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Forget analytics: Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t trust his defense vs. Bills

Baltimore Ravens
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With the most accurate kicker in NFL history in his hip pocket, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh decided to keep him on the sidelines in a 20-all ballgame against Buffalo.

Faced with a fourth-and-goal at the 2-yrd line with 4:15 remaining, Harbaugh decided to throw the analytics in the can and go for it. Under extreme pressure, quarterback Lamar Jackson, eluding a sack, throwing off the wrong foot, severely underthrew receiver Devin Duvernay in the right endzone, and the pass was intercepted by Bills safety Jordon Poyer.

Buffalo, as the raucous crowd of 75,000 watched, went on a 12-play, 77-yard drive that ended as the clock expired with a 21-yard field goal by Tyler Bass in a rain-soaked M&T Bank Stadium. Bills win, 23-20.

Afterward, Harbaugh gave numerous reasons for his decision not to simply send out the future Hall-of Fame bound Tucker for the lead. It was déjà vu for Harbaugh and his excuses.

Last season, over the course of a season-ending six game losing streak, Harbaugh, analytics be damned, gambled on crucial fourth-down calls against Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Twice he elected to keep Tucker sidelined. Twice he failed, losing both games in the process.

I don’t get it.

I understand Harbaugh’s aggressive mentality, but please.

Again, repeating myself, Harbaugh has the most accurate kicker in NFL history warming up behind him. Tucker could make that chip-shot field goal with his eyes closed and forced to kick with his opposite foot barefooted.

But this wasn’t about Tucker’s ability to make the field goal, this was about Harbaugh’s distrust in the Ravens defense to stop the Bills from marching down for field for a game-winning touchdown.

I think the best chance for the Ravens to win Sunday was for Tucker to kick the field goal and use the deafening sounds of the 12th man to affect Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.

Instead, we get this from Harbaugh: “Well, I felt, it gave us (the decision to go for it on fourth-and-two) the best chance to win the game, because seven points, the worst that happens is, if they go down the field and score a touchdown, the worst thing that can happen is you’re in overtime,” said Harbaugh.

Harbaugh went on to excuse, err, say, “so, hindsight you take the points, but if you look at it analytically, understand why we did it.”

OK, Harbaugh himself is destined for Canton, Ohio, and the HOF, but today he was wrong.

After failing to score on third down and facing the fourth-and-goal situation, you turn around and smile. Justin Tucker comes out, kicks the field goal, you take a 23-20 lead, and let the crazy Raven fans, many of whom began tail-gating at 7 p.m. Saturday, take over.

It was a soggy field, the result of two days of steady rain, the wind was blowing, swirling, anything could happen to the Bills offense.

After the Jackson INT, the crowd sensed the inevitable, knowing all the Bills needed was a field goal. Many headed for the exit ramps.

Come on coach, just say it, your decision was not based on any fancy calculations, his decision was because he had absolutely zero confidence in the Baltimore defense.

And, knowing his team better than anyone, he may have been right.

The Ravens entered Sunday’s game ranked 32nd in passing yards allowed. There are 32 teams in the NFL. In the Ravens last home game, they gave up four touchdowns to the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter, in another late collapse.

I don’t believe Harbaugh had a real feel for Sunday’s game. In a battle between two of the top QBs in the league, it was simply not Lamar’s best day.

Sunday, Jackson forced pass after pass, he got lucky on many, and a few he didn’t.

Early in his career Allen, too, was guilty of forcing passes, trying to make the big play rather than the safe play. The difference in the two quarterbacks is Allen has cut down on the “hero” plays he attempts to make; Jackson, not so much.

Sometimes it is simply better to just take the sack, throw the ball away. That’s what Jackson should have done on the late throw to Duvernay. I, along with 75,000 was screaming for that. Jackson should have thrown that ball so far away it should have landed in Camden Yards.

Instead, Lamar tried to play “Lamar ball.” It didn’t work.

Lamar doesn’t yet understand this.

Harbaugh should and does.

Kick the field goal.

Let the 12th man do the rest.

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.