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Fast and Faster

Fast and Faster.

The number one storyline in the NFL in week one isn’t the health of Robert Griffin III, but the presence of two other men occupying FedEx Field that night. The football world is anxiously awaiting to see how Chip Kelly’s offense, piloted by Michael Vick, will work in the NFL. We don’t know much, but we do know that the coach plans to incorporate the fast-paced, up-tempo style that his teams used at Oregon to obliterate opponents.

In May, I took a stab at discussing tempo in the NFL, and I presented a couple of lists that measured the number of plays run per second of possession in the NFL. Today, I want to revisit the questions of tempo and pace using more precise measurements.  Let’s start with some league-wide data. The table below shows the average number of seconds between snaps for NFL teams last season. I’ve excluded a number of plays from this sample, including all plays at the start of a quarter, all overtime plays, plays after a changes of possession, and plays in the final three minutes of the first half or five minutes of the second half (where teams are less likely to operate at their normal pace).

secs btw plays

There’s a big spike around the five second mark, as incomplete passes generally run three-to-five seconds off the clock. Then we see a steady build up towards the 40 second mark. This data contains errors — of the many play-by-play datasets I’ve seen, they all contain lots of errors –but the sample size is enormous, so I believe this graph provides an accurate representation of the general pace in the NFL. As you can see, there are a number of snaps that are over 45 seconds after the previous snap: those represent plays that come after long first downs, where it takes the referees a few extra seconds to move the chains and restart the play clock.1

Now that we have a general sense of tempo, the next step is to examine the average number of seconds between snaps for all teams last season. In the process, I’ve excluded all the plays identified above along with all plays that followed incomplete passes. Note that “time between snaps” doesn’t mean time between plays: the time between each snap includes however many seconds the previous play took to run. I’ve sorted the table by median time between plays, which should minimize concerns about a few errors in the database. Unsurprisingly, no offense operated as quickly as Tom Brady’s offense in New England. Number two on the list is Peyton Manning’s Broncos.


With that as background, here are the numbers on Kelly’s Eagles in the preseason: 27.8 seconds (average) and 27 seconds (median).2 But let’s get more granular and examine each of the drives operated by Vick in the preseason, excluding those in the final three minutes of the first half. Let’s start with the first game against the Patriots. Vick had two first-quarter drives, and while Philadelphia didn’t operate at a lightning fast pace, the Eagles weren’t taking their time, either. In the column on the right, I’ve listed the number of seconds between snaps.

Play DescriptionSecs
1-10-PHI 23: (11:42) (Shotgun) C.Polk up the middle to PHI 27 for 4 yards (J.Mayo).--
2-6-PHI 27: (11:09) C.Polk up the middle to PHI 27 for no gain (T.Kelly).33
3-6-PHI 27: (10:34) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep middle to J.Avant to PHI 49 for 22 yards (L.Ryan).35
1-10-PHI 49: (10:06) (Shotgun) C.Polk right end to NE 47 for 4 yards (V.Wilfork).28
2-6-NE 47: (9:41) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep right to D.Jackson for 47 yards; TOUCHDOWN.25
1-10-PHI 27: (4:58) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to R.Cooper to PHI 46 for 19 yards (A.Talib)-
1-10-PHI 46: (4:27) (No Huddle) C.Polk up the middle to PHI 45 for -1 yards (B.Spikes).31
2-11-PHI 45: (3:59) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete short left to J.Avant.28
3-11-PHI 45: (3:55) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to B.Celek to NE 49 for 6 yards (B.Spikes; K.Arrington).--

We start to see the hurry-up offense after the team’s first first down: the Eagles snapped the ball, threw a 22-yard deep pass, and then snapped the ball again 28 seconds later. After a four-yard run, Vick snapped it again 25 seconds later, and hit DeSean Jackson for a 47-yard touchdown. Here’s what Chris Brown had to say about that play:

After the game, Vick talked about how the Patriots had been trying to disguise their coverages, but the quick tempo helped force the Patriots safeties to show that Jackson would be single-covered.

Foles started the next week against Carolina, so Vick’s work was exclusively limited to one drive in the second quarter.3 On the drive, the Eagles operated at a fast pace until facing 3rd-and-7. I’ve put an asterisk next to the two plays that followed penalties, as the pace wasn’t as fast as those numbers appeared (the penalties stopped the clock). After converting on third down to Jason Avant, the team huddled on only one of their next three plays, but did not operate at a breakneck pace.

