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Bears Wed Oct 15 2014

Trestman Costs Bears Points With Time Mismanagement

Chicago BearsNFL head coaches don't always evolve. Sometimes they're too stubborn, or too stupid, or simply get fired before they ever get the opportunity to grow.

Marc Trestman has evolved in a few ways. He's learned that you can't stop Brandon Marshall from doing what he wants, so your best course of action is to encourage him and don't direct any blame his direction. Trestman has learned that if a player isn't catching on after months of practice, that it's time to cut bait; they wouldn't have released Isaiah Frey a year ago because that's not what Phil Emery and Trestman did with a struggling player -- but they do now. The Bears stuck Willie Young on the field for 71 percent of the plays last Sunday, a stark increase from his breakout season average.

Then there was an event that happened just before the opening kickoff on Sunday that spoke volumes: the Bears won the toss and elected to receive. It's the first time that's happened in the Trestman era. He's said it many times, and he's right, that by deferring when you win the toss, you're far more likely to get an extra possession during the course of the game because of the way you can control the clock before halftime. But many have questioned why the Bears don't elect to receive, especially last season, when the defense was horrid. The idea around taking the ball is that you have a chance to score twice while the opponent can only score once in the first three possessions, and if everything breaks right, you could go up 14-0 while easing the pressure off your bloodied defense. Electing to receive against the Falcons was a great way to try and minimize the strain on three new starting linebackers. Though it didn't end up working, the decision was sound.

Unfortunately, Trestman isn't evolving in all facets important to the position. Clock management was an issue in end-of-half scenarios for the rookie head coach last season, and despite some good performances late in 2013, it's still a significant issue. His timeout usage is puzzling, and it often seems like he's more worried about not allowing the other team enough time to score themselves rather than putting his complete focus on maximizing the Bears' opportunity to put seven points on the board. He's done well in end-of-game scenarios when the score/time situations are obvious, but the first half failures are an ongoing problem.

To get a complete grasp of the situation, it's best to look at the full body of work, and make conclusions from there. Here's every two minute drill the Bears have been in at the end of the first half under Trestman, along with the results:

Week 1, 2013 Season -- Cincinnati

Losing 14-7, zero timeouts, 0:42 remaining, ball at CIN 44.

After a short completion to Matt Forte, Jay Cutler spikes it with 0:26 remaining. An incomplete pass on third down leads to a converted 58-yard field goal for Robbie Gould.

This is a relatively easy coaching scenario with no timeouts. You're happy with three and ecstatic if you somehow get seven. Trestman even used his last stoppage after the Bengals ran the ball on 3rd-and-14 to get the ball back with maximum time. This was coaching 101 in his first game as an NFL head coach.

Week 2, 2013 Season -- Minnesota

Tied 21-21, two timeouts, 1:11 remaining, ball at CHI 20, MIN has three timeouts.

The Bears ran on first down to just try and run the clock out with bad field position, which is OK since they get the ball after halftime. However, the Vikings get an unnecessary roughness penalty, which alters the situation completely.

Still a bit unsure, and perhaps taking advantage of a defense geared to defending the pass, Forte runs again and gains 11 yards to the CHI 47 on a play that started at 1:01. For some reason, the next Bears play doesn't begin until 0:34. That's far too slow. With a first down on the play, a timeout or a quick spike should've been called. The only timeout to be protective over in the two-minute drill is the last one. It's the saving grace clock stoppage to guarantee yourself points.

The Bears snapped off another running play at the 0:34 mark for four yards, and then called their second timeout with 0:29 remaining. A pass play (finally) for 16 yards to Earl Bennett puts the Bears in field goal range at the MIN 33, and Trestman uses his last timeout at 0:19. The idea at this point is to now take a shot, and if you end up in bounds, spike the ball. 19 seconds is tight, but it can be done. Instead, a 31-yard completion to Brandon Marshall gets the Bears to the 2-yard line while also getting out of bounds with 0:12 remaining. Two incompletions into the endzone leave the Bears with a Gould field goal to end the half.

It was a success based upon the fact that the Bears initially were trying to run the clock out, but the failure to call a timeout or work faster after the 11-yard run resulted in a lot of wasted seconds. The reason to use the timeout early is because your next play may result in one of your guys getting out of bounds. Protect the final timeout to make sure you get points, but wield the earlier ones to maximize the remaining time.

