Good clock management can be the difference between winning and losing a game, but trying to quantify “good clock management” isn’t always easy. By at least one metric, however, the Packers are managing the clock worse than any team in the NFL.
That metric is wasted timeouts.
Whether a timeout was used properly or wasted is to some extent subjective, but suffice to say that the smart time to use a timeout is late in the second or fourth quarter, when you need to stop the clock while trying to score before halftime or the end of the game. The dumb time to use a timeout is early in the half, when you’re trying to prevent a delay of game penalty, get the right personnel on the field or take some extra time to call a play. If you use a timeout in that situation, that means your team wasted a valuable resource — a timeout — because it wasn’t prepared.
Paul Noonan of AcmePackingCompany.com defined wasted timeouts as those used before the two-minute warning in the first half, and before the final five minutes of the second half. And by that measurement, the Packers lead the league, with 14 wasted timeouts so far this season.
Wasting timeouts turned out to be incredibly costly in the Packers’ tie game against the Vikings. On the Packers’ very first drive of the game, while lining up for a third-and-17, they called timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. Third-and-17 and third-and-22 are both extreme long shot plays, so wasting a timeout to save five yards in that situation was foolish. (After the timeout the Packers gained four yards and punted.) Sure enough, at the end of the first half, the Packers kicked a field goal on first down, inside the red zone, because they were out of time. An extra timeout might have given the Packers enough time to score a touchdown. And in the second half, the Packers again wasted a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty on their first drive. They would later waste another timeout to avoid a delay of game in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter ended with the Packers missing a 52-yard game-winning field goal attempt. Two more timeouts would have given the Packers more time to get closer and would have increased their chances of making that game-winning field goal.
You might think you could go through any team’s season and find such examples of wasted timeouts, but the reality is you can’t: The Packers wasted more timeouts in that one game against the Vikings, a game when missing timeouts proved very costly, than some teams have wasted all season.
The teams that have done the best job of conserving timeouts until they need them are the Eagles, Colts and Jaguars, each of which have used only two timeouts before the last two minutes of the first half or last five minutes of the second half this season. It’s unsurprising that Eagles coach Doug Pederson doesn’t waste many timeouts, as he has proven himself again and again to be ahead of the rest of the league in understanding in-game strategy. It’s also unsurprising that Colts coach Frank Reich, who was Pederson’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia last year, is following Pederson’s lead.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy would be wise, with his team on its bye this week, to do some self-scouting about why his team is wasting its timeouts.