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The Mike McCarthy Pre-Halftime Timeout - A History

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The Mike McCarthy Pre-Halftime Timeout - A History

If you’ve been a Packer fan during the Mike McCarthy era, you know full well that he has a propensity for foolishly aggressively calling timeouts when the opposing team has the ball at the end of the half. During last Sunday’s game, McCarthy especially drew the ire of Packer fans as he completely flubbed the clock management to end the half; costing Green Bay 3 points.

Let’s go back to Sunday’s game for a moment and take a look at the full situation. Green Bay punted to Seattle and pinned them down at their 11 yard line where it would be 1st and 10 with 55 seconds remaining. What’s worth noting here is that Green Bay only had two timeouts left.

Before we even play out the scenario that happened, we need to think through this logically. There are 55 seconds left on the clock and Green Bay has two timeouts. The assumption here has to be that if Seattle runs on first down they are going to run out the clock. A theory confirmed even more by the fact Seattle’s defensive players were already heading to the locker room.

So with this obviously being the case, Green Bay has no realistic outcome of getting the ball back. We immediately know, since Green Bay has only two timeouts, that Seattle can run the last 40 seconds off the clock after their third running play. This leaves 15 seconds that Seattle has to burn within three plays. An average play takes at least four seconds to run. So in even an absolute best case scenario, Seattle has to punt with three or four seconds remaining; in which they simply drill a punt out of bounds to end the half.

This is my incredibly long way of saying there was absolutely zero upside or advantage to calling the timeouts. What Mike McCarthy basically did was give Seattle house money. Seattle could simply run the ball three times and hope to break one big. If the three runs went nowhere it didn’t matter since it was the end of the half. If they broke open a run, they could take a timeout and be the aggressors.

The latter is exactly what happened. On third down Seattle ran the ball, picking up four yards and a first down. Seattle decided to play aggressive and ended up with three points before the end of the half. What should have been a 0-0 score at half was now 3-0 Seattle in an incredibly tight matchup.

After this series of events, many Packer fans took to Twitter to exclaim their displeasure with the clock management (including yours truly). I saw many fans post that this always happens when McCarthy calls timeouts before the end of the half. I wanted to go back and review the McCarthy era and see exactly how Green Bay faired when in this situation in the past.

After a full review of McCarthy’s end of half management, I counted 32 instances in which Green Bay aggressively called timeouts while the other team still had the ball. Note that this does not include instances in which the opposing team failed on third down and Green Bay called their first timeout at this time. Those instances are obvious timeout situations.

In those 32 instances Green Bay was outscored by a total margin of 29-51. It probably should have been 29-55 if Washington kicked an extra point instead of going for 2 and had Nate Freese not missed a fairly pedestrian 41 yard field goal.

It’s not to say that Green Bay hasn’t had some success with the strategy. Go back to the 2015 Wild Card game against Washington when Green Bay was down 10-11 with 2:54 remaining in the first half. Washington had the ball at their own 20. After two short gains and two timeouts by Green Bay, Washington threw incomplete and Green Bay went on to get the ball back and score a touchdown before half. Green Bay took a 17-11 lead and never looked back.

There was also last season’s Wild Card game in which Green Bay was beating New York 7-6. New York had the ball 1st and 10 on their own 32 with 2:13 remaining. Green Bay again aggressively called their timeouts after short plays and received the ball back with 1:38 on the clock. This eventually led to Randall Cobb’s catch in the back of the end zone on another Aaron Rodgers hail mary.

For the most part, the success stops there. In week 5 of 2010 vs. Washington, McCarthy started using his timeouts while Washington had the ball deep in their territory. Washington went on to score a field goal before the end of the half in a game that ultimately Green Bay lost in overtime. Those three points easily could have been the difference in the game.

In week 14 of 2013, Green Bay actually pulled off the strategy, getting the ball back 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 15 with 2:20 left. Unfortunately, Green Bay threw a pick six and Atlanta took a commanding 21-10 lead.

In week one of 2016, Jacksonville scored a touchdown after Green Bay started using their timeouts.
In week six of 2016, Dallas scored a touchdown after two Green Bay timeouts.
In week eleven of 2016, Washington scored a touchdown after a Green Bay timeout (Green Bay was up 10-7 at the time and went on to lose 24-42 after this).

