Before or After? When to use timeouts with the 2-minute warning?

Are valuable seconds ticking away the only concern?

For the second straight game against the Jaguars, Steeler fans are wondering why Mike Tomlin elected to use his timeouts after the 2-minute warning rather than before. In this case, it’s much more forgivable because the Steelers walked away with a victory. But there are definitely pros and cons to either way a coach plays it. Is one way better than the other? Perhaps. It depends on several factors within the game, so the use of timeouts before or after the 2-minute warning could vary from game to game.

To break down the numbers, we’ll look specifically at the example from Sunday’s game in Jacksonville. The Jaguars received the ball on a touchback with 2:23 remaining in the game. An average running play of less than five yards takes about five seconds. The Jags began their drive by running the ball for four yards on first down. If the Steelers called an immediate timeout, the most time remaining on the clock could have been 2:18. A second-down run would have resulted in a second timeout with 2:13 at the very best. After a third-down run, the Steeler’s could have used their last timeout to save eight seconds or keep the timeout for their final drive by using the 2-minute warning to stop the clock.

Of the 15 punts in Sunday’s game, three of them were plays which only lasted seven seconds, while nine of the punts took ten seconds or more. This number is important for two reasons. One of which shows how it would have been very unlikely the Steelers could run a play on offense before the two minute warning. Therefore the Steelers would have been better off keeping their timeout. The other reason will be addressed shortly.

So if the Steelers chose to use two timeouts before the 2-minute warning, they would have began their drive with 1:52 and one timeout. Since their actual drive began with 1:42 remaining, it would have saved the Steelers 10 seconds on the clock. Inside of two minutes, 10 seconds is a significant enough amount of time to matter. If a head coach were to let 10 seconds run off the clock at the end of the game before calling a timeout, they wouldn’t be keeping their job too long.

So is there a benefit to waiting to call the timeouts after the 2-minute warning? Absolutely. If we were to retrace those plays with the Steelers using their timeouts immediately, notice the third-down snap would have occurred with about 2:13 on the clock. At this point, the Jaguars could have passed the ball on third down with minimal consequences. Even with an incompletion, it would have only cost them, and most, eight seconds. The fourth-down punt on next play would have absorbed enough time to get to the 2-minute warning.

So using two timeouts before the 2-minute warning could have saved 10 seconds on the clock. But waiting until after the 2-minute warning forced the Jaguars to run the ball every play. If not, they ran the risk of giving the Steelers a chance to have an additional timeout. So when Jacksonville faced a 3rd & 5 from their own 30 yard line, the Steelers kept their run-heavy personnel on defense because an incompletion by Jacksonville was too risky of a move, especially with how ineffective their passing game was throughout the game.

So there is a rationale with using the timeouts either way. Could those 10 seconds have come back to haunt to Steelers? Maybe. Could the Jaguars have decided to throw on third down anyway and convert? Maybe. It’s all a calculated risk. This is why NFL head coaches get paid millions of dollars to make these decisions, while the average Steeler fan doesn’t get paid a dime to question these decision after-the-fact.