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Fourth Downs Make the Difference in Houston

RB Mark Ingram II runs in for a touchdown against the Houston Texans on September 20, 2020
RB Mark Ingram II runs in for a touchdown against the Houston Texans on September 20, 2020

Aggressiveness on fourth down is great – when it works out. In Sunday's Week 2 tilt in Houston, the game took two drastic swings on a pair of fourth downs.

The Ravens defense got a key early stop on fourth-and-1 deep in Texans territory and Baltimore's offense and running back Mark Ingram II plunged the dagger with a 30-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1.

Considering the Ravens turned the early turnover into a touchdown, those two plays were a 14-point swing in a 33-16 win.

Ingram's fourth quarter touchdown run was the play of the game. The Ravens went heavy jumbo, putting eight blockers on the offensive line with five to the left of the center. Ingram was in the shotgun, flanked by fullback Patrick Ricard, and quarterback Lamar Jackson motioned outside as a wide receiver.

Ingram took the direct snap and ran it off the left side. Tight end Nick Boyle and reserve offensive lineman Patrick Mekari walled off one side of the gap and Ricard opened the other, and there was nobody home after that.

Jackson, who didn't have a big statistical day with 204 yards passing, was the first person to greet Ingram in the end zone, sprinting with his hands raised in excitement.

"The key for me was to catch the snap and go through my reads," Ingram said. "The O-line did a tremendous job. I was able to press, set up their blocks and they created a big seam for me to run through. All credit goes to the nine guys blocking for me."

The Ravens' rushing attack hadn't done much on the day before Ingram's run. They had 44 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half, with Ingram notching just 13 yards on four runs.

But when Baltimore needed it most, it pounded the ball down the Texans' throat. Harbaugh said the Ravens practiced that direct snap play for weeks.

"It was a critical play," Harbaugh said. "We had been preparing for that kind of situation. I give [Offensive Coordinator] Greg [Roman] and the offensive coaches and the players who executed it all the credit. They're the ones who made it happen. That was big. That was a big turning point in the game."

The Ravens' early fourth down defensive stop set the table for Baltimore to build a lead that it never relinquished. It was the Texans' third offensive drive of the game after a pair of punts and Baltimore had just a 3-0 lead.

The Texans were on their own 34-yard line when Houston play-caller and head coach Bill O'Brien decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. The Ravens and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale seemed to sniff out the play.

Safety DeShon Elliott came off the edge with a blitz to get in Watson's face, leaving him with little to no room to throw, and he tossed it at the feet of tight end Darren Fells.

"I'm just doing my job," Elliott said. "It's fourth down and we know it's going to be QB driven. It's Deshaun Watson; he's one of the best QBs in the league."

After the turnover on downs, it took the Ravens just four plays to reach the end zone and take a 10-point lead on a 1-yard touchdown throw to Ricard.

"That was a huge boost. I didn't really expect that to happen, but it made sense. We did the same thing late in the game," defensive lineman Calais Campbell said of the Texans going for it.

"Their mentality is, 'Hey, let's go out and attack, be aggressive and find a way to win a ballgame.' As a defense, we love that challenge. When somebody goes for it on fourth down, they're pretty much telling you, 'We think we're better than you in this situation.'"

The Ravens also went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 36-yard line with a 17-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Jackson moved the chains with a 2-yard quarterback sneak and Baltimore continued to drain the clock with a 13-play, 71-yard drive.

As the Ravens' game ended, an overtime thriller in Los Angeles between the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs was playing out. The Chargers got the ball first in overtime, but opted not to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line. They instead punted to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, who marched back down the field far enough for a game-winning 58-yard field goal.

The Ravens face the Chiefs on Monday Night Football next week, and fans can count on Baltimore continuing to be aggressive, just as it was last season. A pair of fourth-down stops in the playoff loss to Tennessee last season played a huge part in that loss, but the Ravens clearly aren't taking their foot off the gas.

"I love seeing that we go for it on fourth-and-1," Campbell said. "Fourth-and-1 is such an underrated down and distance. When you get a stop, it really changed the momentum. When you get a first down, it really changes the momentum."

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