Week 3, 2013 Season -- Pittsburgh

Winning 24-10, one timeout, 1:48 remaining, ball at CHI 31, PIT has one timeout.

Despite ample time remaining, Trestman decides to wrap up the first half with three running plays. It's a defensible decision because you don't want to risk a turnover that results in Pittsburgh scoring before the half, followed by them receiving the kickoff after halftime with a chance at tying it up. Trestman punts the scenario, and it's fine with a 14-point lead.

Week 4, 2013 Season -- Detroit

Losing 30-10 (ouch), three timeouts, 0:20 remaining, ball at DET 46.

The Bears are looking for seven here to bookend halftime with a pair of big scores, but they come up short. Two incompletions flank a 36-yard dart to Alshon Jeffery where he got out of bounds, and Gould kicks a field goal. No tough calls here. If anything stayed in bounds, they would've immediately called timeout.

Week 6, 2013 Season -- New York Giants

Winning 24-14, one timeout, 1:59 remaining, ball at NYG 43.

The Bears actually got the ball back 3:34 left at their own 20, but you don't work your timeout(s) before the two-minute warning if you're on offense, so our focus is after that stoppage. It's 2nd-and-1 and Michael Bush gets stuffed to make it 3rd-and-1. At this point, Trestman smartly bleeds the clock down to 1:11 just in case they aren't successful on their next play. They don't want to leave the Giants all kinds of time and all of their timeouts to march down the field after a punt and close the lead.

However, the Bears are successful and gain two yards for the first down. They should be back in scoring mode, but inexplicably, the next play doesn't happen until 0:39 remaining. I understand there needs to be personnel changes from a jumbo set to your wide receiver grouping, but that has to be immediate. Those guys should be scrambling into the game, and the big fellas out much quicker than that. Thirty-two seconds is obscene. You don't want to use your last timeout because you want to save that until the very end to guarantee yourself points.

A completion to Marshall on that next play gets the Bears to the NYG 28, and a completion to Forte with the clock running goes for six more yards, with the final timeout being used with 0:11 remaining. After one shot at the endzone, a Gould field goal ends the half.

You expect a better shot at seven points when you have the ball in opposing territory at the two-minute warning. Letting the clock run down to 1:11 is defensible because it's third down, but still, 1:11 with one timeout and the ball at the NYG 41 should be seven points unless you're kicking on fourth down. The Bears weren't.

Week 9, 2013 Season -- Green Bay

Winning 14-10, two timeouts, 2:00 remaining, ball at CHI 44.

This drive started at the goal line, and the Bears did a nice job in the four minute drill. Making sure the Packers didn't get the ball back with sufficient time and good field position. Again, the situation changed though, and the management didn't.

On 2nd-and-8, the Bears got 15 yards on a pass play to Bush. The next play doesn't start until 1:27, which isn't great, but it isn't a back breaker. 14 more yards to Marshall gets the Bears to the GB 27 at about the 1:18 mark. Here's where you call your second timeout. Your team has just gained 29 yards on the previous two plays, so they might be a little tired, and you want time to look over your best options. You never know, one of those options might involve your receivers getting out of bounds. Instead, the next snap doesn't come until 0:55, and a pass for no gain drops it to 45 seconds when the Bears use their second timeout. 2nd-and-10 with 0:45 when you could've had 1st-and-10 with 1:18 and time to think things through.

After the timeout, the Bears run it for one yard. Huh? They scramble to the line, but the clock is at 0:22 when they snap their 3rd-and-9 play. Josh McCown bails out his coach with a 20-yard scramble to the six yard line, giving the Bears one shot at the end zone after they use their final timeout. The pass is incomplete, and Gould kicks a field goal.

This is a massive failure. One shot at the end zone with six seconds left after moving the ball just 50 yards with two timeouts in the previous 1:54. They didn't throw an incompletion either, and ran the ball once. The Bears went on to win this game because Aaron Rodgers wasn't around past the first quarter, but this is a brutal case of time management. Trestman and Emery talk a lot about the process, and this one is terrible.

Week 10, 2013 Season -- Detroit

Tied 7-7, two timeouts, 2:00 remaining, ball at DET 14.

The Bears got the ball at their own 31 with more than seven minutes remaining. This is an absolute dream scenario. They get a first down on a running play after the stoppage to get to the DET 7. They run it again for three yards after snapping at 1:12, and don't run their second down play until 0:31.

This is easy, beautiful, poetic -- except the terrible interception that Cutler throws. This should've been seven points, but the fault lies squarely on the quarterback -- not on the coach.

