Kansas City, Mo. — Coach John Harbaugh was unapologetic about his failed fourth-down call in the second quarter Sunday that turned the momentum in the Ravens’ 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
He declared that the analytics were in his favor.
I don’t care about analytics or an apology. I just want him to use more common sense and develop a better feel for the game.
One play doesn’t cost a team a game, and a loss usually comes down to seven to 10 of them, but the fourth-down gamble in the second quarter was huge.
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Let’s set the scenario: Kansas City is ahead 7-6 and the Ravens have the ball at their own 47 with 10:38 left in the half. Faced with a fourth-and-2, Harbaugh chose to go for it and the Ravens called a pass that fell incomplete to receiver Marquise Brown.
Five plays later, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to receiver Demarcus Robinson. On Kansas City’s next offensive series, Mahomes threw an 83-yard touchdown pass to rookie Mercole Hardman.
What in the world just happened? Was this “Madden”? The Ravens never regained the lead.
“The point was to score as many points as we could,” Harbaugh said after the game, which included three failed 2-point conversion attempts by the Ravens. “I don’t remember the situation, the 'X' numbers for which one was what, but every one of those was clear analytical decisions to go for two. We had a mindset that we were going to come in and try and score as many points as we could. That’s what we tried to do. I know we all felt the same way — Lamar felt the same way, we all did. We’re going to keep playing that way, just for the record.”
Any second thoughts after the game?
“No. Absolutely not. We don’t play scared,” Harbaugh said.
Okay, but how about playing smart?
It’s apparent that the Ravens have gotten caught up in all this hype about Jackson, “Hollywood” Brown and how explosive this offense can become. But defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale should have gone up to Harbaugh before he made that decision and whispered in his ear: “Hey, dude, I know you want to be aggressive and all, but they have a really fast receiver named Robinson and this big tight end named Travis Kelce. Let’s chill on this fourth down stuff.”
Once the Ravens failed to pick up that first down, everyone in Arrowhead Stadium knew Mahomes was going for the home run. It’s in the Coach’s Manual, page 101, Rule 131. It reads: When you get a short field, go deep.
Harbaugh likes these situations. Before that failure on fourth-and-2, the Ravens had already converted on two fourth-down calls earlier in the game. That’s what concerned me.
You can’t keep rolling the dice. The Ravens don’t have to because they have one of the best punters in the NFL in Sam Koch, who could have pinned the Chiefs inside their own 20-yard line and hopefully forced Kansas City to run 10 or 12 plays to score a touchdown, not five.
Plus, a better play call would have been to run a hot Mark Ingram II inside instead of allowing a struggling Jackson to throw.
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It’s all part of having a feel for the game. It’s not always about analytics, but what’s inside your gut and transpiring on the field. Every coach has a philosophy, but sometimes a coach deviates.
Ask Don Shula. Ask Bill Belichick. Ask Brian Billick, who moved from the passing game over to the “dark side” of running the ball in 2000, which led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title.
“And I could just tell you analytically, like if you look at the numbers, it’s not even close,” Harbaugh said of the numbers working in his favor. “So you understand in terms of the percentage of chances to win the game. I’m just telling you. That’s what the analytics say. That’s what it says. That’s how it works. But it wouldn’t even matter.
“We believe in our offense, and we’re going to try and get as many first downs as we can. I think it led to a touchdown the very first time, did it not? We’ll keep doing it whenever it suits us, whatever makes the most sense. We’re not going into it blind. We got the numbers. We know what we’re doing. That was the plan.”
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Apparently the analytics were also working in Harbaugh’s favor when Ingram scored on a 1-yard run with 12:22 left in the game to pull the Ravens within 30-19. Instead of having Tucker kick the extra-point attempt and pulling within 10, Jackson threw incomplete to tight end Nick Boyle to keep the Chiefs’ advantage at 11.
“It’s our job to execute. Fourth-and-short, third-and-short, we get it. We’re trying to score points,” Jackson said. “Chiefs have a great offense, an explosive offense. Our job is to finish, keep our defense on the sideline as much as we can. And we didn’t do that today. We started doing it toward the end, but it was too late."
That’s all great in theory and philosophy, but Harbaugh and the Ravens have to deal with the bottom line. The secondary is nowhere near as great as a lot of people thought at the beginning of the year, even though the Ravens have invested a lot of money in the unit.
Both safeties, Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas III, said the Ravens had to clean up some miscommunication problems last week, but they had similar issues Sunday. The offense can be good, but is still a work in progress with several inexperienced starters. The key is the running game, which the Ravens got away from in the first half Sunday.
The loss to Kansas City was expected, especially with the Chiefs playing their season opener. But if the Ravens are going to get better, they can’t afford costly mistakes like Harbaugh’s major boo-boos Sunday.
It’s great to go into a game prepared, but there is always room for adjustments. The Ravens were reluctant to move away from their approach Sunday.
And they lost.