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Old 01-24-2011, 08:54 AM
Quercus Quercus is online now
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Football: value of a timeout

I was just wondering if anyone has done a serious analysis of the expected value (in yardage, say) of a timeout in (American) football. It seems to me that if you're behind late, then a timeout is pretty valuable -- in most situations you'd gladly give up 5 or 10 yards in order to get another 25 seconds of time on the clock, at least if you're on offense, and sometimes even if you're on defense.

But in the non-late portions of the game, a team on offense will typically call time out rather than give up a delay of game penalty. I was wondering if this is really a worthwhile call? I mean, how much does giving up 5 yards in a typical offensive drive really lower your chances of winning? Naively it doesn't seem high compared to how much another time out increases your chances of winning in a two-minute drill (multiplied by the chance thay you'll actually be running a two-minute drill of course). Anyone seen an analysis?
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Old 01-24-2011, 12:12 PM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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This is a very interesting question that I have absolutely no ability to answer. But I've thought about the same issue sometimes. I would think the value of the timeout vs. the five yards would change based on field position, yards to first down, score, and time left in the game. Blowing a timeout early in a half generally seems like a bad idea to me, but QBs and coaches always seem to do it instead of just taking the penalty even though it could make the difference on a critical drive at the end of the half or the game. Do they think it's too hard to make this decision on the fly? The only time you see a team deliberately take a delay of game penalty is when they are around midfield and planning to punt, which is a situation where the extra five yards might prevent a touchback.
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Old 01-24-2011, 12:16 PM
ReticulatingSplines ReticulatingSplines is offline
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Timeouts have absolutely no value.

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Old 01-25-2011, 09:04 AM
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The value of a timeout is to prevent something bad from happening. A delay of game penalty on 1st and 10 early in the second quarter of a tie game is a bad thing, so calling a timeout to avoid the penalty is a good use of a timeout.

Not every game comes down to a last minute drive where you need timeouts, so whatever the utility of having an extra timeout in that situation is, you have to reduce it by the likelihood of getting there in the first place.

Consider the above example in the second quarter. What if that drive leads to a touchdown thanks to a close 1st down conversion you wouldn't have made if you saved the timeout to take the delay of game. Better to build up an early lead and not need the timeout later than save your timeouts only to need them in crunch time.
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Old 01-25-2011, 10:56 AM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
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You may find interesting the following article from footballcommentary.com. http://www.footballcommentary.com/timeouts.htm (Weird, for some reason, the board isn't letting me insert a link. EDIT: Looks like the links are coming through fine; I just can't add them via the utility on the message window.)

The discussion section of the following post from advanced nfl stats, goes into a bit of thought about marginal value of timeouts. http://www.advancednflstats.com/2010...t-blunder.html A search for timeout value pulls up additional blog posts/articles, with discussion of timeouts within their comments sections.

I couldn't find anything in a brief search at footballoutsiders, but it looks like Krasker did use the outsiders' data to write his article.

Interesting topic.

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 01-25-2011 at 10:58 AM.
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Old 01-25-2011, 11:27 AM
furt furt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellis Dee View Post
The value of a timeout is to prevent something bad from happening. A delay of game penalty on 1st and 10 early in the second quarter of a tie game is a bad thing, so calling a timeout to avoid the penalty is a good use of a timeout.

Not every game comes down to a last minute drive where you need timeouts, so whatever the utility of having an extra timeout in that situation is, you have to reduce it by the likelihood of getting there in the first place.
But clearly there are some situations where the five-yard penalty is only of marginal value. I've seen QBs call timeout before a third-and-fifteen play (is third and twenty really significantly worse?). I've seen it called before short field goals (the difference between a thirty-yard attempt and a thirty-five-yard attempt is virtually nil). Do that in, say, the early fourth quarter of a tie game, and it's obviously a bad play.



The thing is that in the large, perhaps vast majority of situations, the five yards is worth more than the time out, and so coaches are going to teach players to call the TO rather than take the penalty. A heady player might sometimes know when to take the five yards (and I've seen it done), but it's unrealistic to expect a player forced to make a split-second decision not to revert to his coaching -- and really, you don't want them doing it anyway.
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Old 01-25-2011, 11:30 AM
Ellis Dee Ellis Dee is offline
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Agreed, furt.

The only teams I remember regularly taking the Delay Of Game penalty and saving their timeouts were the Kurt Warner/Mike Martz Rams.

