Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett tossed his head back in lament on Wednesday as a reporter reminded him that the Bills ran the third-most plays in the NFL last season.
"Yeah," Hackett said, almost despairingly. "We should've ran more."
Much was made of the offense that Hackett and head coach Doug Marrone first developed at Syracuse, then brought with them to the Bills last offseason - an up-tempo, no-huddle attack hell-bent on cramming as many plays into one game (or one practice) as possible. Those plans fell by the wayside last season as youth and injuries derailed progress at the quarterback position.
"We look back at last year, and those first four games, when (EJ Manuel) had a lot of run going on, it was awesome," Hackett said yesterday. "We were really rolling. It’s funny, because you look back at it, as the season went on with the changes that we had at that position, it just... it slowed down. For us as coaches, we wanted it so much faster. But I think that you have to be realistic with the people you’ve got in there, the people that are going out there, and do what they do good and not overdo it. You don’t want to sacrifice efficiency, I think that’s the big thing. We have to be efficient."
In those first four games, which happened to be the first four of Manuel's career, the Bills averaged 77 plays per game, including 86 and 84 plays, respectively, in Weeks 3 and 4 against New York and Baltimore. From that point forward, the Bills still managed to average 74 plays per game, but things slowed down in particular for Manuel. In the five starts Manuel made after returning from a Week 5 knee injury, the Bills averaged 68 plays per game. By comparison, they averaged 71 per game in the five starts Thad Lewis made, and hit 80 in the lone start for Jeff Tuel.
Hackett spent a lot of time talking up Manuel's increased comfort level with the offense on Wednesday, and it's painfully obvious that the coordinator would like to get back to his up-tempo ways as soon as possible.
"The better we get, the more understanding we have of the offense, the faster we can go," Hackett said. "As you guys know me, I always want to go fast, always want to get more plays and have more fun."
The philosophy will be of particular importance to a Bills team that is now, at least on paper, bursting at the seams with quality skill talent. An overhauled receiver position features at least four players that will have significant roles on offense, and the group has big-play potential. There are also four running backs that could make a strong case for playing time, as well, and it was discussing how to divide touches between four mouths that sparked Hackett's discussion on tempo in the first place.
"More plays. Run a lot of plays," Hackett said eagerly on how to find enough touches for Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. "That’s always been my answer. The more people you got, the more plays you run. That’s why I like that up-tempo stuff. I love the guys we have. You can keep them fresh, and keep feeding them. They all get hungry."