Falcons' no-huddle attack comes off the shelf

FLOWERY BRANCH --  The Falcons' no-huddle attack passed its first test of the season against Pittsburgh's defense after going unused in the previous two exhibition games.

Against the Steelers, the Falcons used their no-huddle three different times in the first half, and each time they cobbled together promising drives that resulted in Matt Bryant field goals.

“We moved the ball pretty effectively,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have been more successful in the red zone. But, all in all, I thought it was pretty good.”

Normally, the Falcons would have spent extensive time working on their no-huddle offense over the offseason. But because of the lockout, they’ve had to stuff that work into condensed time periods. But Ryan believes they are ahead of most teams because they have mostly established veterans on the field.

The Falcons have run the attack since Ryan arrived as a rookie in 2008. They've used it sometimes to set the tempo and other times to dictate the defense's personnel. They can turn it into a hurry-up attack if they are behind.

“Sometimes we move faster,” Ryan said. “Other times, we’re slower and get the clock down to three or four seconds. That’s something that could vary that makes it tough on the defense. It’s hard when they have to stay in position for that entire 40-second play clock.”

In the first quarter against Pittsburgh, they went into their no-huddle for eight consecutive plays and drove from their 33 to Pittsburgh’s 5. They had to settle for a 23-yard field goal after Ryan threw incomplete passes to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez.

The big-play in that drive was a 22-yard pass to Roddy White. Overall, they threw six passes and ran the ball twice.

“We’ve got a lot of fine-tuning to do,” White said. “Even though we did some good things, we did a lot of things that we need to get better at.”

Later in the second quarter, the Falcons went back to the no-huddle attack for seven plays. Ryan drove the ball from their 46 down to Pittsburgh’s 2-yard line. An apparent touchdown pass to Gonzalez was nullified when he was called for offensive pass interference. Bryant booted a 30-yard field goal.

Ryan completed two of four passes and they ran the ball three times in the next no-huddle stint. Bryant added a 46-yard field goal at the end of the drive.

On their ensuing possession, the Falcons used the no-huddle for just two plays.

Overall, Ryan completed 7 of 12 passes for 59 yards in the no-huddle. The team rushed five times for 21 yards.

The attack has evolved from a change-of-pace option to where they can run it for the entire game.

Last season against Baltimore, they went to it exclusively for the entire game. Ryan completed 32 of 50 passes for a career-high 316 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-21 victory.

In 2009, the Falcons went into the no-huddle offense 16 times in five different games; they scored seven touchdowns and two field goals.

It has become a potent part of the offense.

“We work on it every week,” Ryan said.

The coaches were pleased with the no-huddle attack, but were noncommittal about using it more frequently.

“We wanted to get a good look at it,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “One of the things that it also does [is] it also allows you to evaluate the conditioning of your football team.”

The 132-day lockout has the coaches doing more in-game experimenting during this exhibition season.

“Just because of the pure volume we don’t have as much in because we haven’t had time to do it,” Smith said. “I think as you see throughout the league, there are going to be more and more aspects of people’s offense and defense showing up.”