Week 11, 2013 Season -- Baltimore

Winning 17-10, two timeouts, 1:00 left, ball at midfield.

A 13-yard completion to open the festivities is great, but the next snap isn't until the there are 37 seconds remaining. A timeout immediately after the play puts them at roughly 0:52 with a 1st-and-10 at the BAL 37. The next play is a 7-yard completion to Jeffery followed by a timeout at 0:25. 27 seconds wasted, and only seven yards to show for it. A 12-yard pass to Forte who gets out of bounds gets the ball to the BAL 18 with 18 seconds left, but a holding penalty on the next play backs the Bears up to the BAL 28. They throw an incomplete pass on the last play, and kick the field goal.

So they end up with three points and take one timeout into the half with them. The prizes you get for unused timeouts at the end of the season must be glamorous for as often as the Bears take them into the locker room.

Again, use all but your last timeout early to save maximum time. Your next play could result in a completion and getting out of bounds. No timeout needed. Another miss here from Trestman, though, the result would've likely been the same because of the penalty. The process matters, though.

Week 12, 2013 Season -- St. Louis

Losing 24-14, no timeouts, 1:11 left, ball at CHI 20

Chronicled here. Everything was fine after two run plays and the clock sitting at 0:25. Then came a swing pass on 3rd-and-17 that nearly became a football catastrophe. No excuses, terrible play call.

Week 13, 2013 Season -- Minnesota

Losing 7-6, one timeout, 1:00 left, ball at CHI 24.

A 23-yard throw to Jeffery kicks off these festivities, and the next play starts at 0:35. This is pretty unusual aggressiveness considering the Bears would get the ball after halftime. You could argue calling an immediate timeout, but you have to save the last one to make sure you can set up a last second kick or shots at the endzone. The Bears ended up having to punt, which is fine here despite no points -- none were expected.

Week 14, 2013 Season -- Dallas

Winning 17-14, three timeouts, 0:47 left, ball at CHI 40.

Timeouts taken after each completion in bounds put the Bears at the DAL 25 with 17 seconds left, and they took one shot at the endzone that succeeded. Picture perfect, and two consecutive games of playing it right means he might be figuring things out -- though both scenarios were fairly easy given the lack of timeouts against Minnesota, and the glut of timeouts and a short field against Dallas.

Week 15, 2013 Season -- Cleveland

Losing 10-3, three timeouts, 1:29 left, ball at CHI 34.

Cutler scrambled out of bounds for 12 yards, and then completed a 41-yard pass to Marshall that also drew a defensive holding penalty. Two plays, no timeouts used, and the Bears have advanced down to the CLE 13 with 1:07 remaining. They complete an 8-yard pass to wind the clock and score on the next play that began at 29 seconds. The timing was all perfect, and the clock drain was just fine with all three timeouts in the bank and the ball deep in the red zone. It looks like Trestman has figured it out!

Week 2, 2014 Season -- San Francisco

Losing 17-0, three timeouts, 2:22 left, ball at CHI 20.

A 10-yard gain on the first play, and the Bears let it go to the two minute warning. They could've had two plays called in the huddle, but didn't. Maybe that's nitpicking but high standards are fine to have.

By the time the clock gets down to 56 seconds remaining, the Bears are 1st-and-10 at the SF 25 after a roughing penalty with all of their timeouts remaining; a picturesque setting. Then the wheels fall off.

Trestman calls a run (or Cutler audibles to it) and the Bears lose a yard and call their first timeout. Unless you're purposely trying to bleed the clock (no reason to when you're still not guaranteed at least a field goal), you should be throwing the ball on every play under two minutes when not inside the opponent's five. Maybe that's a poor theory, but regardless, the Bears are still OK here. Forty-nine seconds and two timeouts at the SF 26, this is still easy pickins.

A 9-yard completion to make it 3rd-and-2 is a good way to bounce back after the run, but then football somehow becomes an entirely different language for the Bears. A timeout, a play, someone faking an injury, something... anything should happen before the next play is snapped at 18 seconds. It's inexplicable, terrible coaching that results in, oh yeah, a touchdown throw to Marshall. Sure, the Bears get seven points here, but it was brutally handled by Trestman. If the play succeeds in anything short of the endzone, the situation becomes incredibly dicey. An earlier timeout would've eased the pressure and kept the Bears' options open. Marshall bailed his coach out with an incredible catch.

