OWINGS MILLS – Joe Flacco frenetically rushes to the line of scrimmage, signaling with his hands and barking out orders as the play clock ticks down toward zero.
The Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback calmly looks over the defense before dropping back to deliver yet another completion with his rocket arm.
Then, he repeats the accelerated sequence without once huddling up to slow down the pace.
The Ravens’ no-huddle offense is keeping opposing defenses off-guard and unable to substitute, a strategy that played a major role during a 30-7 victory over the Denver Broncos last weekend.
The Ravens executed the no-huddle attack 31 times, per the NFL official game book.
And the offense seems perfectly suited to Flacco’s high-octane, seemingly merciless style.
“Definitely, I think every quarterback likes to do that kind of thing,” Flacco said. “It gets the tempo going and it gets yourself in a little rhythm, and it gets your team in a little rhythm.
“I think we do it well. If we didn’t do it well, we wouldn’t be doing it. As an offensive unit, we do it really well and it’s something that we enjoy.”
Flacco’s continued emergency in his second season as an even more polished passer has coincided with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s willingness to run the no-huddle.
With Flacco entrusted to call plays and audible at the line, the Ravens’ no-huddle offense has developed into a smooth-running operation.
“Joe does a great job, he’s poised,” running back Ray Rice said. “One thing with a no-huddle offense, you have to be poised at quarterback. He also has to listen to the calls. Obviously, it’s easier to run it at home.
“Defenses are not going to just sit around anymore. They’re going to move around. So when you’re in a no-huddle offense, it doesn’t give them time to make all the checks that they want to make.”
The Ravens’ first game of the year was marked by them running the no-huddle a season-high 42 times during a 38-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Against the Broncos, which entered the game with the top scoring and third-down defense in the league, the Ravens wanted to counteract defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s elaborate substitution packages for his aggressive 3-4 defense.
“You just try to keep a team off-balance,” wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “They’re a very athletic, very fast-moving team and you want to keep a team like that off-balance as much as possible.
“So, whether it’s no-huddle or whether you want to call it sugar-huddle, we want to put the pressure on opposing teams’ defenses and we wanted to wear them down. We thought if we stayed out in our no-huddle package for a little while and kind of mixed it up a little bit, that would pose some difficulties for them.”
That has been the case throughout the season.
And the Ravens prevented the Broncos from mounting much of a pass rush.
NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil was effectively stonewalled, registering no sacks in a rare shutout against a player who entered the game with 10 sacks.
Against the Ravens, there was no rest for the weary.
“They can’t substitute,” Flacco said. “If you don’t want them to pressure you, it can limit that. For me at least, it gets you into a rhythm. We are running plays that we do well and that’s the most important thing. No matter what they do on the defensive side of the ball, we know we have some way to beat it.
“We feel comfortable, and it wears a defense out. When a defense is rushing the passer and covering plays at that tempo and for that long of a series, it really wears on them throughout the course of a game. It gives you a lot of advantages as the game goes on.”
Flacco wound up completing 20 of 25 passes, including his last 14 throws, to tie a franchise record for single-game accuracy.
For the season, the Ravens rank seventh in total offense (378.7 yards), fourth in scoring (28.4 points), third in third-down conversion percentage (48.4 percent) and 10th in rushing and passing offense.
The no-huddle has been an energizing force for a suddenly prolific offense after years of conservative, dormant attacks.
“I think we don’t think it’s hard,” Flacco said. “Therefore, it comes pretty naturally to all of us and that’s why we do it.”
Against the Broncos, the Ravens ran the no-huddle for nearly the entire first quarter.
Sometimes, they used it as a quick-strike weapon later in the game with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Mason in the fourth quarter.
Or, it was used to grind out yards with Rice between the tackles or as a safety valve option out of the backfield.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.