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 01-25-2011 at 11:31 AM.
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:00 PM
I Love Me, Vol. I I Love Me, Vol. I is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by furt View Post
A heady player might sometimes know when to take the five yards (and I've seen it done), but it's unrealistic to expect a player forced to make a split-second decision not to revert to his coaching -- and really, you don't want them doing it anyway.
In the NFL, the coach could tell the QB via his helmet speaker to: "Take the penalty! NO time out!"

This is an interesting topic. Posters have offered examples of situations where it would be good or bad to take the penalty, but those seemed to be obvious situations on the margins. I'd love to see some numbers on the actual value of a TO in yards and maybe even a TO's value in downs.

Another reason this is interesting to me is because of the recent scientific analysis of the "go for it on 4th down instead of punt" situation. I guess it was maybe 3 or 4 years ago that some guy wrote a paper about the expected value of teams on 4th downs going for 1st down instead of punting or trying a FG in certain field positions.

Am I the only one who thinks he has noticed a greater frequency of NFL teams going for a 1st down on a 4th down play instead of punting (or FG try)???
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:33 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Imho, a timeout saves time on the clock, which is essentially priceless at the end of a game.

Examples:

1. There are 5 seconds left on the clock. You need a minimum of 12 seconds to run your field goal unit out on the field, set up, and go for a field goal try. Without a timeout, there is no try.

2. Your team has to go 80 yards down the field with 5 seconds left. The fastest players in history run a 40 yard dash in 4 seconds.

3. The other team is winning and they are trying to run out the clock. Each down, they can waste 45 seconds, or a total of 2.5 minutes, plus whatever seconds it takes to run each play. If the opponent can call a time out, this saves 2.5 minutes of game time.

But statistically, if you wanted to gauge the value of a timeout, I would imagine the formula would include:
a. Whether you are ahead or behind in the score,
b. How much you are ahead or behind in the score,
c. How far you need to move the ball to get into scoring range,
d. The total remaining time.

The farther you are behind in the score and the more yards you have to move the ball, the higher a timeout's value is. As the time gets lower and lower to around say 20-30 seconds left, this multiplies that value. However, with around say 10 seconds left, the value starts decreasing again, because a single play takes a minimum of 5-10 seconds to run anyway, so regardless of how many timeouts you have, you can only do 1 more play.

Last edited by Superhal; 01-25-2011 at 07:36 PM.
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:48 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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double post

Last edited by Mince; 01-25-2011 at 07:51 PM.
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:50 PM
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One of the more subtle effects of a timeout is on the playcalling. Without a timeout to work with, an offense under the gun is going to have to throw the ball and work the sidelines, and the defense knows that. If the offense does have a timeout, their opponent still has to defend the middle of the field. The offense doesn't have to use it, but just having the option makes it easier to complete those sideline passes and get out of bounds to stop the clock.

With the right data, I guess you could try to quantify that difference. I think it would be significant.


Quote:
Originally Posted by I Love Me, Vol. I View Post
In the NFL, the coach could tell the QB via his helmet speaker to: "Take the penalty! NO time out!"
Nope - the communication stops with 10 or 15 seconds on the play clock.
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Old 01-25-2011, 08:38 PM
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But how many drives are ended by a penalty or a tackle for a loss. A team can dominate a game by picking up 2 or 3 yards on first down, another 2 or 3 on second and having a short third down conversion. With a short third down the defense can’t pin their ears back and go for the sack because the team can run or throw a quick pass. Short third downs kill blitzing defenses because the hot read is enough for a first down.

Penalties, sack, tackles for a loss are all drive killers because it takes the offence off its schedule, constantly having to play catch up, it makes the offence one dimensional.
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Old 01-25-2011, 09:17 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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The time-out is much more valuable than the 5 yards. The 5 yards can be easily overcome by good offensive teams. They do it all the time with sacks and other penalties. The situation doesn't occur enough and the 5 yards isn't damaging enough to warrant giving up the time-out.

Save the time-out for confusion on 3rd (or 4th) and goal from the 1, confusion while attempting a 52-yard field goal, stopping the clock late, or reserving your ability to challenge a call. Each of these is worth much more than a meager 5 yards. Now if a team was getting confused every third play, then yes the aggregate loss of yards on penalties would warrant taking a time-out. But in that situation the team probably isn't very good and won't be winning much anyway, and if you burn time-outs to save a delay of game penalty, you can only do it to save 15 yards (I'm only considering the second half, the only one that would really matter in this scenario); it's not that much.

Of course, quantifying this scenario seems impossible.

