I admire when a coach is aggressive, it shows that he’s confident in his team and is willing to take risks in pursuit of a victory. But there comes a time when aggressive playcalling becomes irresponsible, and the risks are simply not worth the potential payout.
John Harbaugh embarrassed himself on Sunday with absurd playcalling that even the most loyal Ravens fans cannot justify.
On Baltimore’s first drive of the game, John Harbaugh forecasted his strategy for the day with a gutsy call. It was fourth and three, and instead of sending out the automatic leg himself, Justin Tucker, to secure an easy three points, Harbaugh ordered a Lamar Jackson run, that brought Baltimore from the Kansas City nine-yard line to the two-yard line. Mark Ingram smashed into the endzone on the very next play.
The decision to keep the offense on the field on fourth down, at the nine-yard line, was not a bad one, and I don’t say that thinking retrospectively. If the Ravens did not move the chains, Kansas City would have been forced to start a drive inside the 10 yard-line, a non-ideal starting position, to say the least. Furthermore, the Ravens had the most elusive offensive weapon in the National Football League, playing at quarterback. The conditions were right to try the move, and it worked.
But none of the conditions were right for the rest of the gambles.
After the Ravens scored the touchdown, Tucker converted the point after touchdown, but a penalty committed by the Chiefs presented an opportunity that proved too intriguing for Harbaugh to turn down. The illegal formation penalty allowed Baltimore to retry the point after from the one-yard line, or enforce negative yards on the Chiefs’ starting field position after the kickoff. Harbaugh elected to gamble for a second time. His luck wore off, however, as Jackson was stopped at the line of scrimmage on an outside run attempt.
This decision was not like Harbaugh. Why would he not take the free point, and put the Chiefs in poor starting field position? Did Harbaugh not trust the defense at all?
Predictably, the Chiefs promptly answered with a score of their own, and instead of both teams being tied at seven after the LeSean McCoy touchdown, the Ravens trailed by a point.
And herein lies the problem with Harbaugh’s strategy. Every time he lost a gamble, the Chiefs would win on the other side of it. Harbaugh should have known this was going to happen as well. One does not make mistakes against Patrick Mahomes and escape unscathed.
On the very next drive, Harbaugh rolled the dice again. On fourth down, with two yards separating the line of scrimmage and the first down marker, the Ravens again called the offense onto the field. Lamar Jackson’s pass fell incomplete after a botched route by Marquise Brown pushed him into Mark Andrews, Jackson’s intended target.
The Chiefs scored again after the turnover.
In total, the Ravens attempted three offensive plays on fourth down. Some succeeded, and some failed. But the most egregious and careless decision came late in the third quarter, on another point after touchdown attempt. The Ravens were beginning to cut into the Chiefs’ lead, and the score was 30-19. The logical decision-maker would say to take the extra one point, to make the deficit 10 points. All it would take to tie the game operating under a ten-point deficit would be a touchdown with the extra point and a field goal. There’s absolutely no reason to go for two points, but the Ravens did so anyway. Can anyone give me a reason for it? To make it a nine-point game? That’s still a two-possession game, no matter how you slice it. Harbaugh was willing to risk putting the Ravens in a deeper hole for a meaningless score. I am absolutely baffled by that decision, and frankly, will never understand it.
The Ravens would go on to fail their third and final two-point attempt of the afternoon.
To be fair, John Harbaugh cannot be the sole bearer of the blame. Lamar Jackson looked like the rookie version of himself in the first half, the defense couldn’t cover a brick wall, and the officials made several bad calls that hindered the Ravens. At the end of the day, though, John Harbaugh coached a terrible game, and it’s his worst performance that I can remember. I remain steadfast in my belief in Harbaugh, but his reckless decision making put the Ravens at a massive disadvantage, and it is astonishing that Baltimore even came close to closing the gap in the second half.