When I was a little kid and watched NFL games, I never understood why coaches always waited to use their timeouts in an effort to preserve time until after the two minute warning if they were losing.

Even as an 8-year-old it was obvious to me that you could save more time on the clock with the strategy of using the timeouts earlier.

Also, the hurry–up offense was not used until there were under two minutes to play. This made no sense either, especially if you were losing by over two touchdowns.

It seemed to my little kid mind that the quicker you played the more plays you ran and the potential to score more points increased.

But "the Book says" you were to do things a certain way; that’s what was always done.

It wasn’t until well into his coaching career that Don Shula finally broke from the norm and was successful doing just what my 8-year-old self thought should be done.

It was successful and everyone commented how brilliant he was.

Another thing in the NFL that drove me crazy was the “prevent defense“.

Ostensibly it was designed to allow a team to move down the field, albeit slowly, and use up the clock if you were winning a game.

Never mind that in 55 minutes of play your regular defensive strategies had only yielded three points and forced seven punts.

We’ll just let them complete passes now in the field of play to use up the clock. What happened was that these teams that were trailing marched right down the field, using little time, scored and got right back in the game.

Many times they ultimately won. My sister and I usually commented that the only thing that prevent defense prevented was a win.

There is one circumstance where I would use it: My team is ahead by 17 points, there are under two minutes to play and the other team has no timeouts.

The 17-point margin is key here as it would take three scores to tie or win— virtually impossible with less than two minutes to play and no timeouts.

Then there is the two-point conversion. It is used way too early in many games. Coaches are forever trying to chase points. Do they really think that early in the third quarter they are never going to score again, so they have to get that little point right now?

If that is the case, you are not going to win the game anyway. The most egregious example of this happened in the Super Bowl when Carolina was playing New England.

Way too early, John Fox started trying for two points in the PAT. They didn’t make any.

Consequently, they gave up three points. If they had just kicked the extra points, they would have had a three-point lead when the Patriots drove down the field for a field goal. A successful try would have only tied the game, not won it.

That doesn’t mean New England wouldn’t have still won, but “the Book” strategy assured a Carolina loss.

“The Book says“ you have to establish the run to open up the passing game.


When Mike Martz was coaching the St. Louis Rams, he started one game with 29 straight passes. I think the Rams scored 28 points. And Bill Belichick has had several games where his teams passed early and often and just went right down the field and scored.

In the hurry-up, two-minute offenses, do teams ever actually run the ball or is it almost always passes? If passing virtually every play works then, why wouldn’t it work at other times in the game?

Great coaches exploit weaknesses. They notice if a defense is stacked to stop the run because the book says to run early in the game, a passing strategy is called for.

They know if the defense is set to defend the pass, running is the key. (In the San Francisco 49ers' classic playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Cowboys were playing a certain "flex defense". Bill Walsh knew they could gain five, six, even seven yards with runs. Interspersed with timely passes we got to see Dwight Clark make "The Catch" and propel the 49ers to a dynasty.)

In this year's AFC championship game, Belichick figured he needed to keep Kansas City’s offense off the field. So what did he do? He ran the ball.

Even though Tom Brady threw the ball a lot, they still ran more plays than they passed. They had nearly 100 plays. Their time of possession was 43 minutes to 17 minutes for the Chiefs.

I say throw out “the Book”.

Use your head to adjust, adapt and create your own book catching opponents unaware.

You’ll win a lot more games that way.

Greg Sarkisian has coached high school athletics on the Central Coast for more than three decades, spending 30 seasons as St. Joseph's head cross country coach and 35 seasons as the school's head track and field coach. At St. Joseph, Sarkisian's track and field athletes won 24 individual CIF championships under his tutelage. He also taught mathematics for 38 years at the high school level and for 27 years at Allan Hancock College.


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