National Football League
Time management issues always surface in NFL
National Football League

Time management issues always surface in NFL

Published Nov. 19, 2010 8:31 p.m. ET

Some coaches take an aggressive approach when clinging to a small lead late in the game. Others play it safe.

What's the best way to secure a win?

There's no real recipe for success. It mostly depends on execution and who's taking the snaps for both teams.

If Peyton Manning is your quarterback, you're more inclined to pass to protect a lead. Same thing if Manning is standing on the other sideline waiting for an opportunity to get the ball back.


If you have someone like Troy Smith, keeping it on the ground might be the better option.

The Philadelphia Eagles had a tough decision with a 26-24 lead against Indianapolis two weeks ago and 1:49 remaining. The Colts had just scored a touchdown to trim the deficit, and had all three timeouts left when the Eagles got the ball at their 20.

With Michael Vick at quarterback, the coaching staff had several options. Vick is an excellent scrambler. He can run a draw, roll out and look for a safe pass or keep it himself.

The first play was an end-around to the speedy DeSean Jackson. He gained 11 yards. That worked so well the Eagles did it again. Jackson ran for 6 yards and forced Indy to use its first timeout.

Having a wide receiver run the ball isn't the most conservative call, but it kept the clock running.

''I think that's the best time for deception-type plays,'' Eagles wideout Jason Avant said. ''You don't want to do anything that would put your defense in a quandary, so you have to do something that keeps the ball on the ground where the clock is moving. So it's conservative from that standpoint, but not too predictable as far as the play type, like a reverse. That's ball security, but at the same time it's kind of deceptive. You don't want to throw the ball because if you don't complete it, it stops the clock.''

On second-and-4, LeSean McCoy gained 2 yards and the Colts called timeout with 54 seconds left. After a false start pushed Philadelphia back, Vick was sacked on third down and the Colts used their last timeout with 47 ticks remaining.

The Eagles didn't completely run out the clock, but they made Indy use all three timeouts. Manning got the ball at the 26 with 40 seconds to go. After two short passes and two incompletions, Asante Samuel's interception sealed the win.

''When you have Peyton Manning like we did, you want to be two scores up,'' Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. ''But that wasn't the case, so you do what you have to do. I mean that guy is a player. You don't want to give him the ball back and if you do, you don't want too much time on the clock. That's Peyton Manning. A young quarterback, you might do it a little differently.''

Other variables contribute to the play-calling besides the quarterbacks. Teams with running backs such as Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore are more inclined to run the ball. So would teams with strong offensive lines.

''The factors are almost infinite,'' Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. ''Some of it is based on how our quarterback does in that situation. Or, are we really much better than the other team, and should we take it to them as hard as we can?''

Offensive and defensive coaches don't always see eye to eye on which approach to take. Buddy Ryan once punched Kevin Gilbride on the sideline during a game when the two were coordinators with the Houston Oilers in 1994. Gilbride used the run-and-shoot offense and Ryan, a defensive guru, hated that style of play.

''When I was a head coach, I had to fight the impulse to be too aggressive,'' said Henning, who worked under Bill Parcells with the New York Jets in the late 1990s. ''Talking to coach Parcells, there were times over the years where I thought he was too aggressive when we worked together.

''Different people believe in different ways of doing it. Some defensive coaches think completely different than offensive coaches do. If you're working for a defensive coach, he might go completely conservative because he doesn't want to have his defense back on the field. If you're working for an offensive coach, they usually understand the situation a little bit better than a defensive coach would.''

Lions coach Jim Schwartz mismanaged the clock against the New York Jets on Nov. 7, and it cost Detroit a win. After the Jets scored to get within 20-17, the Lions got the ball at their 34 with 2:37 left. New York had only one timeout and used it after Jahvid Best carried on first down. Best ran again on second down, taking the clock to the two-minute warning.

On third-and-6, Schwartz inexplicably called a pass. Drew Stanton, subbing for the injured Matthew Stafford, threw an incompletion to stop the clock.

After a punt, the Jets got the ball at their 22 with 1:40 left. Mark Sanchez led them on a tying drive, and then to a win in overtime.

Schwartz blamed himself for not telling Stanton it's acceptable to take a sack. Vick did exactly that against the Colts in the same situation later that day, taking the sack and chewing up precious seconds in the process.

''The only thing I'd like to see there is when it wasn't real clean, for Drew to just go down,'' Schwartz said. ''Probably my biggest communication there was finding him, or just specifically saying: 'Don't worry about losing 10 or 15 yards.'''

The Jets couldn't believe the call.

''They gave us about 40 more seconds to work with,'' New York offensive tackle Damien Woody said. ''That was huge.''

No matter which approach they choose, all coaches and players can agree on this: Those final minutes seem way too long.

''It takes forever,'' Titans fullback Ahmard Hall said. ''It seems like the game flies by, and then you get in those four minutes when you have a touchdown lead and you're trying to milk that clock, man it seems like it's an eternity. But it's fun when you win.''


AP Sports Writers Steven Wine in Miami, Noah Trister in Detroit, Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., and Josh Dubow in Oakland contributed to this report.


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