DuckSportsAuthority - Defense: No-huddle makes numbers lie
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Defense: No-huddle makes numbers lie

The Oregon defense has been the grist for much conversation on Duck Sports Authority's message boards over the years. Since the implementation of the no-huddle offense, a new element has been added to the debate. Hopefully this analysis will add some
perspective to opinions so seemingly entrenched.
Mike Bellotti implemented the spread offense prior to the
arrival of Chip Kelly, but Kelly proceeded to add some touches that have thrown
defenses and fans off-balance. The most obvious of the new elements is the
full-time, no-huddle cornerstone of the offense. While this approach has been
highly successful in scoring points and winning games, it has often left the
defense as the fan's afterthought and more often then not, their whipping boy.
This analysis will attempt to shed some light on how the no-huddle offense
affects defensive statistics.
Rarely does the football analyst for a sports website get to
access his mathematics degree for an article. Sure it's nice to use it to
silently eye-roll at the manner in which some sports fans use deceiving
statistics to support their case, but that happens in all writing. One thing is
obvious and should always be kept in mind when one chooses the path of throwing
around defensive numbers: running a no-huddle offense makes the teams' raw defensive numbers look worse.
The spread offense itself has nothing to do with the debate,
though I have seen this used countless times by fans who use it as a straw man
to support their point bashing the defense. This is not about the 'If the defense just stopped the opponent it wouldn't matter' argument. Yes, everybody agrees with that so we'll use total points in our analysis which certainly encompasses any of those individual statistics. Time of possession, in a rare chance at usefulness, is used here because it is the variable that best isolates the No-Huddle Effect.
And again, it isn't the spread option that makes the difference. In the case of the Oregon offense, it's solely the fact it's full-time no-huddle. Oregon's time of possession has dropped dramatically with the no-huddle. In 2005, the Ducks TOP was 29:26, in 2006 28:44. With Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator, Oregon's TOP was 28:37 in 2007 then a stunning 25:11 in 2008.
How does this change things for the
Duck defense? Regardless of any other factors, it means the defense will have to
spend more time on the field than if the offense huddled. In Oregon's
case, it's glaring. The national average for time of possession is, well, 30
minutes. In 2008, the Ducks' average time of possession was 25:11, meaning
because the offense either scores or not quickly, Nick Aliotti's unit must spend nearly five minutes more time per game on the field than the average Division I team. That is a lot more football the defense has to play, a trade-off Chip Kelly and the Ducks willingly accept in exchange for placing extreme pressure on the opponent's defense.
Here is a look at the Top and Bottom Ten-ranked teams of 2008, their
average offensive time-of-possession per game and average points allowed per
game:

 


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A few things are apparent from the above data. One is that
time-of-possession doesn't equate to how good a team is. The other is that Oregon's
TOP is extremely low by any measure. This is a direct result of running a
no-huddle. While this obviously hasn't affected wins and losses, it does
increase the yards and points against the defense. Probably the best way to
normalize the defensive performances against TOP would be to take a look at how many points a defense gives up per minute on the field. This would change the overview of Oregon's
2008 defensive performance substantially.

 

 

As the above data shows, the Oregon
defense was extremely competitive in 2008 as compared to the other top national
teams when the no-huddle's affect on time-of-possession is accounted for in
defensive efficiency.
Nobody is trying to say Oregon's
defense can't improve. It can, as can any unit for any football team. But
having an offense that doesn't huddle skews the defensive numbers. It doesn't
make a team better or worse, but it does change things. It puts great pressure
on an opponent's defense and limits its substitutions. It often gains an extra
yard or two for the offense simply because the defense wasn't quite set. It
often forces defensive coordinators to simplify their defense for Oregon
week. And it either leaves the field on downs or scores quickly nearly every
time, meaning that over a game and a season, the defense is going to defend a
lot more plays. The Oregon staff
recognizes this which is reflected in part by the team's rigorous conditioning
and nutrition regimen.
Duck Sports Authority grades each unit every game and did so
for the 2008 season. In the 13 games played, the defense graded out higher than
the offense seven times. Yet when one reads the fan boards, the defense
receives near 100% of the abuse. As the 2009 season approaches with Boise
State less than two weeks away, it might be a good time to take measure of the successes of both sides of the
ball, because to be the team the Ducks want to be in 2009, they're going to
need everybody.