Using standard definitions, many people would not consider the Saints an up-tempo football team.
They huddle too much and use meticulous and long play calls. Of their 1,095 plays last season, only 81 were conducted without a huddle. And many of those plays weren’t run for the sake of going fast. They occurred because the clock was ticking and there was no other choice but to forego a huddle.
Yet on nearly a daily basis during training camp, coach Sean Payton has commented on the tempo at which the offense operates. And during last week’s game against the New England Patriots, he became visibly frustrated with young quarterbacks Garrett Grayson and Ryan Griffin for playing too slow during the second half of the 26-24 loss.
“I would say not as well as we would like,” Payton said of the tempo of the game. “You probably asked that question because you see me screaming while we are on offense. I think we need to be quicker. I think we need to be much quicker.”
The Saints have their own brand of up-tempo offense. They might huddle, but that meeting of the minds is to occur as quickly as possible, just long enough for the quarterback to make a play call and get to the line. What Payton doesn’t want to see is things lingering or the offense taking too long to get to the line of scrimmage.
“That’s kind of been a strength of ours, in and out of the huddle, and up and down, and kind of stressing a defense and forcing them to get lined up,” Payton said.
When things are operating as designed, the offense should be breaking the huddle in around 15 seconds. That provides enough time for Brees to make a call and get everyone on the same page. Payton then wants to see players racing to the line of scrimmage.
By getting to the line as quickly as possible, it gives Brees ample time to read the defense, change the play, or make any other adjustments that need to be made. With New Orleans’ penchant for packaging plays together, which often require changes to be made based on the look the defense is giving, this time is needed for the offense to execute properly.
It would impossible to make these changes if the offense were routinely getting set with seven or eight seconds remaining on the clock.
“It’s kind of controlled chaos a little bit,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “How quickly can Drew get the play call in, can we get up on the ball, can he make a call, and can we get going?”
The other benefit to getting to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible is that often forces the defense to show it’s true hand before it wants to, which gives a distinct advantage to the offense.
“Not only to identify rushers, but to get up there and get set fast kind of confuses the defense a little bit,” guard Tim Lelito said. “It kind of gets them off-balance, and they don’t like that.
“You get out, you hurry up to the ball, you get set, and that’s when Drew is really good at identifying a defense, because they really can’t disguise anything if you’re up there set. I think it helps everyone the more we push the tempo up front.”
It’s not always possible to get out of the huddle within 15 seconds. There are times when the Saints’ play calls get wordy, especially during a third-and-10 situation when things become a little more exotic. But meeting that time is typically the goal.
It was met repeatedly by the first-team offense during Saturday’s game with the Patriots. The tempo was right where the offense wanted it to be, and it showed as Brees shredded the New England defense for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 8-of-10 passing.
That performance was the culmination of the offense working to move as fast as possible during the first few weeks of training camp. It built confidence. The offense knows that good things happen when everything is humming.
“When we get into that type of pace, we can be really good,” Strief said. “It’s still a preseason game, but I thought it was good. There was a big jump from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Things can’t move much faster or operate more efficiently than they did in that contest. The goal now is to maintain the pace.