Timeout: Play Clock Management Part of Offensive Issues

If the NFL had a category for wasted timeouts, the Packers might have been the league leader. A Packer Report review of each timeout taken this past season by the Packers provided some surprising conclusions.

The two greatest plays of the 2015 Green Bay Packers season were made possible in part by the team’s misuse of timeouts.

Yes, incredible throws by Aaron Rodgers and spectacular catches by Richard Rodgers and Jeff Janis are what everyone will remember in Hail Mary fourth-quarter finishes at Detroit and at Arizona in the postseason. But had the Packers had more time on the clock in both situations, there might not have been the need such miracles.

At Detroit, the Packers took over on their 21-yard line with just 23 seconds left for the game-winning drive. Had the offense not burned a timeout on the previous series as the play clock wound down on a fourth-and-1, the defense would have had another timeout to conserve more time. Another 40 seconds or so may have impacted the play calls on the final drive to get Mason Crosby into field goal range, since the deficit was just two points.

At Arizona, a frenetic final drive — starting with 1:50 on the clock at the Cardinals’ 14 — might have looked differently for the Packers with a couple extra timeouts in their pocket. Instead, Rodgers went deep twice for Janis when they had no other option (on a fourth-and-20 and on the last play of regulation). In the third quarter, coach Mike McCarthy lost a replay review challenge and a timeout, and before that, the Packers’ offense burned a timeout on a third-and-goal when Rodgers could not get through his long snap count after breaking the huddle late.

The Packers’ inefficient management of the play clock was one of the many surprising dysfunctions of the offense this past season. A Packer Report review found that timeouts were used a staggering 34 times to prevent the play clock from expiring. Not a single game this season — playoffs included — was exempt from the Packers having to use at least one timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty.

Moreover, it appeared only one of the 34 times was used for strategic or planned reasons. At Oakland, Rodgers tried to draw the Raiders offside on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter before the Packers punted. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of these timeouts were, in effect, wasted.

What the Packers gained from Rodgers’ mastery at the line of scrimmage — drawing defenders offside with a hard count and catching extra defenders running off the field for “free plays” — they also lost in rhythm. The most common themes to the offense running out of time were long counts, lengthy play and protections adjustments by Rodgers, and breaking the huddle too late to run the play effectively. But what seemed to peeve the quarterback the most was when officials failed to reset the play clock in certain situations or the play call came in late from the sideline.

It was a collective failure at many levels. For an offense that wanted to stress tempo and a head coach that gave up play-calling to be more of an overseer of all three phases of the team, the frequency of such wasted timeouts was frustrating. Luckily, they had no direct bearing on the outcome of any game negatively for the Packers, though they did impact at least one big game.

In the NFC North championship game on Jan. 3 at Lambeau Field, the Packers got off a final Hail Mary pass attempt in the nick of time but could have had more time to tie up a game that ended 20-13. On a third-and-2 late in the third quarter, the Packers were forced to use a timeout with 2 seconds on the play clock when they came out of a long huddle and Randall Cobb and James Jones were confused where to line up. They also burned a play-clock timeout on a fourth-and-goal from the Vikings’ 13 with the game clock stopped at 2:18. McCarthy, back calling plays then, blamed the timeout on not having a good play call in a crucial situation. Rodgers noted that the play call came in late and that they wanted to feel good about the call as opposed to saving the timeout. On the ensuing play, Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone by Xavier Rhodes.

With 2:09 remaining, the Packers’ defense was left with the two-minute warning and just one timeout to stop the clock. The Vikings went three-and-out but, after a 36-yard punt by Jeff Locke, the Packers took over at their 42 with just 58 seconds remaining. That left time for a final hurried drive. But even with a fourth-and-10 conversion, the offense could only advance to the 38-yard line. Who knows what would have happened with an additional 40 seconds?

As a result of its lack of resourcefulness, the Packers’ offense was only able to use nine of 45 total timeouts called during the season to stop the game clock in two-minute drive situations. The Packers’ defense, on the other hand, used 17 timeouts to stop the game clock of its 27 total timeouts used during the season.

Not to be excused, the defense had to use timeouts nine times for substitution issues or confusion with the defensive call or personnel. Most of those “wasted” timeouts came early in the season, however. Unlike the offense, defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ defense got better down the stretch having to use only one timeout — when it had just 10 defenders on the field prior to a third-and-1 play in the first quarter of the playoff at Arizona — over the last nine games.

Below is a summary of the Packers timeouts for the 2015 season:

— Total timeouts available: 111

— Total timeouts used: 78

— Timeouts used on offense: 45

(34 or 75.6% were used to avoid delay-of-game penalties)

— Timeouts used on defense: 27

— Timeouts used on special teams: 3

— Timeouts lost to replay review challenges: 3

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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