Syracuse’s second-string defense was holding its own against the Orange first-string offense.
It was a scrimmage in August, and Doug Marrone had taken his team to Fort Drum for a week of practices. Late in the scrimmage, quarterback Ryan Nassib switched to a no-huddle mode and directed a touchdown drive. It turned out to be the spark that ignited Syracuse’s offensive explosion.
Marrone’s offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, decided to go all-in with the no-huddle run by his senior quarterback. The Orange set a school record for yards en route to an 8-5 season.
“Two weeks before the season started we changed the whole offense,” Hackett said before Syracuse played in the Pinstripe Bowl two weeks ago. “We took everything out that we had done for two years, which had been successful to a certain extent. … You go to a senior quarterback and say, ‘Hey we’re gonna change this whole system.’ As a coach you’re a little nervous. But it was great to see him with a smile on his face and say ‘coach, let’s do it.’”
What does the dramatic switch say about the offensive philosophy of Marrone, the new Buffalo Bills head coach, and Hackett, the coordinator he brought with him to One Bills Drive?
They are willing to be flexible.
In 2010, Marrone’s best offensive player was running back Delone Carter. Marrone had poor depth at receiver and a center who couldn’t execute a shotgun snap. The Orange employed a standard, pro-style running game and rode Carter to an 8-5 record.
In 2012, Marrone’s best offensive player was Nassib. The depth had improved. The Orange ran an up-tempo, no-huddle all year. They ran 200 more plays than in 2010, scored 100 more points and gained 2,000 more yards.
What else can Bills fans expect from Marrone and Hackett on offense? Based on their history, here are some basics:
• Saints style. Marrone’s NFL experience as an offensive coordinator came in New Orleans under Sean Payton. Payton’s system is based in the West Coast scheme, with an emphasis on the possession passing game and accurate throws that allow the receiver to run after the catch. Hackett’s father, Paul, is a West Coast disciple. Payton also throws a little more downfield than the average West Coast coach. Saints QB Drew Brees likes to run plays with receivers running four vertical routes downfield. The West Coast system uses a lot of verbiage, as opposed to calling plays with numbers. It can be tough for a young quarterback who is unfamiliar with it to learn.
• Balance. Marrone was an offensive line coach. He didn’t build his reputation by throwing the ball all over the field. Even before Syracuse’s snow-filled, run-oriented bowl game, the Orange ran 52 percent of the time in 2012.
“They were very physical,” said Syracuse great Floyd Little. “This was one of the most physical football teams in Division I football this year.”
• Multiple personnel groups. Payton also is an expert at utilizing many personnel groups in an attempt to exploit the defense’s biggest weakness, whether it’s the third linebacker, fourth cornerback or strong safety.
In Marrone’s last year as Saints’ coordinator, 2008, the Saints mixed their personnel groupings a ton. Consider first-and-10 situations. The Saints used two tight ends 29 percent of the plays. They used one tight end and two wide receivers (regular personnel) 32 percent. They used one tight end and three receivers 31 percent. The Saints’ fullback played about a third of the snaps.
• Blocking schemes. Marrone’s NFL experience as an offensive coordinator came in New Orleans under Payton. He took a lot of the Saints’ schemes to Syracuse. New Orleans primarily runs a zone/stretch blocking scheme. The linemen block to an area and move to the next level to block a linebacker as they go. There are a lot of double-teams at the point of attack. The running back can pick his hole and cut back as the defensive front gets stretched along the line of scrimmage. This is the same thing the Bills have done under Gailey. A ton of Syracuse’s runs were inside zone plays out of the shotgun.
• No-huddle. Hackett adopted the hurry-up offense, which he had been exposed to in 2009 while working under Turk Schonert and Alex Van Pelt. The Bills didn’t have the personnel to run it that year. Syracuse did, thanks to Nassib’s evolution. Syracuse used a lot of words in play calling Marrone’s first three years but cut way back and simplified the terminology this year.
• The read option. Hackett incorporated read-option running plays into the offense this year. Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson took the NFL by storm this year, in part by running the read option, in which the quarterback takes a shotgun snap, reads the defense, and either hands off to the running back up the middle or pulls it out of the back’s belly and keeps it himself off tackle.
Marrone will be taking Anthony Weaver from the Jets’ staff to Buffalo to work with the defensive line, the New York Daily News reported. Weaver, 32, was assistant defensive line coach for the Jets this year. He played seven seasons in the NFL as a defensive end.
Bills safety Jairus Byrd was named to the 2012 NFL All-Pro second team today, after voting by a national panel of 50 media members.
Byrd, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this spring, finished the season with 76 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, five interceptions and six passes defensed.