A 15 Minute Drive in the NFL?

Is it possible in the NFL to maintain possession of the football for one full quarter or 15 continuous minutes?

I often say a strong defense is a really good offense – especially in crunch time. In many competitive games, at some point, you need your defense to “step up” and make a play so you can hand the ball back to your offense. Sometimes your defense rises to the occasion and sometimes not. If it can’t, they may be over-matched, impacted by significant injuries or completely out of gas and needing a breather.

Let’s assume in this scenario, your defense is average (at best) and your offense is excellent? Could your team have much success if the offense regularly maintained ball possession for a 8 or 10 minute stretch? What about a longer stretch, let’s say 12 to 15 minutes? Is that possible? If possible, is it probable your offensive attackers could maintain ball possession and methodically march down the field?

700px-2004_Emerald_Bowl_Record_Drive.svgLet’s discuss some of the scenarios.

If your goal is a 15 minute drive or a Quarter Drive, you obviously have to commence this drive with very poor field position. That means you can’t start on your own 40 or even midfield – to make this doable, we’re beginning your Quarter Drive possession on the 10 yard line.

As all gridiron followers know, the clock will stop on an incomplete pass – so the majority of plays will occur without engaging the forward pass. According to Wikipedia, Woody Hayes of Ohio State University in the 50s and 60s would throw fewer than 10 passes a game. To accomplish this goal, we’re aligned to Woody’s strategy. Forgo big plays which would stretch the defense and concentrate on the ground attack. It may not be sexy, but if done properly could have a tremendous impact on the game.

With a strong offensive line and ground attack, we’ll assume you’re going to gain about 5 yards per play on the running and blocking of halfbacks and fullbacks and execute this for the entire drive without too many deviations. It’s methodical by gaining around 5 yards each time the ball is snapped which means you will achieve a new set of downs and provide “new life” to your long, sustainable drive. To extend the drive as much as possible, your QB needs to pay attention to the 40 second play clock – ideally not calling for the ball to be exchanged from the center to QB until there is about 3 seconds left on the 40 second play clock. This approach would consume about 11 minutes if everything goes well. If each of these 18 plays or so take about 5 seconds to occur, add another 90 seconds to the drive.

With any NFL drive, penalties are the necessary evil to contend with – for discussion sake, let’s add three false start penalties, that would give you another 2 minutes (40 seconds each) to add to your Quarter Drive. Therefore, there would be three situations where it would take 3 downs to achieve a new set of downs because of the false starts.

If anyone is wondering, this is smashmouth football at its finest. Fun for the smasher and not so fun for the smashee.

Basic math would indicate that adding the 90 and 120 seconds to the 11 minutes would achieve 930 seconds, or 30 ticks south of 15 minutes. Of course, everything would have to go as planned to achieve that time.

I could go on and create another scenario where it would take 4 downs to achieve “new life” but adding more and more possibilities to this approach may lessen the realistic chances of achieving the Quarter Drive.

The offensive focus and strategy is again is Three to Five Yards and a Cloud of Dust. On this particular day, your long-term focus is winning the game, your mid-range focus is scoring a touchdown and your short-term focus is to get another first down to continue to control the line of scrimmage and eventually win the battle in the trenches.

As mentioned earlier, to accomplish such a feat, it would be advisable to minimize the pass attempts as an incomplete pass would stop the clock and stopping the clock on a few plays during this stretch would decrease the chances of having success. On the other hand, a complete pass could result in a big play which may result in scoring a touchdown much sooner than planned. To carry on for so long on offense, your lineman and receivers have to be physically fit, disciplined and good blockers, They would also have to “buy in” to this new team’s offensive strategy. I guess I also have to mention the ‘T’ word or turnovers – they have an ugly way of completely turning the game completely around. So when most of the ball control will be done via the run, it’s imperative those halfbacks and fullbacks don’t let go of the pigskin.

Mind you, this is a far-fetched scenario – even if you reach a 10 or 12 minute drive, consistent long drives have a way of eventually controlling the line of scrimmage. If you’re good at offensive football and can exercise similar control and at the same time, you ensure your defense is well-rested, is it difficult not to imagine how formidable a team like this would be.