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Washington’s clock/game management continues to be abysmal

NFL: Washington Football Team at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Washington’s loss last week to the Vikings was the product of a multitude of factors, including - of course - a number of boneheaded plays on the field: Ben St-Juste’s defensive pass interference in the third quarter on third and 11, Taylor Heinicke’s interception in the fourth quarter, and John Ridgeway’s personal foul in the closing minutes of the game.

That’s not what this article is about. This piece will explore the coaching staff’s continued ineptitude when it comes to making critical judgement calls during the course of the game, and the collective effects of consistently getting those decisions wrong.

Decisions 1 & 2 - Burn a time out, make a terrible play call

With 6:32 left in the third quarter and up 10-7 on Minnesota’s 39 yard line, Washington faced a 3rd and 2. Brian Robinson would rush for 1 yard, forcing a 4th and 1. Ron would make the right decision, to go for it on 4th, and then he and his staff would make two critical errors.

After allowing 52 seconds to run off the clock, Ron called Washington’s first time out, a totally unnecessary waste of a key asset that would come back to haunt the team at the end of the game.

To add insult to injury, Rivera and Turner, rather than calling a QB sneak, or a high probability run play to pick up the yardage, called for a short pass attempt to Terry McLaurin, which fell short.

Of late, Ron seems to have taken a renewed interested in “analytics,” which makes the playcalling all the more vexxing, given what the analytics actually say in these situations:

Our analysis of over 3000 fourth and 1 attempts shows that the quarterback sneak is indeed far more effective than other play calls in obtaining a first down. Therefore, NFL coaches may be able to be even more aggressive in attempting to convert on 4th downs than previously thought by calling more successful play types.

Had Washington put points on the board on that drive, the game would have very likely turned out differently.

Decision 3 - Throw a challenge flag in the Third Quarter

Ron Rivera’s challenge rate has been miserable this year. On the broadcast, they mentioned that he had been 1 for 3 coming into the game, and that didn’t include the botched (attempted) challenge against the Eagles where he took too long to get the flag out of his pocket and missed an opportunity to slow a critical drive.

Against the Vikings, with 2:17 left in the third quarter, on second and 10, Heinicke scrambled for 9 yards down to the Minnesota 47. At quick glance, it looked like Taylor was just a bit short, but it didn’t really matter. Washington effectively had two more downs and about 12 a yard to go.

Undeterred, and in control of the clock on offense, Rivera whipped out the red flag to challenge the spot. The spot on the field was upheld, and though Washington would easily pick up the first down on the next play on a 24 yard run by Armani Rogers, the team would lose a critical time out because of the failed challenge.

Decision 4 - Screw up the deployment of the final time out

Left with only one time out in the closing minutes of the game, and with the Vikings virtually assured of putting potentially game winning points on the board, Washington needed to manage the clock very carefully in order to preserve as much time as possible for a very late game comeback where every second would count. They didn’t.

On second and 6, Dalvin Cook shuffled for two yards, with 2:31 left on the clock. A Washington time out here - and it certainly would have been a major relief to have at least two time outs at this point - would have stopped the clock, with another certain stoppage at the two-minute warning.

That would very likely have constrained the Vikings play call to a run, as they were trying to bleed as much time off the clock as they could at that point.

In reality, Minnesota attempted a pass, which fell incomplete to Justin Jefferson, and the clock ticked down to 2 minutes. A field goal attempt by Greg Joseph would take 5 more seconds off the clock, and then disaster would strike in the form of rookie John Ridgeway’s unnecessary roughness penalty, which would give the Vikings new life, and virtually assure a win.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Decision 5 - Stonewall the Vikings

With 1:55 left on the clock and the Vikings in possession of a fresh set of downs and a singular aim to burn through the clock and kick a field goal to end the game, Washington’s focus should have been singular - let the Vikings score as quickly as possible.

The defensive line should have been instructed to part like the Red Sea when Dalvin Cook took the ensuing hand off, and frankly, should have pushed him into the endzone if he decided to try to fall down - which is what he should have done.

Instead, the line appeared to take pride in its stoutness against the Vikings’ efforts over the closing minutes of the game.

In some respects, allowing an opponent to score is highly counterintuitive, but in a circumstance like this, it’s the only chance the team had to get the ball back with enough time to try to even the score and force overtime.

Instead, Minnesota kicked a field goal with 16 seconds left and Washington got the ball with 12 seconds left in the game and gave Taylor Heinicke the time for one pass attempt.


Some will surely read a piece like this and accuse me of engaging in 20/20 hindsight, but I’ve kept the receipts, and included them for your reading pleasure. But these insights weren’t unique. They were fairly obvious, and shared by many commentators who were watching the game.

At the end of the day, players need to execute in order to win games, but the reality is, coaching and game management matter. Blowing two timeouts to make a crappy play call and challenge an inconsequential spot make a difference when almost all of your games come down to last minute drives.

Washington’s current roster has its shortcomings, notably at the quarterback position, but the reality is that the coaching staff, and the in-game management, particularly by Ron Rivera, aren’t doing the team any favors.


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