Steelers Likely To Continue To Face Clock Management Issues

By David Todd

The Steelers made a minimum of three mistakes in the last 2:44 of their 21-18 loss to the Raiders Sunday. One was a bonehead play by the quarterback, the others were made by the coaching staff. Clock management was the primary concern and rightly so. I wrote about it here and my co-host on The Terrible Podcast Dave Bryan wrote about it here and here.

Most of the attention was focused on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s use of a timeout with 1:43 remaining, the clock stopped and the Steelers down 11 points. Clearly Ben made a mistake. He should have taken the five yard delay-of-game penalty and kept the timeout. After the game Ben said, “You either take 5 yards or take the timeout and I know timeouts are valuable but we thought 5 yards were too, so I had to burn it.” That answer is a bit disconcerting because one would think a QB with Ben’s experience would know that, down two scores, the timeout was much more valuable than 5 yards.

On Tuesday, Ben discussed the issue again and admitted he got it wrong. He said he spoke to Mike Tomlin and Tomlin said he would have preferred to keep all three timeouts. Ben said it was his mistake and he won’t make it again. That’s a perfectly acceptable answer in my book. Players make mistakes. I was surprised Ben did, but he took responsibility, learned from it and now hopefully won’t make it again. End of story.

But it’s not really the end of the story. The Steelers under Mike Tomlin have been poor at managing the clock and making good decisions in endgame situations. Many times the mistakes don’t end up impacting the outcome so they get overlooked. But the process has consistently been poor and it was again Sunday.

And it wasn’t just Ben’s use of the timeout that was poor. There was much more.

Late in the game the Steelers had the ball on the Raiders 31 with a 3rd-and-1 and 2:44 showing on the clock when they snapped the ball. They were in a three wide receiver, tight end and single back package. This is obviously a situation where two plays should be called in the huddle. There is no need to change personnel if they get the first down. The key is to move quickly. If they make the first down, immediately line up and run the second play. The Steelers didn’t. Bell gained the needed yard, but the Steelers were incredibly slow getting the next play off. They did not snap the ball until the clock ran down to 2:10. Snap-to-snap it took 34 seconds!

The lack of urgency was a killer. Getting off one play in 43 seconds is horrendous in that situation. Two plays have to be called in the huddle and Ben cannot take a sack.

I asked MIke Tomlin about it in his press conference Tuesday, specifically questioning the lack of urgency in the situation described above. This was Tomlin’s response:

“For us more than anything it was about getting quality plays and putting ourself in position to score a touchdown that wasn’t a given at that point. We had been down the field a few times in the game and come away with no points. We had missed a couple field goals and obviously in one instance we had settled for a field goal. So I don’t want to be presumptuous and make it seem like getting a touchdown in that circumstance was easy because it hadn’t been to that point in the football game.”

I think Tomlin is missing the most important aspect of the situation. The team has to score twice. Yes, one of them has to be a touchdown and they have to convert the two-point conversion otherwise they both have to be touchdowns. But there are three variables confronting the Steelers 1.) points 2.) time 3.) yardage needed. Tomlin can’t focus solely on the need for a touchdown without taking into account the other two variables which is exactly what he did. At any point, kicking a field goal on the next play is a possible option, but it appears the Steelers never considered it. (And with Suisham missing his first two FGs of the year, there was some justification for that.)

When Ben eventually does burn the timeout with 1:43 remaining at the 19, the Steelers are really in trouble. It almost rules out the option to kick-off deep if they score any points, meaning an onsides kick is the likely strategy. Now it is even more imperative to score quickly.

On the next play the Steelers complete a pass short of the goal line and then quickly get another play off with 1:36 remaining. (Had they operated that quickly with 2:44 left they may have gotten off three more plays, saving a huge chunk of time.) On the next play they benefitted from a penalty and the clock stopped with 1:27 left, the ball on the Raiders 2-yard line. Still down 21-10 the benefit of the field goal is negated by the high probability of scoring a TD. It makes sense to use all four opportunities.

This is where process comes into play. Obviously the Steelers have to throw the ball to ensure they keep as much time available as possible. Instead, they run a handoff to Le’Veon Bell who scored a touchdown to make it 21-16.

It was a terrible play call.

Sure it worked. But it wasn’t guaranteed to work. And if it didn’t the Steelers would have had either another 10-15 second run off the clock, been forced to use their second timeout or clock the football. None of these are attractive options given the three variables the Steelers faced.

The Steelers converted the two-point try, but after not recovering the onsides kick they only got the ball back with 0:18 seconds left on their 2-yard line. Game over.

The Steelers made a minimum of three mistakes in the last 2:44. One was a bonehead play by the quarterback, but I feel comfortable that he now understands the situation and it won’t happen again. The other two were made by the coaching staff. I have zero comfort that they understand them, so we are very likely to see them happen again.

  • Impact3697

    I agree that we should have two plays called in the huddle in some of these late game situations, but I think what Tomlin is essentially saying is that sort of thing is way over our heads at this point. We can’t even handle basic execution on most plays. We are so bad on offense, we can’t even think ahead to the next play, we’ve just got to worry about trying to execute one play at a time.

  • RMSteeler

    With one of the worst scoring offenses in the league this year, you’d think some classroom time on those situations would be emphasized. Score 28+ per game and the point is less important. Coaching is in disarray at this time.

