AFC East becoming fast, furious offensive division
|06.13.14 at 12:07 am ET|
Looking for fast football? Then the AFC East may be your cup of tea in 2014.
The Dolphins are making a lot of noise this season about pushing the pace for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they have imported Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor as their new offensive coordinator. And given the fact that Lazor was with Chip Kelly and the record-setting Philadelphia offense in 2013, there are bound to be comparisons to what Kelly and Philly did.
“It’s reminiscent of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, with the tempo and style,” said one Dolphins player who asked not to be named when he was quizzed about the look of Miami’s offense this spring. “There are some West Coast offense concepts. … Some shotgun, some under center. They’ve discussed having both no-huddle and huddle. It’s fast tempo.”
For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from the site Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL.
But a Kelly-style overhaul would certainly take things to the next level, and could jump start a Miami offense that had been bogged down at times the last few seasons under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
“Bill has done an excellent job,” Philbin said of Lazor’s work in a radio interview in April. “We’re going to be stressing the tempo of our offense, the play speed.”
Of course, when it comes to the AFC East, fast football is certainly nothing new, and more often than not the uptempo approach starts with New England. While last year’s Patriots eased off the uptempo style that helped to define them offensively over the previous two seasons, New England still was faster than most of the rest of the league in 2013. Using situation-neutral offensive pace, the Patriots ran one play every 26.59 seconds last season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Only Philadelphia (23.88) and Buffalo (24.92) were faster.
(Using another metric, the 2011 and 2012 Patriots operated in no-huddle on 25 percent of their snaps. Last year, by comparison, they were in the no-huddle on just 11 percent of their snaps.)
For comparison sake, the ‘slowest’ teams in the league last season were the Steelers and Rams, who averaged one play every 32.31 seconds. The Panthers were 30th at one play every 32 seconds, while the Chargers (31.96) and Raiders (31.94) rounded out the bottom five.
When people talk about the AFC East and fast football, they might be inclined to forget about the Bills. But under first-year head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Buffalo went to another level in 2013. Its aforementioned rate of 24.92 was the third-fastest rate of any team since 1997, trailing only last year’s Eagles and the 2011 Patriots, who set the standard at 26.43 seconds. That represent a colossal shift in offensive philosophy — the previous year under Chan Gailey, the Bills’ situation-neutral pace ranked just 29th, with one play every 32.2 seconds.
Now that Gailey is gone in Buffalo — and if the Dolphins really decide to push the pace with a Kelly-style offensive look in 2014 — the slowest offensive team in the division likely will remain the Jets, but compared to the rest of the league, they were still relatively quicker than the average. In 2013, New York was 12th in the league in situation-neutral offensive pace, averaging one play every 29.38 seconds. Still, that represents a sizable jump in speed over the last few years for the Jets. In 2011, the Jets ran one play every 31.57 seconds, 26th in the NFL. In 2012, that jumped again to one play every 30.43 seconds, 15th in the league.
Of course, it’s debatable how effective the uptempo style will be — if you don’t have the personnel, it makes little sense to try to push the pace. (For all the talk of going fast last year, the Bills still ranked 22nd in points and 19th in total yards, and finished last in the AFC East with a 6-10 record. As a result, Buffalo tweaked some of the elements of its coaching staff on offense.) But it’s important to remember that Lazor played a sizable role in the growth and development of Nick Foles in Philly’s fast scheme last year, as Foles went from backup to Sports Illustrated cover boy and the Eagles went from worst (4-12 and last in the NFC East) to first (10-6 and a division title) under Kelly. Its clear Miami is hoping that Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense can respond the same way in 2014.