Time of possession has turned into a meaningless stat in the NFL


Rob Maaddi

AP Pro Football Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Control the ball, own the clock, win the game.

That old-school philosophy is no longer the recipe for success in the NFL. Time of possession has turned into a meaningless stat.

“Time of possession is how much time can the other team waste,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.

The undefeated Patriots are 21st in the league in time of possession, while four of the top five teams at controlling the clock have losing records.

The Eagles have been last in the league in time of possession since Kelly arrived in 2013. They went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons and are one win away from being in first place this year despite a 4-5 record.

In two of the past three games, the Eagles had a rare edge in time of possession. They lost both times. In a win over Dallas, they had the ball 13 minutes fewer than the Cowboys.

“Play differential is the big thing,” Kelly said. “You can take five minutes to run three plays and go off the field. You have to execute and stay on the field.”

Kelly runs an up-tempo, no-huddle offense so the Eagles don’t waste time standing around. More plays equal more opportunities to score points. The Eagles are 13-5 under Kelly when they run more plays than their opponents.

Other teams have a similar offensive philosophy. Peyton Manning ran an up-tempo offense in Indianapolis. Tom Brady does it in New England. The Patriots (9-0) have five wins this season in games they lost time of possession.

In the 11 playoff games in 2014, the team that lost time of possession won five times. The Ravens beat the Steelers 30-17 in a divisional round game in which they held the ball less than 25 minutes.

No team controls the ball more than the Dallas Cowboys, yet they’re 2-7. New Orleans is third-best in time of possession and is 4-6.

The Steelers (6-4) have four wins in games when they lost time of possession, including 43 points in only 23 minutes against San Francisco. They’re ranked 26th overall.

The Buccaneers (4-5) have won three games when they lose time of possession and two losses when they control the ball more than 30 minutes.

“If you’re a team that’s scoring fast, and your defense is playing well, and you’re getting the ball back an awful lot, time of possession, it’s a misnomer,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Turnover ratio is the important statistic.”

Only four teams (Falcons, Cardinals, Jets, Panthers) in the top 10 in time of possession have a winning record. Meanwhile, two teams (Steelers, Giants) in the bottom 10 have a winning record and two more (Texans, Eagles) could be in first place next week.

The last four Super Bowl winners (Patriots, Seahawks, Ravens, Giants) all ranked in the bottom half in time of possession. The 2007 Giants were the last Super Bowl winner to rank in the top 5.

But even Tom Coughlin now has a pass-heavy offense that relies on Eli Manning’s arm more than a rushing attack. More coaches are adapting to the new NFL instead of emphasizing a ball-control offense.

“It’s an important stat for us, but everybody is built differently,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “There are times we want to up-tempo and we’ll do it, and there are other times we want to run it all the way out.”

One knock over fast-scoring teams is that they risk wearing out their own defenses. That goes both ways, however.

Philadelphia’s defense has struggled at the end of some games during Kelly’s tenure because they’ve been on the field too long. But the Eagles have had more success on offense in the second half because they tire out the opposing defense.

“From a defensive perspective, if I’m out there a long time, and the offense is driving a long time, then I’m definitely more tired,” Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton said. “But if (our offense) is out there a long time and they’re driving fast and don’t give (the defense) the opportunity to get ready, I feel that’s definitely real hectic for the defensive unit. I like the concept. It’s definitely hard to go against Chip Kelly’s style offense.”

Rob Maaddi

AP Pro Football Writer

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