How to Win in Football

No Timeouts with Clock Stopped
By: Paul Bessire,
January 15th, 2009

6. No timeouts with the game clock stopped: Like other items on this list, there may be extenuating circumstances where the rule can be broken. For instance, if the defense has too few players on the field or realizes that it has a horrific play called for the offense/situation, it can call a timeout to prevent being exploited. Yet this is the item that is most egregiously abused in football. It should really be titled: only use timeouts when you need them; but coaches tend to have a different definition of need than they should.

Timeouts should be used to maximize the total number of offensive plays that a team can have without the clock running out. This allows the team to continue to move the ball toward a score.

A timeout immediately following a play when the clock is running can yield at least one more play for the offense. In the NFL in 2008, teams averaged 5.5 yards per play. Timeouts used to prevent a five yard delay of game penalty when the game clock is already stopped and the offense loses the opportunity for a play later when it needs it are net losses. In general, timeouts are more valuable than five yards. Take the penalty and keep the timeout for a time when an extra play is needed.

If the game clock is stopped (or the play clock has already run almost all the way down with the game clock running) there are very few circumstances where a timeout is needed.

This rule also applies to the use of challenges, which can cost timeouts.

Go to #5 Speed and Confusion on Defense or go back to the Introduction for more.

Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at Thanks!

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