John Harbaugh explains analytical approach vs. Chiefs

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  • By Adam Maya NFL.com
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John Harbaugh knows the armchair quarterbacks have been coming for him in the aftermath of Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. The Ravens coach intimated that taking on Kansas City's high-octane offense led him to do things a bit differently than he normally would. That included going for two on three occasions and going for it on fourth down four times.

With a day to let his madness marinate, Harbaugh defended his bold strategy.

"We're standing by our decisions," he told reporters Monday. "Our decisions gave us the best chance to win the game in that particular game. These are not like league choices. These are determined by this game and for this game specifically in that venue. Weather is even factored into it. There's a lot of factors that go into it that are mathematically calculated, and that's why we did it. It wasn't a field-position game. It was a possession game. And making the most of each possession was what counted, and that's what we were attempting to do. For the most part, we did a really good job of it."

Two choices in particular seem to have everyone's attention. The first arose early in the second quarter with the Ravens facing fourth-and-2 from their own 47. Baltimore elected to go for it, with Lamar Jackson's pass to Marquise Brown falling incomplete. The Chiefs scored five plays later to go ahead by eight points. (To be fair, the Ravens converted a fourth-and-1 earlier in the drive, and two other fourth-down conversions led to touchdowns.)

The other decision that's come under derision is Baltimore electing to go for two early in the fourth quarter after a Mark Ingram touchdown made it an 11-point game. That attempt also failed, but Harbaugh explained he was ultimately looking to avoid overtime with the Chiefs.

"While you may think that getting it to 10 is the thing to do, it's the thing to do if you want to go into overtime," Harbaugh said "It's not the thing to do if you want to win the game in regulation, and that's what we were trying to do. ...

"If we hadn't made those decisions, especially the fourth-down decisions, we wouldn't have been within a score at the end of the game, period. That's borne out by looking back. If we get the two-point conversions, we win the game."

For what it's worth, Harbaugh's math is correct. The five-point difference in the 33-28 result could have been made up by the Ravens converting their three two-point attempts. (Of course, everything around those plays can't be neatly placed into a vacuum.) Harbaugh acknowledged that he has his backers among the analytics community, which often concludes going for it on fourth down and trying for two are optimal moves. But the two parties are not always on the same page.

"The analytics guys will tell you I don't follow the analytics nearly enough," Harbaugh said. "They'll tell you that I go by my gut way more than the analytics, and I do, because of the flow of the game, the feel of the game, situations you've been in, momentum, all those things are something as a coach you have a real sense for."

Harbaugh's long-term success suggests his instincts cannot be quantified.

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