Les Levine: Time for a Clock Manager

I could be wrong, but, in this era of micro-managing and over-coaching, have timeouts become <I>less</I> important to football teams?<BR><BR>

This past week I saw the St. Louis Rams use two timeouts in the first four minutes of the first half.  And, once again, the Cleveland Browns were out of timeouts against the Baltimore Ravens long before the second half two-minute warning.

One timeout was used for a replay challenge, which did not get overturned; the second one was used because the Browns coaching staff didn't anticipate an obvious two-point conversion try, after the Ravens scored to make it 18-13;  and the final one was used when they weren't going to get the play off in time to beat the play clock. 

Last week, near the end of regulation time in the overtime loss to Philadelphia, the Browns misused the clock, calling a quick timeout after their second down/goal to go play, with :37 left, when they clearly should have run it down inside :20, leaving time for two more plays.  When they scored on third down, it gave the Eagles time for a Hail Mary Pass which could easily have been caught.

None of those second half timeouts should have been used against the Ravens. Sunday night ESPN crews have many more cameras for their coverage than a regular Fox or CBS Sunday game.  Despite the importance of the play resulting in a downed punt at the one yard line (leading to Derrick Frost's seven yard punt), some Browns assistant in the booth had to see that the Ravens clearly downed the ball, without going into the end zone.  And anyone who can add and subtract had to know that the Ravens were going to go for the 2 point PAT after taking the five point lead.  The Browns coaching staff had three Ravens plays and a minute and a half of playing time to make the defense aware of what was going to happen. 

I am sure the Browns will say that the lack of timeouts didn't affect the outcome of the game, as they had plenty of time to score---and would have if either Aaron Shea held on to the Jeff Garcia pass, or if they called interference on Ray Lewis.  And they would point out, as Butch Davis did last week, that it is a moot point because the Hail Mary Pass was dropped.  That's hogwash.

If the Browns had all of their timeouts remaining inside the two-minute warning, their play selection would have been different, and, because they rely so heavily on match-ups, the timeouts would have allowed them to be more careful with their play selections.

I have theory to explain why so many teams screw up clock management throughout a season. 

People who watch a lot of games, because they have fantasy football teams, or they bet the games, or they just like watching the NFL, see around fifty games a year. 

When was the last time a head coach just sat down and watched another team's game from start to finish?  And, even if they did, they would watch it differently than you and I would watch it. 

I don't claim that those viewers, myself included, have any clue about X's and O's, but I'd match our clock managing skills up against most coaches.  On several occasions over the last twenty years, I have asked (head and assistant) coaches about the team's use of the clock, and it concerns me that they don't have a grasp of the problem.   On each occasion I have been told that the outcome of the game did not hinge on clock management, and to say that it did would be nothing more than second-guessing. 

Maybe they can get their owners to believe it, but real students of the game know better.


The Big Ten replay challenge system isn't perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than the one used in the NFL. 

For one thing, it is quicker, and, more importantly, it stops the head linesman from squinting into a viewing booth, when he reluctantly has to overrule his colleagues on the field.   Having a qualified observer make the call from the press box makes much more sense.

For years I have advocated having an impartial group of officials sitting in a TV studio somewhere, with monitors showing every game---it's easy to do…in the Browns press box, every game is shown on a series of monitors.  They can be playing cards and eating potato chips, when they get a signal to look at a play on a specific monitor.  Without knowledge of the game situation, and, more importantly, of the way the play was called on the field, they can just report what they see, without worrying about ‘indisputable evidence' to overturn a call.

If the NFL wants to keep coaches challenges and loss of timeouts out of the equation, the refs in the booth can watch every play and take a look at as many replays as necessary throughout the game. 

This is a very obvious solution to a problem was partially responsible for the ‘Bottle of Lake Erie' a couple of years ago.  Had the replay challenge taken less than a minute, and the ball put back in play without a five minute stoppage, the whole incident might have been avoided.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15.  He can be reached at www.leslevine.com

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