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Gambling didn't pay off for John Harbaugh and the Ravens

Mike Preston

7:33 PM EDT, October 13, 2013

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh has to modify his philosophy.

There is a time to be aggressive and a time not to be aggressive, and Sunday was one of those days when Harbaugh should have been more conservative. That approach almost cost him a game last week, and two bad decisions Sunday were major reasons why the Ravens lost to the Green Bay Packers, 19-17.

Harbaugh needs to learn when to take the pedal off the metal, slow his roll, so to speak. The aggressiveness can come later but the Ravens have to work their way up to attacking mode.

Two decisions to gamble in the second quarter were costly, and more importantly, wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Faced with first-and-goal at the Green Bay 4 with 6 minutes and 57 seconds left in the half and only trailing 3-0, Harbaugh ran Ray Rice three straight times to the right for three yards. Instead of kicking a field goal to possibly tie the game on fourth-and-1, the Ravens sent halfback Bernard Pierce crashing over left guard for no gain.

The Ravens came away with nothing and Green Bay seized the momentum.

"You had fourth-and-1, you've got a high percentage opportunity to make that fourth-and-1," Harbaugh said. "I like our chances there. If you don't make it, you've got them backed up on their own 1 and feel really good about making them punt out of their own end zone, and you know, field position coming back the other way. They punted to the 50, they got a stop and we punted it back inside the 10 again, so, I think that was a good decision."

It was a good decision if you had an offensive line like Green Bay's in the 1960's or the Miami Dolphins of the 1970's, but this Ravens offensive line is pathetic, struggling and not getting better. These guys can't move out of their own way.

It's one thing to be an advocate of a strong running game and it's understandable giving the ball to Rice or Pierce on two of three plays, but one also needed to be a pass. And once it got to fourth down, it was time to kick the field goal.

It shouldn't have been that hard of a decision.

Before those four plays, the Ravens had run the ball six times for -13 yards. Joe Flacco had completed only 7-of -13 passes for 68 yards, but the Ravens were only behind by three points.

And more importantly, they had stymied Green Bay's offense. Until that point, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was having an off day and Packers receivers had dropped three passes. A 3-3 score would have been great.

"We are players, we do what we are told, I want to score touchdowns," Flacco said.

OK, Joe Cool.

But the Ravens didn't score anything. Nothing. Zero.

Harbaugh made another bad decision with 12 seconds left in the half. Faced with a second-and-10 at the Ravens 34, Flacco, out of the shotgun formation, was sacked and fumbled which set up a 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal with two seconds remaining.

Why?

Couldn't wait to hear Gambling John's thoughts on that one.

"I felt like we had a good chance with our kicker," Harbaugh said. "We had a better chance to complete a pass or get offensive pass interference than we did to have that happen. You've got confidence in your guys. You give your guys a chance to make plays in situations like that. They made a nice play and it cost us three points."

Bingo.

Didn't Harbaugh learn his lesson a week ago in a similar situation when Flacco got the ball knocked out of his hands and returned for a touchdown on third –and-22 from the Ravens 8 against Miami?

You can gamble if you have the percentages, but they aren't in the Ravens' favor anymore, not with this offensive line. Before Sunday's game, Flacco had been sacked 19 times and hurried numerous others. He was sacked five more times by the Packers.

The Ravens can't run block and they can't pass protect. That makes for tough odds.

Instead of throwing at the half, Harbaugh should have ordered Flacco to take a knee and go to the locker room where he should have scolded his team for another poor first half performance.

Instead, the Ravens were down 6-0.

"I think the philosophy is basically to attack, yes," Harbaugh said. "You try to do it within reason. We're never going to be reckless in what we do. If you look closely at the NFL percentages, those are not reckless decisions, by any stretch. Those are good decisions that, most of the time, are going to pay off for you. They didn't pay off, it's disappointing, but we should keep chasing that."

"We don't want to be the kind of team that's going to play nervous, not give our guys a chance, an opportunity, to do things and make plays," he said. "We just don't want to play it like that. We're going to be an attacking, aggressive type of group. It's been good to us up until this point, so let's build our team into that. We think we can get there. We've got the right guys to do it."

No, they don't, especially on the offensive line. Good coaches can maintain their philosophy, but they make adjustments. You can gamble with Aaron Rodgers because he carries the Packers offense. He can improvise and make plays with an average offensive line.

You can gamble some with Flacco, but he can't improvise like Rodgers. That's why the Ravens can't turn down points. That's why they can't throw the ball 31 straight times.

If this offense is a work in progress as Harbaugh says, then so is his philosophy. On offense, they can't afford to take points off the board in close games against good teams.

Maybe later, but not now.

mike.preston@baltsun.com