On Using Timeouts Effectively

For some reason, very little has been made nationally of Leslie Frazier’s egregious (non) use of timeouts at the end of Sunday’s Vikings-Buccaneers game (a quick Google search reveals that this did not slip by local fans and media, though). Up 20-17 with the Buccaneers driving, Frazier neglected to use timeouts to stop the clock and give his team a chance to respond if/when the Bucs scored. Via NFL.com’s Gamebook, here is the play-by-play of the relevant part of the Buccaneers drive, during which the Vikings still had all three of their timeouts left:

1-10-MIN 43 (3:05) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short left to K.Winslow to MIN 29 for 14 yards.

1-10-MIN 29 (2:33) (Shotgun) E.Graham right guard to MIN 24 for 5 yards.

2-5-MIN 24 (2:02) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short middle to E.Graham to MIN 16 for 8 yards.

Two-Minute Warning

1-10-MIN 16 (1:56) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass incomplete short middle to K.Winslow.

2-10-MIN 16 (1:52) (Shotgun) E.Graham right guard to MIN 10 for 6 yards.

3-4-MIN 10 (1:17) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short middle to P.Parker to MIN 4 for 6 yards.

1-4-MIN 4 (:35) L.Blount up the middle for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

When asked about this after the game, Leslie Frazier’s explanation did not adequately convey an understanding of the circumstances in the game: “I really thought that we were going to stop them on defense,” Frazier said, “I really did, and make them kick a field goal or come up with a turnover. We had a chance for a turnover there in that drive at their goal line. I really had confidence that we would get a turnover or force a field goal.”

When the Bucs reached the Vikings 29 with about three minutes left, it was clear that, in absence of a turnover, they would be attempting a make-able field goal of 46 yards or less. Even if the Vikings had held the Bucs to a field goal, the score would now have been 20-20. By letting the clock bleed down and hoarding timeouts like they are rollover minutes, Frazier neglected to give his team a chance to respond in regulation. Perhaps the most honest answer as to why he did not use his timeouts would have been that he did not want to set up Donovan McNabb to fail conspicuously in the two-minute drill as this would have been demoralizing for team morale. This would have been the best explanation for overtly poor strategy in the history of ever.

At the end of the first half of Falcons-Eagles, Andy Reid similarly failed to use timeouts to stop the clock. Following a Mike Vick fumble, here is the series of plays that ensued as the Eagles held onto their two timeouts:

1-10-PHI 24 (1:57) M.Ryan pass short left to T.Gonzalez to PHI 11 for 13 yards

1-10-PHI 11 (1:50) J.Rodgers right end to PHI 6 for 5 yards.

2-5-PHI 6 (1:07) M.Turner left guard to PHI 4 for 2 yards.

Timeout #1 by ATL at 00:50.

3-3-PHI 4 (:50) M.Ryan pass short middle to T.Gonzalez for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Reid should have used the Eagles’ first timeout immediately after Rodgers rushed to the 5. The Eagles ended up getting the ball back with 44 seconds left, still holding their two timeouts, but they would have had about 25 seconds less on the clock if Atlanta had not called its timeout on this drive. Although it was poor clock management strategy by the Falcons to use a timeout here, they did score a touchdown on the next play so it is hard to argue with the results.

I understand that there are about a billion things going on in an NFL game, most of which I have absolutely no comprehension of like blocking schemes or defensive formations. That being said, it continues to be mind boggling that with the amount of time and preparation that these coaches put into gameplanning that many continue to fail to correctly manage the clock, one of the only things I do understand.

****

This point is unrelated to clock management but is relevant to overall game management and timeouts. It has always been curious to me that as the play clock is expiring, many quarterbacks will take a timeout instead of a 5-yard delay of game penalty. Obviously, there are some circumstances like short yardage situations where losing the yards is sub-optimal. However, timeouts grant teams the ability to correct formation mismatches on both sides of the ball and stop the clock for drives at the end of halves. Although there is no real way to quantify it, I would have to think that saving them is more valuable a vast majority of the time than five yards. Does anybody have thoughts on this?

 

 

 

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4 Responses to On Using Timeouts Effectively

  1. aattarw says:

    Andy Reid has been getting away with terrible clock management for years. I can understand Atlanta taking the timeout at :50, they wanted to make sure that they had the right play set up for third down. I agree with you on the delay of game, but it kinda depends what type of offense you run.If you’re a team like the Giants, who rely heavily on the running game, then 5-yards can be a big difference. If you’re the Patriots, you can lean on a guy like Wes Welker to get those back for you more easily.

  2. Ajit Iyer says:

    I was actually watching Sports Science (I think) last year, and they quantified the value of using the timeout to prevent a delay-of-game penalty vs. saving it for the crucial situations of games you mentioned. They found, as you believe, that there is significantly greater value in saving it for when it actually matters. Losing 5 yards on a 1st and 10 has much less negative impact than not having that timeout for the final 2 minutes. Obviously there are other factors that play into it, like the score, the yardage situation, and the harder to value “momentum”, but in most cases, you are exactly right that taking that timeout early in the 1st/3rd quarter (or non-crunch-time situations in general) to save 5 yards is a poor decision.

    I’ll try to find the video clip and get that to you!

  3. Ajit Iyer says:

    http://www.footballcommentary.com/timeouts.htm

    that’s not the video, but that’s a pretty interesting look at the numerical “value” of a timeout vs. a 5 yard loss. From what I understood it to mean, having an extra timeout in game w/ the difference <7 points gives you 0.01 (1%) higher chance of winning, while saving the 5-yard loss from a delay of game penalty gives you a 0.0035 (0.35%) higher chance of winning. So this study would argue that a timeout in a close game is worth 3x more than the 5 yards.

  4. Pingback: Gregg Easterbrook Offers Conclusive Proof That Blitzing Never Works (or Something) « Uninformed Commentary

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