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NFL broadcasts of Philadelphia Eagles games are full of shots of the opposing team's defense struggling to catch its breath. The announcers often discuss how Chip Kelly's fluid, no-huddle offense wears out the other team's defense due to its pace--even though the Eagle's time of possession tends to be lower than that of offenses of otherwise similar quality.

I don't understand why a no-huddle offense would wear out the defense more than the offense. If the defense can't make substitutions, then neither can the offense (right?). Announcers will sometimes mention the Eagle's training and conditioning, but I assume that all NFL teams have rigorous training and conditioning.

So is there something structural going on here: is defense inherently more tiring than offense? Is this especially true for fast-paced offenses?

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YES!

  1. The offensive players probably practice this way all the time. While the defensive players may only practice this at some times or never.

  2. During a run play the offense has 9 guys blocking, one guy doing nothing (QB), and one guy running hard. On defense you have 11 defenders fighting through blocks trying to sprint to the ball. This is much harder work.

  3. During a pass play you have 5-6 guys standing next to each other blocking (easier than run blocking for lineman). You have 4-6 defensive players trying their hardest to get around these blockers. This may be the most strenuous and tiring activity there is on a football field. At the same time you have WRs running routes - at most 2 of these are deep routes. The defenders are expending more energy covering them because they don't know where they are going. (Equivalent to basketball where playing D is more tiring than running an offense)

  4. These schemes run players off and on the field quickly. I ran one for several years at a high school. I almost felt bad because no matter how good the other players were the coaches weren't prepared and gave their team no chance. Your defensive substitutions need to be spot on. [In the NFL there are rules regulating offensive substitutions, in that the offense must give the defense time to make a substitution without worrying about too many men on the field]

  5. With any offense, even the most sluggishly ran, the offense will wear down the defense faster than it wears down itself. Running at a faster pace just accelerates all of this.

  6. The defensive coaches are so worried about the frantic pace that they don't do their basic jobs. They are worried about their players being tired and substitutions and they aren't seeing how the other team is scheming them. This is really the genius of the up tempo. That people are so quick to blame the quick tempo on the success of the offense that they don't look at the schemes being used to execute.

  7. There are however teams just not with enough coaching/football IQ that don't get it. You run up to the line on a quick snap and the other team LBs are still looking at coaches for signals. This does happen in the NFL too. I have seen the Patriots line up for sneaks 7-8 seconds after the previous play and the d-line isn't even set. Guess what they have done it 50 times. Why aren't your players ready? I blame this 90% on the coaches.

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    I think fatigue may also be more costly for the defense, at least when it comes to WRs and defensive backs. If a receiver stumbles while running a route, most of the time the QB will notice and not throw him the ball. If a cornerback stumbles he may leave a receiver unguarded and give up a very large play. – kuzzooroo Dec 3 '14 at 19:44
  • @kuzzooroo - that is a good point. One player taking a play off on offense is -2 on defense it is -80. – Coach-D Dec 22 '14 at 2:44
  • It also makes it more difficult to substitute for tired defenders. – JeffO Jan 8 '15 at 16:00
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Gregg Easterbrook just wrote something on this topic:

A reason quick-snap tactics can be effective is that it's more tiring to play defense than offense. Performers on both sides of the ball engage in roughly equal physical exertions -- fast pace means the offensive guys have to run like crazy. But mental exertions are more onerous for the defense than the offense. Offensive players know where they're going, and just have to get there. Defensive players don't know where they are going. They first must react mentally, then get there. That's why the Blur Offense and similar attacks leave the defense sucking air while offensive players seem fine, though both have done an equal amount of physical exertion.

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    Gregg Easterbrook writes a lot of things (and I actually quite like his column), but providing evidence for his assertions isn't his strong point, so take what he weirs with a pinch of salt. – Philip Kendall Jan 11 '15 at 19:07
  • I actually disagree that offense run as much as defense; at least on the line and things around the line, there's very little running (lots of physical stuff, but little running) on offense while there's a ton of running on defense. And WRs who aren't the main on the play can run 3/4 speed. – Joe Jan 12 '15 at 2:34

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