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#13 - How fast will Buffalo's offense go?

Posted Jul 16, 2013

It's been described as 'up tempo,' but just how fast will the Bills offense run under OC Nathaniel Hackett?


Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.

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If there has been a phrase used to describe Buffalo’s new offense under new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett it is ‘up tempo.’ The Bills offense demonstrated its ability to turn up the speed on their attack only a few times in the spring practices. Players were still getting acclimated to the system and the speed at which Hackett likes it to operate. Not to mention practices on the whole are scripted in terms of plays in team segments.

So while ‘up tempo’ provides a semblance of an idea as to how the offense might be defined, just how fast will Buffalo’s offense move this season when the pedal is on the floor?

“Honestly all we’ve talked about is the tempo is going to be fast. Coach Hackett he’s up there talking during meetings and he’s super fast when he’s speaking,” said Stevie Johnson. “On the field we’re getting plays off every eight to 10 seconds.”

Hackett provided a bit of a wider range in terms of how fast the offense can move from the completion of one play to the start of the next.

“It could be really fast,” Hackett told Buffalobills.com. “It’s about the guys understanding the plays. And when they get them and they get them fast enough and it’s easy for them and they know the adjustments it can go really fast. We’ve averaged from four seconds to 18 seconds (per play). It can go anywhere in that range based on how comfortable they are at that moment.”

That kind of pace is on a par with a game show lightning round, but Hackett was able to accomplish it with his college players at Syracuse. At its fastest Syracuse ran plays every 10 seconds last season.

In 2012 Doug Marrone and Hackett orchestrated an offense that ranked 11th in the country in plays per game with an average of 79.1. Syracuse ran 1,029 plays from scrimmage in 13 games, good for 13th in the nation.

Group those offensive stats with the Orange’s 61 percent touchdown rate in the red zone, almost 50 percent conversion rate on third down (49.3%) and a points per game average of 30 and you quickly realize that Hackett’s scheme is predicated on speed and wearing an opponent out.

When the offense moves at such a rapid clip and sustains a drive that last eight to 10 plays the opposing defense simply can’t play with the same effectiveness the rest of the game. Not having enough time to change personnel, the starters on the field are gassed for the next series and in many cases the rest of the game.

By the time the second half rolls around the opposing defense is missing tackles and the offense falls into more yards and first downs and ultimately points. That’s why Syracuse was one of the higher scoring offenses in college football in the second half of games. The Orange ranked 13th in the country in second-half scoring in 2012. They averaged 17.7 points per game over the final two quarters.

As far as the Bills players are concerned they’ve embraced the philosophy. With practices scripted in the spring they didn’t get much of a chance to see how fast they can go, but they do know what the expectations are come the regular season.

“We want to go as fast as possible, I think that’s the best way to answer that,” said EJ Manuel. “Continue to keep the defense off guard.”

Moving that fast, one might assume that the ball is in the air a lot. In some cases that’s true, but that wasn’t the way Syracuse operated under Marrone and Hackett. They worked to strike a noticeable balance between run and pass.

In fact despite running plays every 10 seconds or so, the Orange ran the ball 52.5 percent of the time. At their breakneck pace and more clock stoppages in college than the NFL, Syracuse averaged 41.5 rushing plays and 37.5 pass plays per game. 

“It’s situational to be honest with you,” said Kevin Kolb. “It’s situational with plays, with the situation of the game, with personnel, with the style of defense we’re playing. Even now we’re getting more of a feel for what it’s going to be like on game week, but it’s still not going to be anything like it’s going to be on game week. When we really get a bead on what an opponent is doing against another opponent (on tape) and you can kind of talk your way through certain plays and maybe do a little more tempo or a little less that’s when you can control the speed of the game on the field.”

The speed of Hackett’s offense is what gives him the control. He’s putting the pressure on the defense to react and call plays faster than him, and they have to do it without the luxury of changing their personnel groupings because there's no time.

Hackett is well aware that the speed at which the offense will run will be predicated on how quickly his players absorb, implement and execute the offense through training camp and the preseason. Getting one quarterback entrenched will also help in getting the offense into fifth gear sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s always about what the players can do. I think when they realize the power of it themselves that’s when it gets great,” said Hackett. “I think when they’re asking to go fast or they’re asking to go slow you want to try to do what’s right for them. You always have this aspiration to keep going, keep going, more of this, more of that or you might want to slow it down. The key is for the players to feel it.

“It’s their offense out there. They’re the ones out there on the field. I’m not. I’m just the one that gets to sit up there and call some plays. I think as soon as they get it and they feel it and they feel the power that it can give them. That’s when it can really amp up.

“So where it can go? The sky is the limit for these guys.”