The first rule of NFL Football is, take points whenever they are given to you. The second rule of NFL football is, take points whenever they are given to you! Three points that the Ravens decided to risk, cost them a winnable game, as they fall to the Bengals 27-24.
Brian Billick on numerous occasions talked about how winning NFL games on the road is the hardest thing to accomplish in this league. I believe it. There is a little extra on your mind when you have to pack a bag, leave your family, you lose a day of practice because of travel. I know I don’t sleep well in a hotel bed rather than when I’m not in my bed at home. The visiting team locker rooms are often not nearly as cushy as the home teams. Then you take the field and deal with the ruthless fans berating you about anything and everything, even your personal life. Crowd noise in game, the scoreboard operator doesn’t show the visiting team potentially challengeable plays. I totally get it. Going on the road and winning is tough. Now you throw in the added difficulty of playing the division favorites who needed a win in a bad way.
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These hard fought divisional games against familiar foes often come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. The Ravens and Bengals both committed two turnovers, both in the second half. Both teams managed to come away with 10 points on those two mistakes.
The Ravens committed one more penalty than the Bengals did on the day, and boy was it a big one.
Steve Smith was called for offensive pass interference on a bomb Joe Flacco completed in the closing seconds that Smith took to the end zone. There has definitely been more contact that what we saw go uncalled, but you can see why the flag came out. All of the contact was initiated by Smith and the DB George Iloka fell to the turf. Ultimately, if you don’t want the ref to decide the game, prepare better, play better, and win by two scores plus.
Getting back to the original point, or in this case, three points, we’ve see it time and time again, leaving easy points off the board. Trailing 7-0, and on the Ravens first possession of the game, they marched 89 yards in 17 plays. Faced with a 4th and goal at the one yard line on the 18th play of the drive, John Harbaugh elects to go for the TD. This is not smart for a number of reasons.
First, they just stopped you cold on three straight runs. So they know you are likely to pass. When they know it, it’s hard to beat it. Second, your best red zone target in Owen Daniels is not playing. Third, this is not the time or place to be ballsy. You don’t NEED seven points right now, so take the easy three. How easy? Well, Justin Tucker is 88 for 88 on extra points, about the distance here, and 23 for 23 on field goals inside 30 yards; this one about 19. Yes, it’s automatic from there. 100% of the time you get the three points.
But if you’re John Harbaugh, you probably know the numbers, right? You probably know you’re player’s strengths and weaknesses. You know that Joe Flacco isn’t a good red zone QB, right? I guess he glossed over that one. You’re not running it. You opt to throw it. Except that Joe Flacco’s completion percentage inside the opponent’s 10 yard line is a dismal 45.86%. On 4th and short, Flacco is only slightly better at 51.37%. Granted, it was a catchable ball by Kamar Aiken, but that’s just another reason not to run that play. It was designed to go to Kamar Aiken. No offense to Mr. Aiken, but he is not Steve Smith, or Torrey Smith, or the solid red zone target last year in Marlon Brown, or the absent veteran Owen Daniels. They drew it up to go to Kamar Aiken. That’s on the coaches for calling it as much as it’s on him for dropping it.
Should you ever go for it on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line? Sure, in the fourth quarter if you’re down by more than three points. Or if you are Peyton Manning with a nice looking 67.32% CMP% on 4th and short, and 55.69% from inside the 10, or Tom Brady who is 65.57% and 57.21% respectively. Aaron Rodgers is 62.03% and 61.07% respectively.
John Harbaugh calls it aggressive, I call it desperate. When you play desperate football when you’re not in a desperate situation, it’s out right dumb. It’s like that one trick play in your playbook that you wait for the absolute perfect time to run, when you absolutely need a big play, but then you pull it out and reveal it to everyone in a game you’re already winning.
Two touchdown leads are tough to overcome, especially on the road. When you leave three points out there already down just seven, you run the risk of going down 14-0 rather then 14-3. An 11 point differential is still a FG and a TD if you need to go for two. That’s another one of Harbaugh’s tendencies that bothers me, is going for two when it’s not necessary. I know coaches have that card that says if the score is this do that, that tells them go for two or not. But like pushing it on fourth and short, you don’t go for two until you absolutely need it.
Just because the Ravens converted the two, doesn’t make it the right call. Say they missed it, like the 4th and short earlier. Now you trail by five, 17-12. Bengals kicker, Mike Nugent, makes a FG and makes it 20-12. Now what do you need? You need a TD and a TWO POINT conversion just to tie anyway. Kick the extra point, and the Nugent FG means you trail by seven. You can still tie with a conventional score.
Moral of the story is, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you think trailing by seven in the first quarter, or four in the third quarter against the NFL’s 30th ranked defense is desperate…I don’t know what to tell you.
That said, John Harbaugh does a lot a good things and his record reflects that. He is a master motivator, he’s well rounded in all facets as a special teams guy, he’s great with developing young talent since he worked with those fringe guys on special teams early in his career. He’s a great coach seven days a week and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Except for three hours on Sundays he seems to need an aid to call his timeouts, throw his challenge flags, and do first grade math on the fly for him.
End of the day, the three points they opted to risk, cost them in the end. It was a winnable game where the both teams made mistakes.
(As I type this, Chuck Pagano and the Colts despite trailing 35-17 on the road, despite having Andrew Luck at their disposal, opted for a FG from near the goal line to cut the lead to 15, rather than try to score a TD going into the half. Why? It’s because the first half is not desperation time. Harbaugh goes for broke down seven. Pagano understands how important even three little points are and will take them wherever he can get them.)
Now that my lecture on taking as many easy points as you can get is done, let’s finish on a high note. How about the rookie class today!With Bernard Pierce inactive, rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was able to find the endzone twice. He also scored on the two point conversion, and did convert a 4th and short on the opening drive to keep the first drive alive. He also caught two balls for 42 yards.
Michael Campanaro continues to impress. Before he left with a hamstring issue, Campanaro hauled in all three of his targets for 40 yards, including a beautiful diving catch over the middle to convert a third and long. He is running really nice routes which help him get open. Keeping an eye on that hamstring, hopefully it doesn’t hamper him long as he could be a real asset with Jacoby Jones continuing to lose snaps.
On defense, C.J. Mosley continues to rack up the tackles as he had 13 total and eight solo tackles.
It looked like injuries were going to be the major story of the day as Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda all missed time today as they were examined for injuries, but all three returned and the O-line finished the game intact. In addition to the aforementioned Jimmy Smith and Michael Campanaro, Torrey Smith was also taken out for concussion protocol tests. He was later cleared to return.
We’ll keep an eye on these guys status’ heading into next week’s matchup in prime time against the hated Steelers. If the Steelers improve to 5-3, first place in the division could once again be on the line. It seems rather unlikely with the Bengals facing the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. Good chance first place belongs to Cincy for at least another week.