last year is purely situational. Lining up in the no-huddle while trailing big in the fourth quarter certainly isn't catching any defenses off guard. Since the Falcons only had about 12 plays installed, the limited passing options probably took away more opportunities than they gave last year. This year, it's being ramped up to 30, and they're pushing receivers harder to make sure that they can operate on the same page. So far this preseason, we have already seen at least five distinctly different looks from the no-huddle, and it's been utilized in each game.
By now, you have probably already had the rule change concerning placement of the umpires beaten into your skull -- it's been discussed at length at almost every possible turn. In case you've somehow missed it, the umpire, after placing the ball, is no longer lining up behind the linebackers, even with the ball; now, he is lining up in the offensive backfield outside of the tackle, opposite the referee. Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy (perhaps you've heard of him?) was a staunch opponent of this rule change because of its possible effect on running the no-huddle; he was concerned about the ability for Peyton Manning to line up and quick snap the ball. So far, however, the Falcons haven't had any problems at all running their no-huddle with the current set up.
The Falcons obviously do not run the same offensive mechanics that the Colts do. Outside of two minutes, they will not likely be using quick snap plays out of the no-huddle. Inside of two minutes, the rule does not change, which alleviates concerns that offenses will lose valuable seconds after the ball is set in critical situations. The Falcons probably can't even run the no huddle with enough precision to quick snap the ball with confidence that everyone is lined up and will not draw a penalty. It will still be a big boon for Matt Ryan's development, and for the development of the Falcons' offense, to be able to dictate tempo to the defense and to prevent the defense from freely making substitutions.