In Atlanta’s most recent home contest, a Thursday night matchup against Baltimore in Week 10, the Falcons worked out of their no-huddle offense almost exclusively in the first half on the way to a 10-0 lead over the Ravens at the break. They dominated the time of possession, controlling the clock for more than 70 percent of the first half (21:14 to 8:46).
Atlanta didn’t have much success on the ground against Baltimore, with running back Michael Turner picking up just 19 yards on 10 first-half carries (1.9 avg.), so the Falcons utilized a heavy dose of quarterback Matt Ryan out of the no-huddle. He attempted 28 passes in the first half alone, a career-high for the third-year signal caller, and connected on 20 of those throws (71.4 percent) for 160 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions (97.3 rating).
The Falcons also used the no-huddle on their final possession of the game when they were trailing 21-20 with 1:05 remaining. Ryan quickly marched them down the field on a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capping it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roddy White for the 26-21 win.
Safety Charlie Peprah, who spent the latter portion of the 2009 season with the Falcons, said the fact that the team doesn’t reserve the no-huddle for just end-of-game situations adds to the unpredictability.
“It just goes with the flow of the game,” Peprah said. “It’s something that they can do. They can come out right off the bat and do it. They can complete a third-down conversion and they might start it right then. They do it more than any team we have played so far.”
Facing a no-huddle can be a strain on the defense since it can’t make any substitutions if the clock is moving and the offense is keeping its same personnel on the field. Those limits typically affect linemen more, since they are more accustomed to rotating in and out as the defense changes its packages.
“We’ve got some things to kind of go against that,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “Hopefully it works, and we’ll see about that on Sunday.
“(No-huddle) offense is tough because it puts your defense in a bind mentally and physically, and you have to kind of battle through that.”
The Falcons have been one of the most effective offenses in the league when it comes to sustaining drives as they rank tied for No. 1 in the league with 26 drives this season of 10 or more plays. They lead the league with 25 scores on their 10-play drives, a 96.2 scoring efficiency that ranks No. 1 in the league among teams with 15 or more of those drives.
The Falcons are No. 3 in the NFL in time of possession (32:43), and that ability to control the ball has been aided by Atlanta’s success on third down with the Falcons ranking No. 2 in the league at 48.7 percent. Even more impressive is their 55.1 percent conversion rate at home compared to a 42.5 mark away from the Georgia Dome, which has contributed to improved numbers at home vs. road in yards per game (396.0 to 346.8) and points per game (29.8 to 21.4).
Another aspect of the no-huddle is that because the time between snaps can decrease, the window to get the signal from the sideline and then communicate that to the rest of the defense becomes quicker.
“We kind of change our defense a bit in terms of we have one-word signals or one word to give us the whole play,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “If they come out in no-huddle we have just the word and it triggers the whole play.
“That is definitely going to make it easier, but if we’re not able to change personnel as much, it doesn’t matter. Whoever is out on the field is really capable of producing and getting the job done.”
Green Bay’s top-ranked scoring defense (tied with Chicago at 14.6 per game) has been especially stingy away from Lambeau Field, allowing a league-low 11.8 points season, and playing against an Atlanta team that is 18-3 at the Georgia Dome since ’08 and 5-0 this season is just another obstacle to try to overcome.
“We haven’t seen much no-huddle, or for that fact we haven’t seen much fast tempo,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “It will be something different for us, but we have all the confidence in the world. The coaches are preparing us for it now, so we fully expect to be ready.”
Running back Dimitri Nance saw his most significant action to date this past Sunday in Green Bay’s 31-3 win at Minnesota, and the rookie could continue to get more snaps this week against his former team.
Nance, who was signed by Atlanta as a non-drafted free agent this spring out of Arizona State, signed with the Packers leading into the Week 2 contest vs. Buffalo off of the Falcons’ practice squad.
Nance has played in seven games this season, with most of his time coming on special teams. He had carried the ball only six times for 11 yards in his first six games, but with fullback Korey Hall sidelined at Minnesota because of a back injury, John Kuhn slid in there more to fill that role with Nance seeing time in relief of Brandon Jackson.
Nance recorded career highs in both carries (12) and yards (37), including a 2-yard run in the first quarter to convert a third-and-1 as well as an 11-yard pickup off left end in the third quarter.
“I think Dimitri is a fine young player,” McCarthy said. “He was in a position where he came from Atlanta, and the terminology was completely different. There really wasn’t a lot of carryover for him. I understand football is football, but we do a lot of things with our backs, as far as what we ask them to do, and that’s why there’s actually a number of times that we had packages for him in the game that we just never got to.
“It probably took a little longer for him to get on the field than I would have liked. Really part of that had more to do with our third-down struggles, frankly. Now that we have him involved, he’s caught up on everything, and I would like to get him more in the flow of the game.”
Sunday will be the Packers’ second straight dome game, part of a stretch that features three indoor games in four weeks. But after Atlanta, four of the final five contests will be in tougher conditions with three home games and a road trip to New England in Week 15, so the importance of having a physical back isn’t lost on the 5-foot-10, 219-pound Nance.
“The weather is going to start colder and you are going to need a run game and somebody to run it up through the middle,” Nance said. “I think I can be pretty good at doing that.
“Pretty much everywhere I have been I have been a short-yardage back, so I think that just carries over and I am good at just finding the little creases and hitting it.”
Safety Atari Bigby, who injured his hamstring in Sunday’s win at Minnesota, has been ruled out for Sunday.
Fellow safety Anthony Smith (ankle), did not participate in practice on Wednesday, but McCarthy said Smith was doing better than the team expected and that they would see how the week goes before determining his availability for Sunday.
If Smith is unable to play at Atlanta, Jarrett Bush would be the backup to Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah.
Jenkins (calf), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), wide receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), center Scott Wells (arch) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) participated on a limited basis.
Jenkins missed the Week 7 contest because of the calf injury, but McCarthy said that the team was just being smart with him and that he would likely be limited again on Thursday.
For Atlanta, White (knee), defensive end John Abraham (groin), safety Shann Schillinger (head) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), defensive tackle Corey Peters (rib) and wide receiver Eric Weems were limited participants.
Additional coverage – Nov. 24