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Bucs' up-tempo hopes fall by wayside

Lovie Smith’s Bucs are tied with Buffalo for 15th in the 32-team league in plays per minute.
Lovie Smith’s Bucs are tied with Buffalo for 15th in the 32-team league in plays per minute.
Published Oct. 11, 2014

TAMPA — When coordinator Jeff Tedford began installing his offense in the offseason, the Bucs guarded most of its details.

Would it be no-huddle? How much would it spread the field? Would it rely more on quick passes or downfield lobs to tall targets?

One hint kept popping up: The new system would be up-tempo.

Coach Lovie Smith stressed in August that he wanted a fast team, and Tedford touched on it during his introductory news conference.

"We'll use tempo, change tempo from time to time," Tedford said in January.

A heart procedure has kept Tedford from calling plays for the Bucs, and five weeks into the season, the speed of the offense is almost exactly average.

The Bucs are averaging 2.16 plays per minute, or one every 27.75 seconds. That's tied with Buffalo for 15th in the league. It's also about only a second faster than the Bucs' tempo for each of the last three seasons.

"You'd like to have a little more of it because we have the capability of doing it," quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said. "And what I mean by 'you'd like to,' is because it's hard. It's hard for a defense."

That's because up-tempo offenses gas defenses, give them little time to adjust for the next play and prevent them from swapping players during the drive.

Not surprisingly, Chip Kelly's Eagles are the fastest team in the NFL, running a play every 22 seconds while ranking second in the league in scoring. The Bucs' opponent this week, Baltimore, has the league's second-quickest pace, with 2.5 plays per minute.

Speed doesn't necessarily equal success. The Chargers and 49ers are averaging the fewest plays per minute but have a combined record of 7-3.

The Falcons, Saints and Broncos rank among the teams getting the most snaps in the shortest time, and all have offenses that rank in the top four in points or yards per game.

Arroyo said the Bucs have varied their tempo at times. They slowed it down at times against New Orleans, but also used the no-huddle offense. They also picked up the pace against Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

And playing faster isn't as simple as it might sound. Moving too quickly increases the risk of mistakes. The Bucs already have 18 pre-snap penalties — second-most in the league — including eight on offense.

"It can be a disadvantage if you're not being effective as well," Arroyo said. "I know that, and I've done that long enough with tempo to know. It's got to be efficient to be able to do it, so that's still going to present itself. If it does, we'll continue to do so."

Regardless of the Bucs' speed, Smith said the offense needs to run more plays.

Despite an early emphasis on tempo, the Bucs are averaging only 56.4 plays per game — ahead of only Green Bay (55) through Week 5. The Bucs are getting their fewest offensive snaps of the last three seasons and almost five fewer per game than last year.

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"Eventually that will come," Smith said. "But that kind of goes along with our overall play right now."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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