At this point it should be abundantly clear that this strategy is a best a gamble and at worst a recipe for losing points and tiring the defense. Green Bay has done this 32 times and has only scored 29 points! This isn’t a small sample size that bears playing out further; this is 11+ seasons and 32 attempts that have produced such poor results.

While I appreciate the aggressive nature of the strategy, the history proves that Green Bay would be better left going into halftime and regrouping for the second half. It didn’t end up costing Green Bay the game Sunday, but it’s only a matter of time before it does if Green Bay doesn’t learn its lesson.

Full list of games with the aggressive timeout strategy:

2006 – Week 3 – Lions ran out the clock
2006 – Week 10 – Vikings picked up first down, no score
2008 – Week 11 – Packers got ball back, kicked a FG
2008—Week 15—Packers got ball back, no score
2008—Week 16—Crosby missed 69 yard FG attempt
2009—Week 6—Packers got ball back, kicked a FG
2009—Week 10—Packers got ball back, kicked a FG
2009—Week 11—Packers got ball back, kicked a FG
2010—Week 5—Redskins picked up 1st down, kicked a FG
2010—Week 7—Vikings picked up 1st down, ran out clock
2010—Week 14—Packers got ball back, punted
2011—Week 6—Rams picked up 1st down, kicked a FG
2011—Week 15—Packers got ball back, punted
2012—Week 14—Lions picked up first down, ran out clock
2012—Week 16—Packers got ball back, turnover on down
2013—Week 5—Lions picked up first down, kicked a FG
2013—Week 11—Packers got ball back, kicked a FG
2013—Week 14—Packers got ball back, pick 6, touchdown Atlanta
2014—Week 3—Lions picked up first down, missed 41 yard FG
2014—Week 11—Eagles picked up first down, kicked a FG
2014—Week 15—Bills picked up first down, ran out clock
2014—Week 16—Buccaneers picked up first down, scored a TD
2015—Week 1—Bears picked up first down, kicked a FG
2015—Week 13—Packers got ball back, punted
2015—Wild Card—Packers got ball back, scored a TD
2015—Divisional—Cardinals picked up first down, ran out clock
2016—Week 1—Jaguars picked up first down, scored a TD
2016—Week 6—Cowboys picked up first down, scored a TD
2016—Week 11—Redskins picked up first down, scored a TD
2016—Week 12—Eagles picked up first down, kicked a FG
2016—Wild Card—Packers got ball back, scored a TD
2017—Week 1—Seahawks picked up first down, kicked a FG

Final result: Packers 29 – Opponents 51


Andy Herman is an avid Packers fan and season ticket holder. He has graduated from National Football Post's and Sports Management Worldwide's NFL Scouting courses and is the owner of the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Find him on Twitter @sconniesports.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (46) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Samson's picture

Wow! -- An incredible amount of statistical research. -- Kudos for even doing it. --I would have had a headache by the end.

My analysis of MM is simpler. --- Take away AR and MM would have been sent packing out of GB years ago. -- He has ridden AR's coattail for many years.

dobber's picture

"Take away one of the best QBs of the modern era and this team would stink"


The TKstinator's picture

If all the W's for GB were changed to L's, their record would be the opposite of what it actually is.

Samson's picture

Actually, take away AR & I doubt MM would have been able to lead the Pack into the playoffs year after year.

At the same time, I can think of a few head coaches who may very well have had GB in the playoffs year after year even without AR.

Or try this scenario. -- Replace MM in 2008 (when AR became a starter) with any number of other head coaches (Tomlin, Belichick, Carroll, Reid, Payton or even J. Harbaugh).
Do you honestly believe GB would have only seen 1 SB appearance with AR as a starter? ----- I don't. -- It's called lost opportunities because your hierarchy just aren't up to the task at hand.

dobber's picture

Is it possible that ARod is NOT ARod WITHOUT MM?

...or that Brett Favre would have never been Brett Favre without Mike Holmgren?

...that the fates of all are intricately intertwined?

We can build any number of fantastic voyages from 2008 to 2017 and imagine any number of amazing or soul-crushing outcomes. But that's all they are: fantastic voyages and imaginings.

Believe what you choose to believe, but none of it is real. Live in reality.

