« Coyle: Entire defense has 'really impressed' | Main | Things to look for as Dolphins camp starts Week 2 »

Up-tempo is great when quarterback and execution are great

Some of the buzz around the start of Dolphins training camp practices has been about speed and tempo.

The Dolphins are practicing in multiple groups -- first-team offense versus first-team defense on one side of the 50-yard line and second-team O versus second-team D on the other side -- both at the same time.

It is a system that turns what would typically be an 80-play practice into a 140- to 160-play practice.

That's awesome!

But as the Dolphins practice fast and rarely even huddle, the tempo is also intended to carry over to games. That's because the Dolphins want to play an up-tempo, snap a lot of plays, fast-working offense this season.

“It’s a spread open, fast paced, up tempo offense," running back Reggie Bush said. "We run a lot of zone schemes, which, for a running back like me, is great. I’ve always loved the zone running scheme. It does wonders for running backs."

"Part of this whole thing is, while we want to be an up tempo offense, we do want to run a lot of plays at the opposition," coach Joe Philbin said. "We feel like the more plays run, the better opportunity you have to score points. But there’s also a couple of other residual benefits – I mean the conditioning aspect is I think a big advantage for our whole entire football team, offense and defense."

All that has the potential for very good things.

The New England Patriots run a similar attack. So did the Colts when Peyton Manning was the quarterback. Other teams go into this mode when they fall behind as well.

It's fast-break football ...

When it works.

What I mean is working fast on offense is a great weapon against an opposing defense because it doesn't let them catch their breath, it creates mismatches, and creates uncertainty and mistakes by them.

But it does all those things only when the quarterback play is at a very high level and the execution of everyone else on offense is crisp.

When the QB isn't quite so good or the execution of the offensive players isn't nearly perfect, this idea of running a lot of plays fast is a disaster.

It basically translates to having the offense rushing to get off the field. And that exposes Miami's defense.

Think about that.

When a fast-paced offense is performing as intended, it is moving the chains and doing it quickly and the defensive guys are on the bench watching. That's good.

But if the team running the up-tempo attack has three quick incomplete passes, its defense that was just on the field has to go right back out again. And the other team that just had a chance to score is going to get yet another chance almost immediately.

In that case, up-tempo offense turns into a rush to give up the football.

It is a two-edged sword.

Up-tempo is great when Tom Brady is at quarterback. But I wonder how things will be with David Garrard or Matt Moore or rookie Ryan Tannehill pulling the trigger. Philbin's offense places a lot of pressure on the QB as it is. They are responsible for making a lot of changes and making a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage -- moreso than more convential units that huddle up.

But it also asks the quarterback to be spectacular in completing a very high percentage of his passes to keep his unit on the field and protect his defensive teammates.

The approach also is demanding of other offensive players.

Suddenly a sack allowed by an offensive lineman is a bigger problem than usual because the team finds itself in bad down-and-distance situations while rushing into those situations.

Receivers similarly have to be precise with their routes.

One of the reasons Chad Johnson didn't get a lot of playing time last year reportedly was because he didn't know his assignments precisely. Like his days in Cincinnati, he'd stretch a 15-yard pattern to 17 yards and it would drive Brady nuts because the precision was lost.

And as the up-tempo attack cannot afford incompletions, Johnson didn't see the field a ton and only caught 15 passes on the year.

So now in Miami's up-tempo offense Johnson's going to be precise? He'll have to be to make things work for his quarterbacks. Everyone will have to be to keep moving the sticks and keep the offense on the field to avoid exposing the defense to more snaps.

By the way, this idea of a fast-paced offense isn't new in Miami.

Last year, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll tried it some in camp and Miami opened with it against New England.

The result was that Miami threw for 419 yards and rushed for another 98 yards in scoring 24 points. That, by any measure, is very good offensive production. But the offense sputtered just enough to give the ball back to the Patriots more times than what they held it.

And so while the Dolphins gained 488 yards, New England put up 622. While Miami scored 24, New England scored 38.

Miami's offensive players couldn't execute at the same rate as New England's. Miami also couldn't make big enough plays to maximize its time of possession.

The point is that, as with everything else, the idea of running an up-tempo offense sounds wonderful and definitely is when players are executing and the quarterback is playing at a high level. But one reason more teams don't do this is because they don't have a Brady or Manning running the attack and they don't want to expose their defense.

This year the Dolphins will try to run this attack with neither Brady nor Manning at quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how well that works for both the offense and defense.