Revisiting Clock Management Concepts

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Russell Wilson runs for a first down

It seems like a week ago, but it was only on Monday that I critiqued Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy for calling two clock-stopping timeouts in the final minute of the first half against the Seattle Seahawks. There was less than a minute to go, and in so doing McCarthy gave Seattle the time it needed to quickly move down the field and have two good shots at a 15-yard touchdown pass – before settling for an easy field goal.

In the space of four days, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, Big Mike, and the Saints’ Sean Payton have similarly called timeouts that aided the opposition in scoring at the end of the half.

Here’s what happened on Monday night. Minnesota is backed up on its own 5-yard line, with 1:43 left in the half. After each of the next two running plays, Payton uses up his final two timeouts. Minnesota converts on a 3rd-and-1, and winds up scoring a touchdown with three seconds left in the half, completing a 10-play drive of 95 yards. This gave the Vikings a 16-6 lead, it was a momentum changer, and the Vikings went on to win 29-19.

Believe it or not, McCarthy has his defenders for his dumb strategy, including himself of course. Asked about his “thought process” on this, Big Mike said: “Get the ball back, defense is dominating… We were in total control of the game. Good decision. Didn’t work out the way we would have liked.”

I was generalizing a bit when I previously said you should save your timeouts (in these two-minute situations) until you are sure you’ll force a punt and get the ball back. Considerations include: how many timeouts you have, how many they have, where the ball is on the field, what the score is – and who the opposing quarterback is. All these factors weighed against the choices made by Belichick, McCarthy, and Payton – and yet these three veteran coaches went against the percentages.

Russell Wilson: King of the Two-Minute Drill

No QB in the league is better than Russell Wilson at moving downfield as time is running out. It’s his biggest talent. I can’t tell you how many times he’s quickly moved down the field in such situations, but he’s done it enough just against the Packers that McCarthy should have remembered and acted accordingly.

In last year’s 38-10 Packers win, Wilson got the ball on his own 24 with 48 seconds left in the half. Wham – a 31-yard pass to Marcel Reece. This time the Packers got lucky. Damarious Randall intercepted Wilson on the next play.

In week 2 of 2015, Wilson gets the ball on his own 20-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the game. In six plays he takes the Seahawks to the Green Bay 31, only to have Fred Jackson fumble the ball away after the catch – preserving a 27-17 win at Lambeau Field.

Postseason 2014, Seattle pulls off the desperation onside kick, giving Wilson the ball at midfield with 2:07 remaining. It takes all of four plays and 44 seconds for the Seahawks to score, and for Wilson to complete the two-point conversion – giving Seattle a 22-19 lead.

After Rodgers gets Mason Crosby in position for the game-tying 48-yard field goal, we go to overtime. From the Seattle 30, it takes Wilson just two consecutive throws, 35-yarders to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, to end Green Bay’s season.

In week 3 of 2012, Wilson gets the ball on the Green Bay 46 with 46 seconds left. Bam – a 22-yard pass to Sidney Rice, followed on a 4th-and-10 by a 24-yard touchdown toss to Golden Tate. Seattle steals the win, 14-12.

No right-thinking coach would aid Russell Wilson by calling timeouts for him during the final two minutes of a half or a game. The same goes for Alex Smith and Sam Bradford – two precision passers with loads of NFL experience.

Payton wasn’t asked about his choices at his postgame presser, and no one dared to challenge Belichick either. Since McCarthy was asked, and described his calls as a “good decision,” I guess Packers fans can look forward to more of these brain farts.

One commenter on this site put it nicely, saying when McCarthy took the timeouts he told his girlfriend: “Nothing good will come of this.” Many, but apparently not all of us felt the same way at that moment.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

4 Comments on "Revisiting Clock Management Concepts"

  1. Like I said during the game Sunday, it was a stupid move by MM. The team could not force a punt so why call the timeouts. Seattle was ready to go into the locker room. Until they got a first down there was no way they were going to throw a pass.

    With that said both Belechek and Payton made decisions that need to be made in order to win games. You steal a possession. Championship teams have done it for years. It may not have worked this time but both teams gained experience in what they need to correct. You can guarantee both would do the same thing again because both know what it takes to win championships. MM needs to avoid doing the same thing he did on Sunday. It was a no win situation.

    I would like someone tell me how stupid of a decision calling timeouts, getting the ball back with 2 minutes or less, and scoring was a stupid decision in the Washington 2015 playoff game and the 2016 Giants playoff game. Both of those moves changed the momentum of the game in the Packers favor. You can’t say it is stupid when it doesn’t work but ignore the benefit when it does work.

  2. Adam

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the strategy in general, but that particular circumstance was terrible for two reasons:

    1) The defense might have been playing lights out, but the offense hadn’t done much of shit (besides moving the ball out of our own territory) the entire first half. Go into the locker room no worse than tied, regroup, and come out fresh in the second half.

    But more importantly:

    2) It was mathematically impossible to get the ball back short of causing and recovering a fumble. Even if they don’t covert that third down play, Mike has no more timeouts left and Seattle lets the game clock expire before punting. The ROI on burning those timeouts was next to NIL, and instead, Seattle used them to their advantage to grab momentum going into the half.

    I think that decision could (emphasis on could) have been big enough to build momentum for Seattle IF they had received the ball in the second half.

  3. Ferris

    Brain fart is the most accurate description without use of profanity. Mike cannot hear Packer fans when they yell NO! at the TV.

  4. autpackgo

    There is one significant difference to Sean Paytons decision. There were exactly 48sec(opposed to 1:37) left on the clock when MM called his first of two remaining TO. Which means 40sec get burnt anyway in this situation. Payton had a perspective of an additional possession – MM had not. MMs decision was already dumb when it was made – Paytons was dumb afterwards – as the Viqueens scored.

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