Play DescriptionSecs
1-10-PHI 20: (14:06) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to L.McCoy to PHI 29 for 9 yards (T.Davis; L.Kuechly).--
2-1-PHI 29: (13:36) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to L.McCoy to PHI 33 for 4 yards (M.Mitchell).30
1-10-PHI 33: (13:05) (No Huddle; Shotgun) L.McCoy up the middle to PHI 36 for 3 yards (T.Davis).31
2-7-PHI 36: (12:42) (No Huddle; Shotgun) L.McCoy right guard to PHI 36 for no gain (G.Hardy).23
3-7-PHI 36: (12:08) PENALTY on CAR-S.Lotulelei; Encroachment; 5 yards; enforced at PHI 36 - No Play.34
3-2-PHI 41: (11:57) C.Polk right guard to PHI 41 for no gain. PENALTY on PHI-T.Herremans, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at PHI 41 - No Play11*
3-12-PHI 31: (11:41) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to J.Avant to PHI 46 for 15 yards (C.Munnerlyn).16*
1-10-PHI 46: (11:05) (Shotgun) C.Polk left end to PHI 49 for 3 yards (T.Davis).36
2-7-PHI 49: (10:39) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to E.Igwenagu to CAR 36 for 15 yards (M.Mitchell).26
1-10-CAR 36: (10:05) (No Huddle; Shotgun) C.Polk left end to CAR 28 for 8 yards (T.Davis). FUMBLES (T.Davis); RECOVERED by CAR-C.Johnson at CAR34

The most work Vick saw this preseason was against the Jaguars. He played the first three quarters, giving us seven drives to analyze. The first drive was Kelly and Vick at their fastest: Philadelphia snapped the ball, completed a 20-yard deep pass to Avant, and snapped the ball again, all within 20 seconds. The next snap came after a sack, but still was only 25 seconds after the prior snap. The sack killed the drive, so we only have two plays to measure here.

The second drive also gives us just two plays to review, thanks to an incomplete pass and a holding penalty.

The third drive began at a slow pace, perhaps because the Eagles gained possession inside their own 20. Philadelphia moved in a methodical-no-huddle until crossing midfield; then, the Eagles hit the gas pedal. With 1:57 left in the quarter, Vick dropped back and fired a long pass to Jackson; the team would run two more plays before the clock would dip under one minute.