Samson's picture

AR was the projected 1st pick in his draft year. He was All-American in college.

Both are realities and MM had nothing to do with either. -- Try being a little creative instead of waving your pom-poms everytime MM's name comes up.

dobber's picture

...and every college All-American, "projected 1st pick" (and, as you know, he slid a long ways past #1, so what do those projections really mean?) becomes a HOF-caliber player in the NFL? The bottom line is: the overwhelming majority don't, and I know you know this.

The "the Packers would stink if it weren't for ARod" argument is awfully trite, too, friend. We have no idea what the Packers look like without ARod because every player transaction, every draft pick, and just about every play call changes if he's not on the roster. It's entirely possible that the Packers might have been BETTER if they had never taken ARod. Likely? No. But possible.

It's not about pom-poms. It's not about what I personally think of MM--and, frankly, I could take him or leave him--it's just reality. You can say what you want about Rodgers carrying MM and/or TT, but the fact is that all those factors are unchangeably intertwined.

croatpackfan's picture

And how many 1st pick QB become HOF?
Can you give us that stat?

dobber's picture

I suspect Alex Smith will NOT be one of them.

Here's the answer to your question...

"Of the first overall draft picks, 43 have been selected to a Pro Bowl and of those 43, twelve have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only five first overall draft pick players have been selected the NFL Rookie of the Year:"

The TKstinator's picture

If A Rod was on another team, would that team's record be the same as what GB's has been?
Or if all of the runs were changed to passes and vice versa, would the yardage be the same?
If "ifs" and "buts" were candy and nuts, would we all be diabetic?

Samson's picture

Try football. -- Poetry is not your strong suit.

dobber's picture

There once was a man from Nantucket...

Dzehren's picture

Scott Tolkien-Packer stud- Colts failure without MM failure in San Diego and failure San Fran
Matt Flynn Packer stud - Seattle failure without MM
Failure in Buffalo- failure with Jets , raiders & Pats
Callahan- stud with packers- Saints-failure without MM
AARON Brooks - stud with McCarthy in GB 1999 stud in stud in New Orleans with McCarthy failure after McCarthy leave Saints ten a failure with Raiders.

McCarthy is a elite QB coach in the NFL

dobber's picture

"Scott Tolkien-Packer stud-..."

He must have been J.R.R.'s long-lost son... ;)

The TKstinator's picture

One (SB?) ring to rule them all...

Fordham Ram's picture

Didn't know this about McCarthy, nice analysis about him and the results after quarterbacks leave his tutelage. Will use this when arguing in his favor. But as far as arguing does the QB make the coach or is it the other way around what would Lombardi be without Bart Starr, Noll without Bradshaw or Belichick without Brady. Who made who?

dobber's picture

I think there's a lot of serendipity involved...

Dzehren's picture

Thanks- coaching is the deciding factor when you have good scouts lol

Since '61's picture

With the exception of Belichick which of those coaches have won more than one SB since 2008?

dobber's picture

...or have BEEN to more than one SB since 2008? Harbaugh, Payton and Reid have only ever been to one (as if you can really say "only" when it comes to SBs).

I think the Sean Payton parallel, in particular, is an interesting foil. HOF-caliber QB (and, yes, Drew Brees will be a first-ballot HOFer) and they struggle to break even on a yearly basis. It argues against the notion that the QB, alone, is good for 8-10 wins.

The TKstinator's picture


badaxed's picture

Don't forget Favre. Wait the train has left the station and MM is not on it
.well there are automobiles and planes leaving too.

KenEllis's picture

Great analysis.

Too bad that the Green Bay Packers organization does not have sufficient resources (money) to employ someone to do such research, I mean it would probably cost a $1,000 in labor.

I don't dislike MM, but I do dislike stupidity and his end of the first half TOs last Sunday were stupid, stupid, stupid.

croatpackfan's picture

How many first downs Seattle had in the first half? Before the last possession?
Do you know that data? How many? 1 or 2 or 0 1st downs! It was logical decission when you look at game flow.
Also, there was no harm to gave FG. How I know? I know by final result!
So that was not stupid decission, but your comment is stupid, stupid, stupid...
As calling Mike McCarthy conservative and not aggressive coach!

dobber's picture

The funny part is just exactly what this shows: just about every fan base for every team would would be perfectly happy to do all this research for them and not charge them a cent. And what's more, the fan base is mostly self-monitoring.

