April 21, 2011 • Football

Football: Signal-based, no-huddle offense conserves energy

A great way to gain an advantage over your opponent in a physically demanding game like football is to establish a plan where your team burns less energy than the opposition while remaining effective.

Too many times, coaches witness one of their players exiting a game due to cramps or any other form of physical exhaustion. Energy conservation is an innovative way to wear down your opponent without completely changing your playbook.

One way that a coaching staff can reduce overall energy expenditure is through utilizing a signal-based, no-huddle system. The no-huddle has become an increasingly popular asset to many of the spread offenses that exist in football today. This offensive style is famous for its fast pace that often provides an advantage to the offense by forcing the defense to substitute or align quickly. This pace is almost always accomplished through the use of a signaling (or wristband) system in which players receive the play from the sidelines while already at the line of scrimmage.

Since the offense is already lined up on the ball, the play is run almost immediately after the signal is received. Defenses are unprepared for the next play if their play-calling system does not match the efficiency of the offense.

Such a fast-paced offense has become popularized and a success for high-level college programs. Though this signal-based system can cause problems for a defense, it also offers a competitive advantage by conserving the energy of players.

Numbers game

I majored in math and always have tried to find ways to bring mathematical knowledge from the classroom to the football field. Throughout years of observing football, I paid close attention to teams that forced their quarterback to run to the sidelines after every play and receive the next call from the offensive coordinator. After getting the play from the coach, the QB runs back and relays the call to his teammates in the huddle. Not only is this time-consuming, but it also drains your QB of valuable energy.

To portray the numerical benefits of a signal-based no-huddle system, there are a few assumptions needed to demonstrate the point that this philosophy conserves energy.

On average, a high school offense runs 50 plays per game. The hash marks are 17 yards from the sideline. On some plays, a tackle occurs close to the sideline, while other times the player is tackled on the complete opposite side of the field. Therefore, if the QB is coming to the sideline to receive a new play, he travels varied distances throughout the course of a game.

To be fair, I assumed that the average distance the QB travels to the sideline is 17 yards. Since the signal caller also has to run back to the huddle after getting the play, you multiply that number by two to obtain 34 total yards. With this, you are able to compute the total running distance the QB covers during the course of a single game: 17 yards, multiplied by two (back and forth), multiplied by 50 plays per game, equals 1,700 yards per game.

Additionally, since the offense normally huddles seven yards from the ball, it’s easy to determine the distance that an entire team is forced to cover throughout a game: multiply seven yards by 50 plays to get 350 yards covered.

This number does not even take into account the additional distance that receivers and other skill players must cover when lining up in various formations. From this information, you can deduce that by huddling, coaches force all of their players to run at least an extra 350 yards for any given ballgame. If you add the 350 yards to the 1,700 yards that the QB covers during the game, you find that he covers a total of 2,050 yards. Since there are 1,760 yards in a mile, coaches who do not use a no-huddle system force their QB to run more than a mile during the course of a game.

You wouldn’t want your QB running an extra mile minutes prior to the game, so why have him to do so during the physically demanding contest? Have him save that energy by going to a signal-based, no-huddle offense.

Even if coaches choose to utilize the huddle for time-management purposes, a signal-based offensive system is essential to maximizing potential performance. In this article, the estimate was 50 plays per game but with some of the spread offenses in football today, the number of plays per game has a great chance to be more than 50. This increases the overall yardage that a QB has to cover (see chart above).

Already at 1,700 yards, the QB spans more than one extra mile during a game. Energy expenditure (wasted energy) increases at a constant rate for every play that is run in a game. Since the QB is the leader on the field, it only makes sense to maximize his overall energy levels. With this conserved energy, theoretically, your QB now has more energy to expend during actual competition.

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