Last edited by Mince; 01-25-2011 at 09:20 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 04:26 AM
Ellis Dee Ellis Dee is offline
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I disagree, Mince, in that I think you glossed right over sitchensis' very valid point. While a timeout has potential to be extremely valuable, so does every yard.

To the OP, timeouts have a variable value, so you can't just assign them a value in yards and call it a day. Interestingly, so do yards themselves. Sometimes a yard is the most valuable thing in the world, (4th & goal on the 1, down by 4, 5 seconds left in the game,) and sometimes a single yard doesn't much matter.

What is 5 yards worth? On 1st & 10 it's worth one thing, but on 3rd & 1 it's worth something else entirely.
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Old 01-26-2011, 11:59 AM
furt furt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
Imho, a timeout saves time on the clock, which is essentially priceless at the end of a game.
No, they're not. They're priceless at the end of some games-- and in fact very few.

Any given football game is more likely to wind up 27-17 than it is 31-30, and the go-ahead score is much more likely to be scored in the first half than it is in the last two minutes. Even in games that do go down to the wire, usually only one team needs the timeouts, and the other wants the clock running.

The last minute nail-biters are memorable, but they are the exception.
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Old 01-26-2011, 12:11 PM
Intergalactic Gladiator Intergalactic Gladiator is offline
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Timeouts have absolutely no value.

Sincerely,
A. Reid
Neither does a running game, right?
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Old 01-26-2011, 02:41 PM
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Somewhat (and I admit only somewhat) related. I've always wondered why teams use kneeling earlier than I think relevant to run out the clock. Why doesn't the QB instead of kneeling immediately step back and wait for a few seconds before dropping to one knee. I've seen some college QBs do this but can't recall any pro QBs doing it.
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Old 01-26-2011, 02:49 PM
Darth Sensitive Darth Sensitive is offline
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Getting pasted for screwing around hurts.

That said, Rothisnameisimpossibletospellger took a quick knee, then a drop back kneel down on the snaps at the end of the game last weekend.
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Old 01-26-2011, 02:57 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Somewhat (and I admit only somewhat) related. I've always wondered why teams use kneeling earlier than I think relevant to run out the clock. Why doesn't the QB instead of kneeling immediately step back and wait for a few seconds before dropping to one knee. I've seen some college QBs do this but can't recall any pro QBs doing it.
Iirc, in college the play clock is 30 seconds. In the pro's it's 45. Also, you get more clock stoppages in college (I'm told the clock stops when the chains need to be moved.)

Corrections welcome.

Last edited by Superhal; 01-26-2011 at 02:57 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 03:01 PM
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There are other times when the coaching and instinct is not the optimum situation. When the Jets beat the Patriots a couple of weeks ago, Shonn Green scored a last minute touchdown. A smarter move would have been to stop just short of the goal line, run three plays to eat up the clock, then kick a field goal. The game would have been over then. Brady would not have had enough time for two scores.

But when a running back sees the goal line, he crosses it.

OTOH, a Patriot defender let Green score, knowing that tacking him short would help the Jets.
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Old 01-26-2011, 03:50 PM
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I recall seeing a story on a high school coach who refused to punt. He'd go for it on 4th and 50 from his own 1 yard line. It was all based on his team's expected probability to score compared to his opponent's probability to score (the idea being that punting from the endzone is going to give the ball to your opponent at the 40, which has a high probability in resulting in a score - and giving it up on 1 has an even higher prob., but you still get the ball back via kickoff, but with the smaller added chance of converting).

I wonder if those numbers are available, as well as applicable to giving expected probability to score for each scenario of taking a timeout v. taking a penalty.
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Old 01-26-2011, 03:59 PM
kidchameleon kidchameleon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ReticulatingSplines View Post
Timeouts have absolutely no value.

Sincerely,
A. Reid
I see what you did there.

And it was funny.
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Old 01-26-2011, 04:48 PM
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No, they're not. They're priceless at the end of some games-- and in fact very few.

Any given football game is more likely to wind up 27-17 than it is 31-30, and the go-ahead score is much more likely to be scored in the first half than it is in the last two minutes. Even in games that do go down to the wire, usually only one team needs the timeouts, and the other wants the clock running.

