Following the Baltimore Ravens' third preseason game, a question began to surface on local blogs and radio waves: What is this “sugar” huddle? Brian Billick, former head coach of the Ravens, was one of the analysts calling the Ravens-Jaguars preseason game. He used the term sugar huddle multiple times during the broadcast to reference the Ravens new look on offense.
The sugar huddle, a variation of the no huddle offense, earned the name on the ground that it is “short and sweet.” A twist on the no huddle, the sugar huddle allows for more explicit communication while maintaining a pace that keeps the defense on its heels. The offensive line sets up and turns its back to the line of scrimmage to get the call from the quarterback. The receivers and backs turn to the sideline for the call. In this way, the sugar huddle doesn't necessarily rely as heavily on the quarterback's discretion as a pure Peyton Manning-style no huddle.
Despite a dominating performance against Jacksonville (a squad of questionable talent) and success in drawing offsides penalties against Detroit (a squad of questionable discipline,) the Ravens' new offensive look didn't exactly shine against the solid Atalanta Falcons in preseason game one. Has the offense gelled and grown into their new shoes or will they struggle facing strong defensive foes?
Time will tell.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, for one, is a fan of the up-tempo offense, which places more responsibility on his shoulders—and his mind. Flacoo has been a vocal lobbyist for a more pass heavy offense, and fans have been split. A noisy minority has maintained that Flacco isn't the man for the job, and others have clamored for the Ravens to give their quarterback a longer leash. It appears that while the collar is still on, it is jingling with a license to further control.
If the fifth year quarterback and his young offensive weapons find success, credit Jim Caldwell—and Cam Cameron. Caldwell, who boasts the accolade of being quarterbacks coach to Peyton Manning, has clearly been a large part of the installation of this hurry-up approach. It doesn't take an offensive guru to note that Flacco has been particularly effective in a two minute offense. However, Caldwell's confidence in and experience with the scheme is ostensibly the reason for the change in direction.
Cameron, who has drawn harsh criticism for micro-managing Flacco and the offense, is on board. Maybe the offensive coordinator, who's seat has been several degrees above luke warm, didn't have the option to object. To give him the benefit of the doubt, though, perhaps he has the humility and foresight to embrace Caldwell's and Flacco's vision. And to be fair, the experiment is far from tested. While successful teams have thrived on no huddle type offenses, Flacco and his partners in crime have no proven success.
Some have speculated that the Ravens sugar huddle is preseason shenanigans and will not feature prominently once the scoreboards are set for keeping the record. False. An NFL team doesn't prepare for a season by running an offense it won't use. The Ravens will likely mix up the tempo in regular season games, and it will be no shock to see them huddle up at times. However, there will be a new pace and a new face to this offense, barring the possibility the sugar huddle consistently fails.
Either way it is clear that the fate of the 2012 Ravens, and their quarterback, lies in the ability of the offense to be more explosive and more prolific. What remains to be seen is if the saccharine-inspired new attack will come along with the taste of victory or the taste of defeat.