Flop Charts and Clock Management

4 Feb

C:workspaceDesigns11-8100s81201-8120-59-1 Model (1)

Time will decide our fates.  It is no less true in football where clock management – that is to say, the management or mismanagement of the time left in a game – will often decide its outcome.  The team who is winning will want to use or “eat up” as much time as possible, while the team that is losing will want to conserve time so that they can score. Much drama is played out at the end of many games because of the minutes — seconds even – left on the clock that allows one team to convert one spectacular play into one phenomenal and unexpected ending.

There probably isn’t a more exciting tactical situation in sports than the last minutes of a tight football game, and how coaches respond to it is often a matter of personality – or how they are configured emotionally to handle stress. Some fail to prepare for the eventuality, while others rely on a little thing called a “flop chart”.

coach with flop chart2

Basically a flop chart is a cheat sheet.  It has the answers to the test. Devised years ago by Dick Vermiel, the former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, a flop chart tells a team when to kneel and eat time off the clock.  It works off the premise that a kneel — that’s when a quarterback takes the snap and kneels to the ground to kill the play — usually takes three seconds.

dick vermeil
(Dick Vermeil)

Offenses are given 40 seconds to initiate a play from when the ball is spotted from the previous down.  So, if 39 seconds are allowed to elapse and the ball is snapped with 1 second left on the  40-second clock, each kneel – or what is routinely called a “quarterback’s favorite play” – should erase 42 seconds off the game clock when the opposing team is out of  time outs.

Simple you’d think but clock mismanagement still occurs every week during a football season. Coaches will spend countless hours going over film and scripting game plans, anticipating an opponent’s most likely moves during a particular down and distance situation. But when it comes to how to use the clock during crunch time, coaches are often strategically challenged.

Clock mismanagement in a single game can often make or break a season.

The problem is that end-of-game scenarios are infinite and no flop chart can account for them all.  Coaches must expect the unexpected and prepare as best as possible.  To this end, there are certain procedures that coaches agree work in given situations but as Vince Lombardi, the infamous coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said that, when coaches are near the end of a game, they must decide who is the bigger opponent: the other team or the clock.

vince lombardi
(Vince Lombardi)


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