The last minute nail-biters are memorable, but they are the exception.
There are many more valuable conditions that occur much more frequently in which a time-out is more valuable than losing 5 yards. Confusion on a critical play (short and goal; a field goal where 5 yards will put you out of range); stopping the clock when it is 31-30 late; having the ability to challenge a crucial play--remember, no timeout, no challenge. Losing 5 yards in these situations are likely to immediately cost you points. Certainly it's much more likely to lose you points than losing 5 yards on 3rd and 8 (low conversion chance) from your own 27 early in the 3rd quarter. Even if they do convert, there is still only a small chance they will score after the conversion. In the above scenarios, losing 5 yards has an immediate chance to lose you points, or increase the chance that you might not score or score the maximum points.

But I think the big message is, regarding the OP, that the value of a timeout is conditional and can't be instantaneously measured.

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 04:52 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 05:30 PM
Ellis Dee Ellis Dee is offline
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There are many more valuable conditions that occur much more frequently in which a time-out is more valuable than losing 5 yards.
Just exactly how often are you seeing teams call timeouts to avoid a delay of game penalty?
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Old 01-26-2011, 05:32 PM
Quercus Quercus is online now
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The thing is that in the large, perhaps vast majority of situations, the five yards is worth more than the time out
But that's not at all clear to me. What makes you think so, and can you put numbers on it?

I'm more convinced otherwise: for instance in one of the links above, they take a situation that seems pretty typical: 7:00 left in the 4th quarter, 3rd and 10 from their own 20, down by 7. They conclude that it's better to take the 5-yard penalty and save the time out.
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Old 01-26-2011, 05:40 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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Just exactly how often are you seeing teams call timeouts to avoid a delay of game penalty?
Not often. I'm not sure I understand the point of the question. The question in the OP presumes that condition exists: call a time-out or take a 5 yard penalty. It doesn't matter how frequently it occurs.

ETA: Actually, I misread your question. I thought you were asking how often the condition presents itself. But I guess you're asking how often they would call a timeout vs. not call a timeout. Well, from experience, I'd have to say they'd call a timeout close to 100% of the time. But I still don't understand the point of the question. Are you asserting they're correct because they do call the timeout almost universally?

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 05:45 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 05:42 PM
Ellis Dee Ellis Dee is offline
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Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
I'm more convinced otherwise: for instance in one of the links above, they take a situation that seems pretty typical: 7:00 left in the 4th quarter, 3rd and 10 from their own 20, down by 7. They conclude that it's better to take the 5-yard penalty and save the time out.
"Pretty typical" might be a bit much. I'd question the coaching if that were pretty typical.

A good coach will keep the down and distance manageable. Keeping each series "on schedule" is a pretty key element to a successful offense. That's why after an incomplete pass on first down, most everyone runs the ball on second down. Armchair quarterbacks may think a two yard run is a waste there, but 3rd & 8 is much better than 3rd & 10. If you happen to get three or four yards instead of two, so much the better.

I think I'd agree with furt that 5 yards is usually more valuable than a timeout, which you may never even end up needing. You always need those 5 yards.

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 01-26-2011 at 05:43 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 05:47 PM
Ellis Dee Ellis Dee is offline
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Not often. I'm not sure I understand the point of the question.
The point of my question is that if you add up all your examples, plus all the times you take it to avoid delay of game, it averages out to fewer timeout than teams have to spend. So it doesn't make sense not to use it.

I mean, those delay of game timeouts happen less than once a game. Why wouldn't you spend it? It's not like you're doing it 5 times a game so you have to choose between that and your second challenge.

EDIT: A fun anecdote from a couple years ago, Antonio Pierce was the MLB for the Giants, who weren't lined up properly on a play sometime in the second quarter. Rather than call a timeout, he jumped offside and tagged an OL. After the game he was asked about that, and he replied that he wasn't about to waste a timeout just to get lined up correctly.

It would have been a great example for the OP's premise if only the Giants hadn't let up a touchdown that drive. Did that 1st & 5 help the opposing offense establish a rhythm? Who knows.

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 01-26-2011 at 05:51 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:01 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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The point of my question is that if you add up all your examples, plus all the times you take it to avoid delay of game, it averages out to fewer timeout than teams have to spend. So it doesn't make sense not to use it.

I mean, those delay of game timeouts happen less than once a game. Why wouldn't you spend it? It's not like you're doing it 5 times a game so you have to choose between that and your second challenge.
If it does occur less than one time per game, then you would lose less than 5 yards per game due to taking the penalty. Is that significant enough? I consider timeouts insurance, instead of auto, home, and life, you have timeout insurance for confusion on a play, stopping the clock late in a close game, having a challenge available. It's insurance you want to have if those situations occur, regardless of how rarely. They may happen less than one time per game, but sometimes they happen twice in a series. In 20 years, your house never burned down. Was it wise to pay for 20 years of fire insurance?

