Revisiting Clock Management Concepts
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.