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Eagles, Packers, Colts tops at running no-huddle offense

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On Nov. 13, 1994, the New England Patriots entered halftime against the Minnesota Vikings down 20-3. The Pats were in danger of slipping to 3-7 in Year 2 of Bill Parcells' tenure -- but then the head coach noticed something as he walked off the field.

New England had just completed a field-goal drive in which the team had turned to the no-huddle offense -- and Vikings defensive linemen Henry Thomas and John Randle were still huffing, hands on their knees as they tried to catch their breath. So in the second half, Parcells had the Patriots go all no-huddle, and they wound up outscoring Minnesota 17-0 before winning in overtime, 26-20. The victory kicked off a seven-game winning streak that led New England to a 10-6 finish and a playoff berth.

That's just one example of the transformative power of the no-huddle offense, which I started thinking about again when Chris Wesseling asked me about Sam Wyche's role in bringing the approach to the NFL in the 1980s for his piece last week on the hidden history of the Cincinnati Bengals as game-shaping innovators. I wondered, which teams today are the best at implementing the pedal-to-the-metal approach Wyche helped pioneer?

Below are the five best teams at running the no-huddle offense heading into the 2015 season:

1) Philadelphia Eagles

In four seasons with the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez completed 55.07 percent of his passes. In one season with Chip Kelly's Eagles, he completed 64.08 percent -- the best single-season mark for any quarterback to attempt 300 or more passes in Philadelphia history. No. 2 on that list? The recently traded-away Nick Foles, who completed 64.01 percent in 2013, Kelly's first year at the helm. Which just goes to show that Kelly's no-huddle offense has a way of elevating the players who work within it -- that is to say, he doesn't need a Pro Bowler at quarterback in order to succeed.

That's not to say that just anyone can play the position for him. As with everyone else in the offense, Kelly's quarterbacks need to have some specific attributes, namely intelligence, athleticism and good passing skills, attributes that both Sanchez and offeason acquisition Sam Bradford possess. As for the skill positions, you want a running back who can do lots of things, an all-around player who can catch the ball and pass-protect if needed -- and that's exactly what the Eagles have in free-agent signee DeMarco Murray, who is a great three-down back. Your receivers should be versatile, able to line up outside, in the slot, in the backfield. Jordan Matthews and former Oregon player Josh Huff fit this profile, as does first-round draft pick Nelson Agholor, who is going to be tough to stop in this system.

We can thank Kelly and his creativity for the latest resurgence of the no-huddle offense in the NFL. He really solved a problem -- getting the formations in -- with his innovative use of image-coded cards on the sidelines, which wordlessly and quickly communicate information about the formation and play-call to the players on the field. The team is clearly one of the foremost practitioners of the approach, having run the no-huddle on about 70 percent of plays in 2014.

2) Green Bay Packers

While you don't need a great quarterback to run the no-huddle successfully, having a great quarterback can obviously be a boon. Aaron Rodgers really makes the Packers' system work. He has an uncanny ability to get the ball to the right receiver; he just knows exactly where to go with the ball at all times. He's outstanding at reading defenses and reacting on the fly. He's smart. He's versatile. And he can run (6.3 yards per carry in 2014).

Rodgers also has an extremely potent -- and deep -- receiving corps to work with, including a pair of studs in Jordy Nelson (1,519 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Randall Cobb (1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns). Green Bay's offense simply facilitates success, as evidenced by rookie Davante Adams providing some big games last season. And, of course, it helps to have a legitimate running threat in Eddie Lacy. I expect Rodgers and the Packers to continue confounding defenses with the no-huddle -- which they used on 49 percent of plays in 2014 -- for the foreseeable future.

3) Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is like a more athletic Aaron Rodgers, except without the savvy that only accumulated NFL service time can bring. He threw the most touchdown passes (40) and racked up the third-highest yardage total (4,761) in the NFL in 2014, leading Indy to the playoffs for the third time in three professional seasons. Just imagine what he could do if he had an offensive line.

Luck's situation is a prime example of how a less-than-optimal supporting cast can hold even the most talented signal-caller back. Luck is a great quarterback who excels at running the no-huddle -- but to really thrive, you still need an offensive line that can pass protect, something the Colts struggled to do last season. (Although New England didn't record a sack in its AFC title game romp of Indy, the Patriots applied steady pressure throughout the game.) What Luck was able to accomplish with that unit in front of him was remarkable. The offseason addition of former Eagle Todd Herremans should help.

A good no-huddle offense also requires the presence of a capable ground threat, to keep opposing defenses honest -- and that's something Indy utterly lacked in 2014. Veteran Frank Gore can help solve that issue this season, even if he is a player on the decline. Lastly, with the additions of veteran Andre Johnson and first-round pick Phillip Dorsett to a receiving corps that already included T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, Luck should be primed for even more success in his fourth pro campaign.

4) Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning is probably the best no-huddle quarterback this game has ever seen. He was truly off the charts in his prime; nobody could come close. And while it seemed clear toward the end of his 17th NFL season that his arm is not what it once was, I still think he can be effective at age 39. He's just so smart and has such a great grasp of the game.

The question in Denver is what the offense will look like as new coach Gary Kubiak attempts to blend his approach -- he's thrived with a play-action-heavy scheme at past stops -- with what the Broncos were doing last year. I think we'll see Manning running the no-huddle a bit less, though Kubiak's presence should boost Denver's ground attack, given the success stories (Arian Foster in Houston, Justin Forsett in Baltimore last season) on his résumé. And, of course, Manning will still have stellar receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal.

5) New York Giants

It might have taken some time, but based on how well Eli Manning played down the stretch last season -- in his final six games, he completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,915 yards and 12 touchdowns against just three picks -- the quarterback seems to have taken to coordinator Ben McAdoo's new no-huddle-heavy offense. In fact, I think the approach will help Manning, who led the NFL in interceptions in 2007, 2010 and 2013, take much better care of the ball going forward, given that it helps keep defenses off balance and allows him to better view the field.

Remember, McAdoo came from Green Bay, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the Giants ran the no-huddle almost as frequently (on 46 percent of their plays) as the Packers did last season (49 percent). It can't hurt that the undervalued Manning heads into 2015 with a talented receiving corps headed by Odell Beckham Jr. -- whose emergence provided a significant boost in 2014, and for whom the sky is the limit -- and Victor Cruz.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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