There is an epidemic going on in the NFL right now that is so bad it is hard to believe.
And no, I’m not talking about the high number of missed kicks, including an unfathomable number of extra points. Or even penalty flags so far this season, and in particular in Week 5. I’ll save those for another week.
I’m talking about clock management, or mismanagement, as the case may be.
It is almost unconscionable how many critical errors are made in this area on a weekly basis.
These are multi-billion-dollar organizations with hundreds of employees and yet so many of them fail to have a dedicated person on staff who can help manage these situations. Either that or the person they have in charge is incompetent. Or the head coach doesn’t listen to them. Or maybe it’s all of the above, who knows. The point is, it’s a problem. A major one.
It showed up again in Week 5 on Thursday night as not just one but both teams made obvious errors before the end of the first half.
Let’s start with the Rams, who converted a fourth and one at the Seahawks’ 23-yard line with 2:39 remaining in the first half to give them a new set of downs from the 21. At that point, with the Rams still having multiple timeouts and being deep in Seahawks territory, time was no longer going to be a factor in determining whether the Rams would be able to score. They had plenty of time to do whatever they wanted at that point and really the goal should have been to give the Seahawks as little time as possible after the Rams’ drive ended, whether that be with a touchdown or a field goal or whatever.
Instead, inexplicably, the Rams ran a play with 2:11 on the clock even though they could have, and obviously should have, allowed the clock to go down to the two-minute warning. By running a play before the two-minute warning, the Rams essentially saved the Seahawks a timeout, which is extremely valuable in any end-of-half or game situations.
That was bad. What happened next was worse.
After the two-minute warning, the Rams had a second and four from the Seahawks’ 15-yard line. As mentioned, at this point, time was not a factor for the Rams because they were at the 15-yard line with multiple timeouts. The Rams got a three-yard run from Sony Michel down to the 12-yard line and for some unknown reason, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks failed to use one of their timeouts.
This allowed the Rams to—correctly I might add—run nearly 40 more seconds off the clock before getting stuffed on third and one, at which point the Seahawks finally used a timeout. Unfortunately for them, it was a play too late.
You can check out the play-by-play of the Seahawks’ next drive online if you’d like, but what matters is that the drive ultimately ended up with the Seahawks having to attempt a field goal on third and three from the Rams’ 17-yard line.
Their kicker, Jason Myers, missed the 35-yard field goal, but that’s really beside the point. The point is that the Seahawks cost themselves at least 30 seconds by not calling a timeout immediately after the Rams’ first play after the two-minute warning. You don’t think Russell Wilson and his teammates would’ve liked their chances to convert that third and three and ultimately get a touchdown, or at least an even easier field goal attempt?
Of course they did. But the Seahawks’ clock mismanagement didn’t afford them this opportunity.
And it’s not just the Seahawks or the Rams, obviously. Even the great Bill Belichick made a tactical error by having Nick Folk attempt a 56-yard field goal with a little under a minute to go against the Bucs in the Tom Brady homecoming game on Sunday night in Week 4.
According to NFL NextGen Stats, the chances of Folk making that 56-yard attempt were only 45 percent, while the chances of the Patriots converting with Jones were 52 percent. Furthermore, the Patriots’ win probability was 34.7 percent by going for it vs. 24.3 percent by settling for the long-shot field goal.
While that may seem like a game management decision and not a clock management one, the fact that Belichick attempted that field goal knowing even if it went in Brady would have close to a minute to answer is a clock management issue.
Fortunately, there are some young coaches that realize the advantages they can gain by doing things the right way. Watching Chargers running back Austin Ekeler go down short of the goal line after getting a first down only to then subsequently get pushed and carried into the end zone by the Browns on the very next play was an encouraging masterclass in clock management by Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The reality is, coaches like this that clearly know the odds, math, and win probability when making decisions are going to continue to give their teams an advantage over the ones that inexplicably do not.
It’s really that simple.
WRITER’S NOTE: If you are interested in these decisions, I highly recommend following people like former Eagles game management coach @PaganettiRyan, @benbaldwin, and my “Even Money” podcast co-host @FezzikSports as all of them analyze and tweet about these decisions often.
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