Clock Management Costs Thonn, Gladiators in Tampa Bay
TAMPA BAY – Anyone who has followed my writing over the years knows how much of a fan I am of clock management. I harped on Jay Gruden about it seemingly each and every week when he was coaching the Orlando Predators, and I have written articles about how to manage the clock in the past. On Friday night though, my ire is with Steve Thonn of the Cleveland Gladiators, who watched his team get demolished 69-48 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in front of 8,686 fans.
The Gladiators were level 21-21 and were really rolling. They had picked off Tampa Bay QB Steve Wasil on back-to-back drives and had the ball with 3:46 left in the first half. There was absolutely zero excuse to give the ball back to the Storm at this point. It should have been relatively easy to matriculate the ball down the field and to kill a few minutes off of the clock and get into the locker room absolutely no worse than 21-21 if Cleveland didn't score, and 28-21 at best. If that were the case, the Gladiators would have gone into the half having scored three straight TDs, getting the ball first in the second half.
But of course, that would be far too easy. Instead, QB John Dutton threw a 32-yard pass to WR Dominic Goodman for a TD to make the score 27-21 with just over a minute to play in the half.
Cleveland kicked off and gave the ball back to the Storm, who scored a TD just two plays later when Wasil hit WR Amarri Jackson on a 44-yard pass. Following an onside kick, Dutton threw his second pick of the half, this one off of the net and into the hands of DB Lendy Holmes. Holmes returned the INT for a touchdown in what turned out to be the Cutters Catch of the Game and the Spalding Highlight of the Game.
The Gladiators missed a field goal as the game went to halftime. Instead of being up 28-21 (or something of the likes) at the half, getting the ball out of the lock room, they were down 34-27 and never looked the same.
Cleveland's next three offensive possessions ended in a third Dutton pick, a TD, and a stop on downs. The Storm scored on all five drives they had in the second half to take the 'W'.
The stories in this Tampa Bay victory were numerous.
The 69 points the Tampa Bay offense scored in this one marked the second straight home game in which the team scored at least that many points. The last time the Storm scored at least 69 points in back-to-back home games were in the final two home games in 2008 when they put up 71 on the Orlando Predators and then 72 on the Los Angeles Avengers.
That wasn't nearly the story in this one, though. Dutton had another game in which he just turned the ball over far too many times. He has nine picks on the campaign after another three here on Friday, and he is now tied for the league lead in that dubious category with Tommy Grady of the Utah Blaze and Wasil. It was the eighth time that Dutton has thrown at least two INTs in a game since the start of the 2010 season, a span of just 22 games.
Wasil was intercepted twice as well in this game, and that was the fourth time this year in five games in which he has tossed at least two picks. Dating back to last season, Wasil now has at least one INT in eight of his last nine starts, and he has thrown at least two INTs in six of those eight games.
But of course, the underlying story that most won't even think about is the impact that mismanaging the clock had on the Gladiators in this one. It certainly isn't the first time, nor will it be the last time that a coach made a bonehead decision with the clock at the end of the first half (or the game), but it was definitely one of the decisions that clearly came back to haunt this team.
The air just totally came out of Cleveland when Dutton threw that INT into the end zone that was returned for a touchdown. The team was really just lifeless for the rest of the game on both sides of the ball, and it was outscored 48-27 the rest of the way.
It is impossible to stress this enough: You have to do whatever you can to make sure that you get the ball last in the first half. When you have an opportunity to do it, you just have to get it right. How hard it is to throw little five-yard hammer routes and the quick bubble screens for a few plays? After all, that's what Cleveland did for the mass majority of the game and is why Dutton ended up having to throw the ball 49 times. What harm would it have done to continue to do that for the rest of the half?
Especially when you've got momentum and control of the situation, you can't give it back. Get that situation correct, and the Glads should go into the break ahead 28-21. Instead, it was handled miserably, and the end result became the de facto end of the game.
Coach Thonn literally giftwrapped this one for the Storm, and they took the gift and ran it to their third victory of the season to give them at least a share of the Southern Division lead through Week 6.
Both of these teams are now 3-2, and they will meet again on May 19th at Quicken Loans Arena. The Storm are on the NFL Network next week on Friday Night Football when they take on the Philadelphia Soul in the City of Brotherly Love. Cleveland has a date with the Jacksonville Sharks at home in Week 7.
The Storm come back to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 30th for what will be just their third Monday night game in team history when they take on the currently winless Kansas City Command.