Klincker's picture

I'm glad someone did this, so we have it on record to know the success/failure of McCarthy's gambles.

However, during his post-game presser, when Jason Wilde asked him about using the timeouts, McCarthy called it a "good decision" to use the time-outs. As much as everyone wants to go off on MM about it, and beg him not to do it again, he will. He seemed pretty defiant about it, in his reply back to Jason. I have no problem with it, and I can see why he did it. He felt the defense was dominating, and, I think, was looking for a spark before halftime. Its situational, and as long as he doesnt use it all the time and uses it in smart situations, I think it can work out.

KenEllis's picture

Sorry, what?

The best possible outcome last Saturday was for Seattle to run the ball 3 times and for the clock to then run out.

What possible SPARK was MM going to get from that scenario, especially when the defense that had allowed 0 points to that point?

I agree MM was defiant in his post-game press conference, but being defiant in the face of indisputable evidence to the contrary is just plain dumb.

Let's hope MM or someone else in the Packers' organization reads Mr. Herman's well researched and utterly convincing article and helps MM "evolve" regarding his use of timeouts.

Klincker's picture

My guess is that McCarthy was feeling it. Gut decision. Maybe Seattle throws it, and we pick it off. I dont know. He said, defense was dominating, and he was looking for something big to happen.

Look, if it were me, I wouldnt do it. But I dont sit with coaches, gameplan, have a pulse of your players and what is going on the field during the game. That kind of decision is not gonna ruin McCarthy, and it certainly isnt going to get him fired. He'll be defiant, and when it works, he'll be ready to say that he was right. If it N-E-V-E-R worked, then you've got something. But, thanks to Andy and his effort with the research, it proves that it has worked.

Nick Perry's picture

Rodgers just needs to call more 1st quarter TO so McCarthy doesn't have any at the end of the half.

Thebearsstillsuck's picture

This idea makes 100 times more sense than the people who are still defending MM's decision to do this. We have the benefit of hindsight, we saw that it failed, we have time to do the math and realize it wasn't happening. Yet some people are still defending it. It was a terrible decision. That doesn't mean he should do it in the future, when it makes sense, but it didn't here no matter how you try and spin it

Nick Perry's picture

I was being a "Smart Ass" suggesting Rodgers just call more TO in the first quarter. Your last sentence makes perfect sense....

"When it makes sense, but it didn't here no matter how you try and spin it".

Never in 100 years with 55 seconds and 2 TO did/will it make sense.

Thebearsstillsuck's picture

I didn't think you were being serious. And everyone is entitled to their opinion but this topic is driving me nuts. It's more very simple mathematics than opinion or coaching strategy or anything else at this point.

And for people talking about providing a spark, shutting out a team for a first half and then watching them wave the white flag at the end of the first half of the first game is plenty of spark.

rdent's picture

In a close game like that it was a complete dumb ass move but as the stats show MM has done it numerous times and will continue to do so, it seems he can't help himself putting his team at a disadvantage. Clock management has never been nor will ever be a MM strong suit.

Fordham Ram's picture

Coach got caught up in the moment, and loved what he saw. It was a vote of confidence for a defense that psychologically needs it given last year even if it didn't work out.

Slim11's picture

This research partially demonstrates the insanity of doing the same thing over and over gain...and expecting different results each time.

When a method of clock management is demonstrably counter-productive, it should be abandoned. If there were three timeouts available during the last 55 seconds, I could understand the strategy. As we know, there weren't three timeouts and Seattle turned the tables by refusing to run out the clock. Thankfully, as Andrew Herman points out, this did not result in defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory.

badaxed's picture

MM is an egocentric idiot." I'm a very successful coach". He plays the same predictable offense. Calls the game the same way. He will make the same mistakes over and over. Until the packers have a horrendous season ( when Rogers gets put in a sack due to no line) he will continue to coach "his way". It will take a horrendous season to kick his ass to the curb.

Guisado's picture

That's a lot of homework! Kudos for the effort.