  • I am happy when they execute a successful running play, why doesn’t Haley say lets scale it back simplify what we are doing and take it one drive at a time. Stop the bubble screen

  • AndyR34

    I’m not giving Tomlin a pass, because his clock management has always been poor…even with SB teams. However, I think Impact has this correct…the thinking on the coaching staff is that this team is so bad…and Ben makes so many bad decisions anymore…we need to do this one play at a time. Does anyone else think Ben is tanking in order to get Haley fired? He has been terrible since coming back from last year’s injury and seemingly has reverted to the old “Big Ben”.

  • ? NO, He is trying to do too much. He actually has very impressive numbers-mostly because he is bringing them from behind. Try to look beyond what you think you may see and look at stats they don’t lie and are un biased

  • steeltown

    Impressive numbers, except the TD and sack categories

  • 20Stoney

    Tomlin can say what he wants about Ben calling the timeout, but he has called some pretty questionable ones himself. Time management and red flag throwing has never been a strong point.

  • Ia Ia

    I agree with you Todd except the last part. Ben will not learn. Haley will not learn. Tomlin will not learn. Actually I was expecting you to write about the first half also. Tomlin called a TO with 2.34 when he could have called it with 2.55 with the ball at Pitt 5. This ensures you a full two minute drill. It didn’t matter because the Raiders scored on the play after the two minute drill. But Overall let’s say it frankly. WE SUCK AS A TEAM AND CLOCK MANAGMENT IS EVEN WORSE. Go watch Thaddeus Lewis scoring on a two minute drill against Baltimore three weeks ago. Ben couldn’t do it. You know why ? Because he would have spiked the ball first. This thing are supposed to be teached and learnt when you are a rookie. Not with 10 years in the league. Only good thing for me is that a nice 4 – 12 / 3 – 13 season is ending and we will start with some new faces…

  • Agreed


    PIT does not block the bubble screen as well as other teams, so I understand why you don’t like it but imo the design is not for a big hitter…3+ yds imo is an acceptable result…especially if the DE gives chase. You should be able to fake it and get that DE to react later in the game.


    Tomlin’s timeout usage has never really been great imo, but when you’re 2-5 every mistake is bigger.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    The “Terrible Timeout”

  • I just hate it reminds me of the old wrap around draw it will be 3rd and 17 and here it comes

  • cencalsteeler

    Sorry for repeating this, but, you have two quarterbacks standing on the sidelines that you pay millions of dollars to. Some of the clock management awareness should be part of their job description.

  • steeltown

    I like that

  • sean mcmartin

    If they make both field goals they win the game. As bad as they played it was enough to win.. Tomlin still can’t manage a game clock. He is another factor for their losing ways..

  • natty

    watching around the league, when running no huddle or hurry up, the time elapsing from end of play to start of next appears to be far less across the league vs. steelers. i would be interested to see if a site or person has compiled that type of data. specific game situations where the game is shrunk from a time perspective, we too often see ben looking to the sideline motioning haley to get the play call in and/or personnel package changes completed. i don’t see a controlled process. i see consistent negative chaos.

    it’s becoming painfully obvious the organization needs to evolve in a positive fashion.

  • Eric

    Sacks belong more by the O-line and the pass protection is also very responsible for the lack of TD’s

  • steeltown

    I see your point, but with a backyard QB like Ben nearly 1/3 of the sacks are on him

  • greeny

    Thank you for commenting on the first half. I turned to my friends when that happened as well. Ben is being a company guy by owning the mistake. The real reason he burned the timeout was to make sure dictator Haley would draw a play up where the ball is actually thrown in the end zone.

  • greeny

    Why do we pay a head coach 3-4 million a year who doesn’t know when to call a timeout?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    At least if not more. People need to look at this in the pass game. As soon as Ben finishes his drop back the ball should be out of his hands. On almost all of his sacks he rarely does this. The good QB’s, Brady, Brees, Rogers, Manning, ect. do.

  • HopalongCassidy

    Frankly, until the Steelers can find an offense that can move the ball and score some points, time-outs and clock management are the least of my concerns as a fan. These last minute slop-time drives that the other teams give the Steelers mean nothing except to make the losing score look a bit closer. Let’s see some action for the first 58 minutes of the game from the offense, then we can talk about clock management and time-outs when they really might have some effect on the final outcome.

  • Tomlin is a terrible clock manager. Haley wasn’t much better. Ben either. Why would we expect change?

  • Brendon Glad

    Excellent article. You nailed it.
    And on the inability to call 2 plays at once…isn’t it funny that if ever there were a team who could get away with calling one complicated play and literally having the second play be called “Trips right, scramble drill” wouldn’t it be the Steelers? Since about 10 plays per game end up being exactly that. Yet, it’s too much for them, apparently.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    The first clock management mistake was with 5 minutes left and Oakland facing fourth down. Instead of calling a timeout before the punt, the Steelers let Oakland burn a full 45 seconds. At that point where you need two scores and to conserve time, you need to use the timeout on defense because it saves you a full 45 seconds. Once you get the ball back, you have options to stop the clock or maximize the number of plays you run. In this situation where you know they will punt on the next play you need to save the full 45 seconds.