Oh, snap! Football's getting crazy fast


Don't look away from the screen! Don't go to the concession stand for a beer! You'll miss something, because football keeps speeding up.

The hurry-up offense is causing total snaps per game to increase. Last season, the New England Patriots snapped the ball six more times per game than they did a decade ago -- and that's a comparison to a dominant team that won the Super Bowl against Carolina. The New Orleans Saints snapped the ball four more times per game than a decade ago. The Buffalo Bills snapped the ball eight more times per game than a decade ago -- and the 2013 Bills were a run-first offense. Many if not most NFL teams are using some version of hurry-up snaps.

The NFL is going no-huddle, too. The absolutely invaluable independent website Football Outsiders calculates that a decade ago, 3 percent of NFL downs were no-huddle; by 2012, 6.6 percent were; last season it rose to 12.2 percent. Chicago, Denver, New England, Philadelphia and San Diego spun the scoreboard in 2013 using no-huddle tactics; more teams may follow their lead in 2014.

And the no-huddle fraction may be even higher. No-huddle stats come from the league game books, which are supposed to note "no-huddle" for each down without the traditional pre-snap committee meeting. But official scorers don't seem to use a uniform standard on this notation. For example, Football Outsiders found that for 2013 Chargers away games, scorers listed 30 percent of San Diego snaps as no-huddle; for Chargers home games, the Qualcomm Stadium scorer said there were zero no-huddle plays. The real no-huddle fraction league-wide for 2013 may have been considerably higher than 12.2 percent.

Play is accelerating in college, too. A decade ago, FBS teams averaged 68 snaps per contest; last season, the average was 71, and that's taking into account NCAA clock-rule changes that were intended to shorten games. Not only does Oregon run the Blur Offense, many college games seem to go by in a blur. During the offseason, Alabama's Nick Saban lobbied unsuccessfully for more NCAA rule changes to discourage the quick snap. Flying down the field is the sole thing the Crimson Tide don't do really well, so Saban would like the tactic restricted. Few who watched last New Year's Eve's fantastically entertaining bowl game between Duke and Texas A&M -- dueling no-huddle offenses, 150 total snaps and 100 points -- are likely to agree.

(Aside on Duke: David Cutcliffe won the Maxwell Club and American Football Coaches Association 2013 Coach of the Year awards. That's right, a Duke football, not basketball, coach was college coach of the year -- this is not a misprint. Cutcliffe also told me last winter that many of the game's insiders are a lot more worried about health harm and money emphasis than they're letting on.)

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