Play DescriptionSecs
1-10-PHI 22: (14:55) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep left to J.Avant to PHI 42 for 20 yards--
1-10-PHI 42: (14:36) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick sacked at PHI 36 for -6 yards (R.Miller).19
2-16-PHI 36: (14:11) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete short middle to B.Celek.25
3-16-PHI 36: (14:06) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to L.McCoy to PHI 43 for 7 yards (G.Hayes).--
1-10-PHI 23: (7:47) L.McCoy up the middle to PHI 38 for 15 yards (J.Cyprien).--
1-10-PHI 38: (7:12) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick up the middle to PHI 40 for 2 yards (R.Allen).35
2-8-PHI 40: (6:51) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete short right [T.Alualu].21
3-8-PHI 40: (6:46) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to B.Celek to JAX 42 for 18 yards (P.Posluszny; D.Lowery). PENALTY on PHI-E.Mathis, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at PHI 40 - No Play.--
3-18-PHI 30: (6:33) (Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles left end ran ob at PHI 35 for 5 yards.--
1-10-PHI 13: (4:55) (Shotgun) L.McCoy up the middle to PHI 14 for 1 yard (P.Posluszny).--
2-9-PHI 14: (4:27) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to Z.Ertz to PHI 27 for 13 yards (R.Allen).28
1-10-PHI 27: (3:52) (No Huddle) M.Vick pass incomplete short right to Z.Ertz (D.Lowery).35
2-10-PHI 27: (3:45) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.McCoy right end to PHI 29 for 2 yards (G.Hayes).--
3-8-PHI 29: (3:15) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles right end to PHI 45 for 16 yards.30
1-10-PHI 45: (2:36) (No Huddle) B.Brown left end to PHI 47 for 2 yards (G.Hayes).39
2-8-PHI 47: (1:57) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep right to D.Jackson to JAX 31 for 22 yards (J.Cyprien).39
1-10-JAX 31: (1:27) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles left end ran ob at JAX 19 for 12 yards.30
1-10-JAX 19: (1:03) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete deep left to B.Celek.24
2-10-JAX 19: (:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.McCoy right end to JAX 24 for -5 yards (J.Mincey).--
3-15-JAX 24: (:17) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to B.Celek to JAX 12 for 12 yards (P.Posluszny) [J.Mincey].41
START OF DRIVE #4 (Second Quarter)--
1-10-JAX 21: (14:22) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to L.McCoy to JAX 9 for 12 yards (S.Marks).--
1-9-JAX 9: (13:47) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to R.Cooper for 9 yards; TOUCHDOWN.35
1-10-PHI 10: (8:40) L.McCoy right end to PHI 6 for -4 yards (R.Allen).--
2-14-PHI 6: (8:06) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to B.Celek to PHI 15 for 9 yards (P.Posluszny) [S.Marks].34
3-5-PHI 15: (7:30) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass deep right to B.Celek to PHI 41 for 26 yards (J.Cyprien).36
1-10-PHI 41: (6:55) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to C.Polk to PHI 46 for 5 yards (K.Love).35
2-5-PHI 46: (6:27) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles right end ran ob at JAX 44 for 10 yards.28
1-10-JAX 44: (6:18) (No Huddle; Shotgun) C.Polk up the middle to JAX 40 for 4 yards (P.Posluszny).9
37 for 9 yards (D.Jackson).: (5:51) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right intended for D.Jackson INTERCEPTED by D.Gratz [S.Marks] at JAX 28. D.Gratz to JAX27
1-10-JAX 44: (5:16) (Shotgun) B.Brown right end pushed ob at JAX 37 for 7 yards (J.Cyprien).--
2-3-JAX 37: (4:48) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to J.Avant to JAX 29 for 8 yards (P.Posluszny).28
1-10-JAX 29: (4:20) (No Huddle; Shotgun) B.Brown left end to JAX 24 for 5 yards (G.Hayes).28
2-5-JAX 24: (3:42) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short left to J.Avant pushed ob at JAX 16 for 8 yards (J.Cyprien).38
1-10-JAX 16: (3:21) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass incomplete short middle to R.Cooper.21
2-10-JAX 16: (3:19) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick FUMBLES (Aborted) at JAX 21, recovered by PHI-B.Brown at JAX 21. B.Brown to JAX 21 for no gain
3-15-JAX 21: (2:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Vick scrambles left end ran ob at JAX 13 for 8 yards (A.Ball).--
1-10-PHI 27: (8:43) (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short middle to B.Celek to PHI 34 for 7 yards (P.Posluszny)--
2-3-PHI 34: (8:16) (No Huddle; Shotgun) C.Polk left end to PHI 38 for 4 yards (D.Lowery).27
1-10-PHI 38: (7:44) (No Huddle; Shotgun) C.Polk right end to 50 for 12 yards (P.Posluszny).32
1-10-50: (7:13) (No Huddle; Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to D.Jackson pushed ob at JAX 37 for 13 yards (D.Gratz).31
1-10-JAX 37: (6:53) (No Huddle; Shotgun) B.Brown left end to JAX 26 for 11 yards (P.Posluszny).20
1-10-JAX 26: (6:32) (Shotgun) B.Brown right end to JAX 3 for 23 yards (D.Lowery). FUMBLES (D.Lowery); ball out of bounds in End Zone; Touchback.21

The fourth drive started just a couple of plays later after Connor Barwin intercepted a Chad Henne pass. This was a two-play drive inside the red zone, so there isn’t much to discuss.

The fifth drive began deep inside Eagles territory. Philadelphia ran a slow no huddle, but after a 26-yard completion to Brent Celek, picked up the pace. The next play was ran 35 seconds after that long play (which is a quick pace given that the next snap was 26 yards away), and the following snap came just 28 seconds later. The next snap was just nine seconds later, although that’s because Vick ran out of bounds4 on the previous play. The ensuing snap was also in hurry-up style, but it was an interception that ended the drive.

Drive number six began just seconds later, as Jacksonville’s Jordan Todman ran 63 yards for a touchdown on the Jaguars first play. Again, the Eagles put the pedal to the medal, with three of four relevant snap pairs coming in under 28 seconds.

The last drive came in the second half. The six plays saw an average of 26.2 seconds between snaps.


