Back in June, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett lamented the fact that the Bills only finished third in the NFL in total number of offensive plays run during his first year on the job in 2013.
"We should've ran more," Hackett said at the time.
Yet in the midst of the Bills' 2-0 start, many have noticed that Hackett's offense is moving considerably slower than it did a year ago. Buffalo has run 116 total plays in their wins over Chicago and Miami, for an average of 58 plays per contest; by comparison, in a 1-1 start in 2013 (a 23-21 loss to New England, and a 24-23 win over Carolina), the Bills ran 138 plays, for an average of 69 per contest.
Why the slowdown? Part of the reason, certainly, has been the fact that the Bills have led their opponents for longer. Aided by their dominant performance on Sunday against Miami, in which the Bills held the lead for more than three full quarters, the Bills have led Chicago and Miami for 72:07 of game time in Weeks 1 and 2. That's nearly double their 2013 figure, where the Bills held leads over New England and Carolina for just 36:28.
(In case you were curious: Buffalo's defense has played 153 snaps so far in 2014, while at this time last year they had played 170.)
In their third and fourth games of the 2013 season - a 27-20 road loss to New York, and a 23-20 home win over Baltimore - Buffalo's offense hit its peak in terms of tempo, running a combined 170 plays (85 per game) in those contests. It seems exceedingly unlikely that the 2014 version of the Hackett offense will speed up to that level against San Diego and Houston, but one does wonder if the Bills are itching a bit to pack a few more plays into their games - or if the slowdown is happening on purpose.
It's worth noting that the Bills slowed things down a bit within the 2013 season, after then-rookie EJ Manuel returned to the lineup from an injury. In the four games he finished to start the year, the Bills averaged 77 plays per game - but in the five starts he made later in the season, that averaged dropped to 68 per game. That's still well ahead of their 2014 pace to date, but it's fair to wonder if the Bills have been slowing things down for Manuel's benefit.
Clearly, this is not an issue that will register especially well with Bills fans while the team is performing well on the field, or when Manuel is playing a highly efficient brand of football. But this is worth paying attention to, purely in terms of whether or not the Bills are making a philosophical change, or if these two games have just been unique circumstances.