Week 4, 2014 Season -- Green Bay

Losing 21-17, three timeouts, 1:03 left, ball at CHI 20.

The Bears were probably content going into halftime down four and ran the ball to get the clock rolling. But they got 13 yards on the play and called a timeout. Alright, the situation has changed. Two timeouts and 56 seconds remaining at the CHI 33, the plan must be to go for it now since they stopped the clock. Next play: another run, this time for five yards. Huh? Why the timeout after the first play, if the plan is to just get the clock rolling again with the next one?

The next snap doesn't happen until 0:36, and results in a 26-yard pass to the GB 36 and the Bears' second timeout at 0:26. Now instead of having plenty of time to work toward the endzone, they're down to one timeout and still aren't in a guaranteed scoring range (roughly defined as a 40-yard or less field goal).

Two plays later, a 27-yard completion to Bennett gets them down to the GB 9, but they're forced to use their final timeout because there's only 0:14 left. So take a couple of TD shots and settle for the field goal if they fail, right? Nope, a pass that ends up an inch short of the goal line finishes the half with no points scored. Bad process burns the Bears, and the Packers go on to bury them in the second half. Can you blame Cutler for throwing short of the endzone here? Sure you could. But if the clock was handled better long before that point, they wouldn't be trying TD throws from an area of the field where it's difficult to throw them because it's your only option.

The easiest throws to the endzone inside the five yard line are fades to the back corner, back shoulder throws, play action rollouts, and slants. They're difficult because you can spread the defense out incredibly wide with your formation to create one-on-one matchups. If the ball is behind the 10-yard line with no timeouts, there's a ton of space the defense doesn't have to bother covering, and with the ball so far away, there is typically enough time to scramble a second and third defender into the area where the throw is going.

Week 6, 2014 Season -- Atlanta

Winning 10-3, three timeouts, 2:00 left, ball at midfield.

The drive originally started with 4:06 on the clock at the CHI 7, so they did a nice job to put themselves in a position to go up a couple touchdowns. It's 2nd-and-6 coming out of the warning, and Cutler gets sacked for a loss of one. The Bears let the clock run down to 1:18 before the next snap, which is fine in case they don't convert. They don't want to leave more than 1:30 for Atlanta to potentially do damage.

A 15-yard pass to Marshall converts the first down at the ATL 36. Here's where you take the first timeout to keep the clock above a minute. Instead, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. The next snap is at 0:34, which results in a 9-yard completion and the first timeout at 28 seconds with the ball at the ATL 27.

Now the situation is tight. Any short gain requires an immediate timeout, and it's far more likely to end in a field goal than a touchdown. Not due to play calling or execution here, but simple clock management.

Cutler scramble for nine yards -- timeout. An 8-yard dump to Forte follows -- final timeout. 2nd-and-2 on the ATL 10 with 0:14 left is a bad spot. All shots have to be at the endzone so the Green Bay situation doesn't get relived, and that means they only get two plays because it's second down. It's the same throwing scenario again too. From the 10-yard line, and the only option throwing being the endzone, it's pretty easy to cover. Trestman admitted this is a tough spot to throw by running the ball in this exact situation -- in the fourth quarter. The Bears scored on that trap play to all but seal the win.

No such luck here. They didn't have the option to run. Two incompletions left a Gould field goal as the final result. The time crunch boxed the Bears into a bad situation.

Conclusion

Of the 15 two-minute situations described above, 11 of them were scoring scenarios. Two of them were field goal only spots, and the Bears got their three points both times. Of the remaining nine, the Bears got three touchdowns, but one of those (SF game) was a terrible process, and the other two (DAL and CLE) that were as basic as it gets with three timeouts. Four field goals, an interception (DET last year) and a goose egg (GB in Week 4) round out the scoring. That may seem good, but most of those four field goals were settled for because Trestman put the team in incredibly difficult situations when they didn't have to be.

Games are often decided by less than a touchdown in the NFL, and the Bears have consistently left points on the field at the end of the first half. Trestman knows how to call plays, but his ability to manage the time remaining has been shoddy at best, and downright mind boggling at worst. Struggles in these situations are the difference between a 10-6 and an 8-8 team. Playoffs or jockeying for draft picks. Trestman needs to start being smarter with his timeouts, and push his players to play with more urgency in these situations. Otherwise, we'll be talking about what safeties are available in the NFL Draft come January.

 
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