But in spite of the numbers, I think it misses the point. I don't think MM is concerned about the immediate returns. it's all about the message he sends to his team. Like Martellus Bennett taking the 15 yards and the fine for protecting Rodgers. Like a coach in the NBA drawing a technical, or a coach in the MLB arguing a call with the ump and getting ejected.

It's was 0-0 and MM was sending a WTF message to his team. McCarthy is a winning coach because he knows how to motivate people. Don't judge every decision. Judge him on his wins and losses. He knows what he's doing. Sometimes a half step back is will result in 2 steps forward. I like his attitude. The team feeds off it.

Johnblood27's picture

I personally do not like MMs attitude especially in instances like this one. He was WRONG from a game management perspective, and he gets surly, defensive and condescending when confronted with his shortcomings. As much as he takes the high road in not complaining about referees and circumstances which could be used as excuses, he refuses to EVER admit that he just might have not been absolutely perfect in his own performance.

Throw away all the MM motivation stuff. He has said numerous times that professionals need to motivate themselves, that is not his job. He looks to the players to motivate from within from team leaders, as it should be.

That is one area where the Packers have been lacking since CW leaving. GBP has not had a defensive team leader that can motivate teammates. Matthews doesn't, Daniels is too over the top for most and there just isn't anyone else taking that role. I have hope that someone (Jones) will, but I just dont see that person playing regularly right now.

Curt's picture

The research and history is great to have and supports that the strategy seldom works and is a detriment to winning games.

However, in this case as has been said over and over there was NO upside. 55 seconds and two timeouts is NOT enough time to get the ball back unless they solely take a kneel down or fumble a snap or pull a complete boner.

The only message MM was sending was that he was not using common sense.

Since '61's picture

Andrew - first of all good job on the research and thanks for your effort to present it to us here.
There is another fundamental reason why MM should not have called the 2 timeouts at the end of the first half against Seattle. That reason is that Seattle still had all 3 of their timeouts left.
So, not only did using his timeouts fail to get the ball back to the Packers it gave Seattle the opportunity to not only score an FG but to take 2 shots at scoring a TD. Fortunately both passes were well defended by the secondary but Seattle had a chance on both plays.

If Seattle had one or none of their timeouts left it probably would have been OK but to let them stay on the field with their 3 timeouts was an unnecessary risk when the Packers were controlling the game, even at 0-0 and knowing they were going to receive the second half kickoff.

MM is one of the best coaches in the NFL but the end of last week's first half against Seattle was not one of his finest hours. Thanks, Since '61

ottscay's picture

What's interesting to me is the distribution of failures - I count 12 times when the opposing team kept the ball and scored, but 6 of those came in the last two years. Before that the success to failure ratio was quite close, and I could see how an analytics department might have supported it.

But it's not just us fans' fevered imaginations that the strategy is getting worse, it's demonstrably getting quite a bit worse. I wonder if this is a known tendency now that other coaches exploit?

Mike Greskamp's picture

Free kick MIGHT have been an option if punt was fair caught around the 40. Long odds but they did beat the Bears with a free kick long ago. Kicking conditions were also good. Not supporting MCCarthy but just sayin

LayingTheLawe's picture

So since 2014, when the Packers called timeouts on defense late in a half the other team has gotten the first down 11 times and only been stopped 3. And nine of those times the other team scored and twice the Packers scored. That seems to line up to as bad as it feels when you see the Packers do it and you cringe inside.

flackcatcher's picture

Analysis tells very little, unless it's put into the context of the action flow during the event. While I admire Andrew Herman work on this article, like polling, when broken away from the flow of the campaign, can be deceptive. (Or maybe Mike knows we fans obsess of over stuff like this, and calls them just to screw with us. Nah....)

Qoojo's picture

The absolute worst part about the timeouts from the Seattle game is that the packers had 2 timeouts and there was 43 seconds left when Seattle took over with them backed up inside the 20. So the only way Packers get the ball back is if seattle does something stupid like drop a pass or fumble. There is no way to get the ball back on downs or a punt if seattle doesn't pass.

That's why it was so stupid to call timeouts. Almost a zero chance to get the ball back, and by calling timeouts, allowed seattle to call "Safe" plays (runs) to get out from the endzone where it was safer to pass.

The TKstinator's picture

All this talk about time outs. What about time INs??

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