By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — It would be nice to think that coaches have a reason for everything, but unfortunately that’s not always true.
However, if first-year Bears head coach Marc Trestman has proven anything this season, it’s that the Bears have thought out almost every possible situation and have a reason for every decision that they make.
It’s exactly why general manager Phil Emery hired Mitch Tanney in the offseason to fill a newly created position of Director of Analytics.
Essentially it’s sabermetrics for football and the Bears rely heavily on the information that Tanney produces.
Sometimes it leads to success (going for it on fourth down at their own 32-yard line in Green Bay) and sometimes it doesn’t (getting stuffed on 4th-and-1 at the Lions’ 27 yard line when they could have kicked a field goal). But players get paid to make plays and not every decision is successful. The point is, the Bears have done their homework and Trestman makes decisions based on probability, always putting the numbers in the Bears’ favor.
And that’s why Trestman was prepared Monday afternoon when he was asked by a reporter why he didn’t use his timeouts to save time when the Ravens were driving late in Sunday’s game. To the average fan, it was a maddening decision, as a Ravens touchdown would have given Baltimore the lead with very little time left for the Bears to counter. But you better believe Trestman had a reason for not using them — and a long one at that.
Here’s the entire transcript of his answer:
I think it’s a very fair question. But let me just give you a big picture. When you call timeouts at the end of halves, you want to call them in succession if you can. If you’re calling them just hit or miss, there’s really no value on that.
So just a little bit of history, when you start a drive from the 16-yard line, you have a 13 percent chance, probably in the last five years, to score a touchdown. And you have to take that into consideration when you go into the game. And then when a team’s driving, you need to know what they have and you need to know what you have. They had two timeouts at the time. And we had three timeouts.
Well, the normal thinking is you never want to leave a game with your three timeouts. You want to get them back, especially in those situations. But the fact of the matter is that there was really no time to use the timeouts. And when you’re in a two-minute situation and if you use your timeouts and there’s no way you can call them in succession, you give them more time on each and every play to get the people out there that they want to complete that, to get that play done. So you have to consider that.
So really, only the first time where I considered really calling a timeout was after Ray Rice had the 11-yard run down to the 5-yard line. And he took that ball with, I think it was about 1:16 when he had that ball. That was the first time. I was down there with the official. That was the first time. But when you put it all together, the numbers all together, if you call three timeouts right there in succession, you’re still only getting the ball back at 18 seconds. OK? If you let it run, they’re in a 2-minute mode and now they’ve got to call two timeouts.
So a couple things come into play with them using their two timeouts. Number one, they didn’t call a timeout on the first one which means they had to call a play out of their 2-minute package instead of using their red zone package. So that’s number one. They didn’t call a timeout and get into different personnel groupings. They called a play. And then by using their two timeouts, we knew what they had to do on third down. They had to throw it. Because there wasn’t enough time left to do anything else.
So we cut the percentages in half of run to pass and then it was just one big leap of faith. If we had called three timeouts in a row, we’ve got 19, 18 seconds left at the max. So, the percentage of them scoring … It’s a leap of faith. They went all the way down the field. Three points yes. Tied the game. Seven points? We’re talking 13 percent.
And then from an offensive standpoint as a playcaller, I know if you call timeout, you get what you want out there. If not, you’ve got a limited bag of plays you can use. So that’s the reasoning behind it. I would have loved to have been able to have a situation when they were running the ball and they started to get into that field goal area, where we could have plugged the timeouts, each one on top of each other. But that wasn’t the case.
Beyond Trestman’s explanation being the most detailed description an NFL head coach has probably ever given for an in-game decision, it was also one with a lot of reason.
If there’s anything to question, it’s what a 13 percent chance of scoring from your own 16 yard line has to do with the fact that the Ravens were at the Bears’ 5-yard line with three downs available, but that is still great reasoning for why Trestman elected to punt on 4th and a foot, even if that’s not what he was directly addressing.
As for not calling his timeouts, the moment we are specifically looking at it is when Rice gets down to the 5-yard line with 1:16 left on the clock. This is where Trestman gives two really good reasons for not calling timeout.
1) He’s making the Ravens make the decision. Either they stop the clock anyway by calling their own timeout, or they put themselves in a position where they can’t make substitutions and they are limited to the plays built into their two-minute package. If the clock was stopped, the Ravens would have access to their entire red zone package. As a play caller, this is something Trestman knows well.
2) By letting the clock run, the Bears put the Ravens in a position on third down where their only option is to pass the ball. There’s only 11 seconds left on the clock on third down, so there’s no way the Ravens would have time to kick a field goal if they are stopped short of the end zone on a run. That puts the Bears’ defense in a favorable position on the game’s biggest play. With everyone covered, Flacco throws the ball over Torrey Smith’s head and out of the back of the end zone, holding the Ravens to a game-tying field goal.
This isn’t to say that every head coach would do the same thing — and you may still disagree with the reasoning — but the point is, the decision was well thought out.
Ultimately, that’s all you can ask for from your coaching staff in those situations.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.