The Patriots ran nearly 1200 plays while operating the fastest offense in the NFL last year, but we can’t forget that they have a future Hall of Fame quarterback running the show. Part of running so many plays is having an efficient quarterback who can convert on third downs, traits that Michael Vick has never consistently displayed. Other factors involved in running a lot of plays are bad — Detroit had 1,160 plays last year, the second most in the league, despite an average pace in normal situations. But the Lions threw 295 incomplete passes and were in hurry-up mode on the 4th quarter of lots of games in 2012. The Eagles defense looks to be terrible, which might mean lots of plays in the fourth quarter, but it will also likely limit the number of plays the offense will get to run (unless the defense gives up a lot of short drives, the other team will be able to bleed the clock). Forcing three-and-outs on defense is a great way to get more plays, but that doesn’t seem in the cards for the Eagles in 2013.

On the other hand, it would be naive to think Kelly was showing us everything — or close to everything — in the preseason. And this neutered version of the Kelly offense, while not operating at an otherworldy pace we’ve never seen before, still operated at an extremely fast pace, one that would challenge the Patriots for the league lead. Kelly’s tempo is for real, but running 1200 plays involves more than tempo. It involves efficiency on both sides of the ball, which may not happen for Kelly until 2014.

This is the 32nd team preview I’ve written this year. You can read them all here:

Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

  1. There are also times that snaps take over 60 seconds of clock time (notably after a presnap penalty by the offense), but I’ve eliminated them from the dataset. Why? I believe some are errors, and the rest represent such a small percentage of overall snaps that it was not worth showing. []
  2. As it turns out, the team ran a faster pace under both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. I’m not sure what that means. []
  3. I’ve left out the Eagles three-minute drive here based on principle, but I should mention that Vick did run an up-tempo, 74-yard drive for a touchdown that ran 7 plays in 2:07 (although that was aided by the two-minute warning and one timeout). The Eagles also got the ball back with 24 seconds left in the half, and a short drive ended in an interception. []
  4. As was pointed out to me via e-mail, when a player goes out of bounds with 2+ minutes in the first half or 5+ minutes in the second half, the clock stops and then starts on the spot. So in this instance, the nine seconds probably represents about 5-7 seconds before Vick ran out of bounds and 2-4 seconds between the ball being set and snapped. []
  • Bob

    Insightful as always. Congrats on finishing this year’s Random Perspective series.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks! It wasn’t easy but glad I was a me to it this year.

  • George

    I think your point about efficiency is spot on (e.g. can Vick or Foles – I am assuming Vick will go down at some point this season – I hope it doesn’t happen but it seems unavoidable – run what is being asked of them and make the right reads).

    I think it will also come down to how the opposing defences react to the Chip Kelly playbook, and then they will bring in the red light, yellow light, green light approach in terms of tempo (as Chris Brown has referred to in his articles on Chip Kelly). They will try and pin the defensive personnel on the field against the right offensive personnel (for them) and take advantage of it (e.g. the 4 tight end set, in the double stack formation they used at one point in the pre-season at some point will get pitched against lightweight cornerbacks, if the defence pulls a LB over to help they will run up the middle as they will have a numbers advantage or otherwise throw straight out to the tight ends (if I’m making sense)). If they up the tempo at that point they can keep taking advantage of the oppositions disadvantage. I’m sure someone could have put this better but you know what I mean (hopefully).

  • deg0ey

    Whilst not easy to measure using the data you have access to, I think a more interesting number would be the time between the end of one play and getting _ready_ to snap for the next play – that is, with everyone set at the line and prepared to go. It doesn’t seem like Chip necessarily wants his team to go all-out on every snap, just to have the threat of going all-out on every snap.

    The priority seems (to me at least) to be getting up to the line as quickly as possible and then taking their time to look at what the D is giving them. This limits the amount of motions and adjustments the defense is able to use because they have to be prepared for the snap at any moment, but doesn’t necessarily show up to the same extent in these numbers.

    • Chase Stuart

      I agree with you. Unfortunately, that data is just not out there.

  • I’m impressed that you got through the team previews. Even for you, that’s a pretty monumental task.

    I kept hearing when he first got hired that Chip Kelly was a big fan of going for it on fourth down. That’s actually the part of the game that I’m most interested in seeing from him this year, since we’ve seen some smart coaches go backwards on that recently.

    • Chase Stuart

      Good point. I think we’ll see a lot of aggressive decisions from here, but I know I’ll be monitoring the 4th down stuff.

  • Ian

    They say the NFL is a copycat league, but looking at that chart it’s hard to say which to copy. On the one hand you’ve got the no-huddle teams, and on the other hand you’ve got the run-heavy read-option teams from last year all bunched together at the bottom, who take forever between plays to rest their defenses (but also the opponents’ defenses on the field as well).