GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers' success in the no-huddle offense in the first two preseason games begs two questions: Can it become another weapon for what's expected to be a potent offense, and what's wrong with their regular offense?
Aaron Rodgers and the starting offense have played five series and have scored two touchdowns — one in the preseason opener at Cleveland and another last Friday against Arizona. Both scoring drives were exclusively in the no-huddle, while the other three drives didn't feature any no-huddle plays.
Last summer, coach Mike McCarthy devoted some practice time in camp to no-huddle periods, then barely used it during the season. He broke it out once — late in the Week 12 game against Atlanta with 5 minutes, 59 seconds remaining, and it resulted in a 16-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that tied the game — but never went back to it. So just because it's been the only method of scoring by the No. 1 offense this preseason doesn't guarantee it will become a staple of McCarthy's game plans.
The no-huddle was part of the practice plan during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLV, but McCarthy never used it against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If nothing else, flashing it now and putting it on film for opponents to see will make preparing for the Rodgers-led offense that much more difficult. But this time, the Packers seem more serious about using it.
"Who knows how much we'll do it," Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said Tuesday. "It's been very good for us. Other than the fact that it allows you to pick and choose (plays) based on the defense, it gets your motor going. It makes you play a little more up-tempo, which is good. Any time you're playing fast, playing up-tempo, we think that's to our benefit."
It also puts more responsibility on the quarterback, and the coaches think Rodgers can handle it. Entering his seventh NFL season — his sixth with McCarthy and his fourth as a starter — Rodgers has welcomed the challenge.
Between no-huddle plays, McCarthy, ordinarily the team's play-caller, will give Rodgers the down-and-distance and the hash mark where the ball is spotted. This happens via the coach-to-quarterback helmet communication system. As the offense lines up, Rodgers surveys the defense and barks out the play call, making last-second adjustments on routes and protections when needed.
"If you're going to run a no-huddle concept and you're going to allow the quarterback some freedom at the line of scrimmage, you better have a good decision-maker," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.
"You better have a guy that's got a good picture of the big picture, a guy who understands the game well and somebody that can think on his feet. There's a lot to it, but I think Aaron's a student of the game, and he's done some good things in that no-huddle."
McCarthy spoke recently about wanting to give his veteran leaders, like Rodgers on offense and Charles Woodson on defense, more freedom on the field.
"He's been very good in the no-huddle," McCarthy said. "We haven't used it that much in the past. It's more of a situational offense. It's no different than some of the personnel groups we used a bunch in training camp and the rest of the season that we never got to the rest of the year. It's all about your system of offense and what you use come the regular season. But he's done a very good job, and it's not just him. (Center) Scott Wells is a big part of that in the at-the-line communication. I've been very impressed with that."
In the no-huddle, the Packers typically use their zebra personnel — three receivers, one tight end and one running back — so Rodgers' play-calling options are limited to plays in that package.
"Zebra is one of our best personnel groups to run from and throw from," backup quarterback Matt Flynn said. "We've got a pretty good menu of plays. He can pretty much call anything out of zebra."
In an ideal situation, the Packers would catch their opponent in the wrong defense or mismatched personnel, then get in and out of plays fast enough to prevent the defense from changing on the fly.
Rodgers' numbers in the two no-huddle drives this preseason are perfect: 10-for-10 passing for 131 yards and two touchdowns. But it also means he's only 5-for-10 for 40 yards with no touchdowns in three regular drives.
So why not use the no-huddle more?
"It's a good weapon," Philbin said. "As your mom told you, moderation in all things is usually what wins out. You've got to have balance. I'm not sure we're at the stage where we're going all in and putting all of our chips on the no-huddle."
The Packers essentially get no-huddle work when they practice the 2-minute drill.
The only real difference between the two is that the clock isn't a factor in the no-huddle, so there's no need to spike the ball or make more sideline throws. They devoted a full period to the no-huddle in practice on Monday, their first workout following the Cardinals' game.
That would suggest it has a chance to be more prevalent in the regular season than it was last year.
"We'll see," Rodgers said after the Cardinals' game. "That's something that we can use. It's been in the plan for a while. We worked on it last preseason a bunch in practice. We never really ran it in a game and didn't use it in a game until the Atlanta game, I think it was Week 12, so we'll see."