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 06:05 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:08 PM
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If it does occur less than one time per game, than you would lose less than 5 yards per game due to taking the penalty. Is that significant enough? I consider timeouts insurance, instead of auto, home, and life, you have timeout insurance for confusion on a play, stopping the clock late in a close game, having a challenge available. It's insurance you want to have if those situations occur, regardless of how rarely. In 20 years, your house never burned down. Was it wise to pay for 20 years of fire insurance?
This is a bizarre way to look at it. My gut reaction is that it's an inappropriate (read as: inapplicable, not offensive) mentality.

So, 3rd & goal on the 1, play clock winding down, you take the penalty because you're losing fewer than 5 yards per game and it's smart to have homeowner's insurance?
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:13 PM
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And remember, when trying to stop the clock late in the game when trailing, having 3 timeouts vs. 2 is exponentially valuable. That situation might not occur that often, but I'd sure like to have 3 timeouts when it does, instead of saving 5 yards on a 3rd and 8 play from my own 13 earlier in the third quarter when it is more likely I'll punt anyway.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:16 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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So, 3rd & goal on the 1, play clock winding down, you take the penalty because you're losing fewer than 5 yards per game and it's smart to have homeowner's insurance?
No, read my previous posts. I stated emphatically that you save the timeouts precisely for those situatiions. I don't think, as stated above, you should take a timeout when it's 3rd and 8 at your own 13 early in third (or fourth) when the likeliest result is that you will end up punting, even if you convert the 3rd and 8. You should save that timeout for precisely the situation you describe here.

But again, it's all conditional and almost impossible to quantify. What if you're on your 1 yard line? The penalty is less than a yard. Take or not take?

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 06:19 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:18 PM
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See, I think you're nuts. Punting from the 13 is way better than punting from the 8.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:25 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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See, I think you're nuts.
Hmmmm. I don't think my position is unreasonable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellis Dee
Punting from the 13 is way better than punting from the 8.
It is better; but how much. That's the crux of the thread.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:35 PM
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I don't even honestly know what your position is. You seem to be arguing that the smart play is to not use a timeout, unless it feels like a good time to do so. Which isn't a position so much as it is a given.

I'm arguing that it's pretty much always a good time to do so, except maybe when it's 3rd and more than 10 and you're outside your own 20.

When are you saying it's a good time to burn the timeout to save the yards?
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:39 PM
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Punting from the 13 is way better than punting from the 8.
Maybe you could determine, using average punt distance, average punt return distance, average yards-per-drive, average yards-per-successful field goal, etc., that punting from the 8 gives up X number of points more than punting from the 13, and preventing those X points is worth way more than a timeout. I just haven't seen any kind of convincing argument thereto.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:43 PM
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I don't even honestly know what your position is. You seem to be arguing that the smart play is to not use a timeout, unless it feels like a good time to do so. Which isn't a position so much as it is a given.

I'm arguing that it's pretty much always a good time to do so, except maybe when it's 3rd and more than 10 and you're outside your own 20.

When are you saying it's a good time to burn the timeout to save the yards?
When it would immediately prevent you from scoring a touchdown or field goal. Use a timeout on 3rd (or 4th) and goal from the 1 or 2, when the 5 yards will probably turn a touchdown into a field goal; or use a timeout when the 5 yards would push you out of field goal range.

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 06:46 PM.
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Old 01-26-2011, 06:46 PM
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Maybe you could determine, using average punt distance, average punt return distance, average yards-per-drive, average yards-per-successful field goal, etc., that punting from the 8 gives up X number of points more than punting from the 13, and preventing those X points is worth way more than a timeout. I just haven't seen any kind of convincing argument thereto.
How about not wanting to punt from the back of the end zone?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mince View Post
When it would immediately prevent you from scoring a touchdown or field goal. Use the timeout on 3rd (or 4th) and goal from the 1 or 2, or when the 5 yards would push you out of field goal range.
So, 3rd and 1 at midfield, save the timeout and go with 3rd and 6?
  #39  
Old 01-26-2011, 06:51 PM
Mince Mince is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ellis Dee View Post
How about not wanting to punt from the back of the end zone?

So, 3rd and 1 at midfield, save the timeout and go with 3rd and 6?
No. The likelihood of converting 3rd and 1 and the distance from scoring position after having successfully done so makes it worth a timeout--to me.

3rd and 8 at your 19. Burn the timeout?

It's conditional.

Last edited by Mince; 01-26-2011 at 06:56 PM.
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