Re: It is a simple arithmetic…stupid.
From grantland.com 's Bill Barnwell:
"with the game winding down and his Steelers trailing by three points, Mike Tomlin faced what appeared to be a difficult clock-management decision during the fourth quarter on Sunday night. With one timeout left in the bag,1 Tomlin's team faced a new set of downs from the Ravens with just 2:51 left in the game.
In making his decision, Tomlin needs to assume that he's going to get a pair of stops and try to leave as much time on the clock as possible. While the Steelers ended up committing an offsides penalty that cost them 40 key seconds, you can't assume that your veteran defense is going to take an incredibly ill-timed penalty. You have to plan for the best-case scenario, because there's virtually no way you can win with anything worse.
On first down, the Ravens ran the ball with Ray Rice and gained three yards, taking about two seconds in the process. With 2:49 left, the Steelers had about a two-second window during which they could have called timeout and forced the Ravens to run two plays before the two-minute warning. A timeout at exactly 2:49 forces the Ravens to run the ball on second down, taking about four seconds off the clock, which would then wind the clock down to 2:05 before the Ravens had to act on third down. There, the Ravens would have likely called timeout just before the play clock hit zero and then run a play to try for the first down; with no need to burn clock (since a punt would come across the two-minute warning anyway), the Ravens could choose to throw on third down as opposed to relying upon their moribund running game. If the Steelers came up with a stop, the punt would come right at 2:00 and they'd take over with about 1:56 or so left to go.
What the Steelers chose to do instead wasn't all that much different. They let the clock run after the first-down handoff, let the Ravens run for no gain and take five seconds off the clock, and then called a timeout at 2:04. The Ravens then would have had the opportunity to throw (or run) the ball with 2:04 left before a stop would have forced them to punt at or just after the two-minute warning. The Steelers ended up taking that unfortunate offsides penalty and then forced a sack of Joe Flacco (likely by design, with coach John Harbaugh insisting that Flacco take an easy completion or be sacked to run clock) on the other side of the two-minute warning, costing Pittsburgh 40 seconds in the process. Without the offsides, though, the timeout usage at either 2:49 and 2:04 wouldn't have resulted in a significantly different process. In both cases, Pittsburgh's getting the ball right around 1:55.
What if the Steelers had chosen to use their timeout after the two-minute warning? Well, let's see. The Ravens would have run the ball at 2:09, just as they did in the real game, pushing the clock to the two-minute warning. When they came back to third down, they would have needed to run the ball to ensure that the clock kept moving while forcing the Steelers to take their final timeout with about 1:56 to go. A punt would then give the Steelers the ball with about 1:51 or so left.
Tomlin's timeout situation, then, left him with a tradeoff. By taking the timeout before the two-minute warning, Tomlin traded an extra four to five seconds of game time for the ability to induce a run from the Ravens on third down. Had he taken the timeout after the two-minute warning, he would have done the opposite, forcing a third down run while costing his team five seconds or so. I don't think it's clear that one option is better than the other, and in the long run, Pittsburgh's offsides penalty ended up making the whole thing irrelevant."