John Harbaugh Building Strong Case for Coach of the Year
John Harbaugh won his only Coach of the Year award in 2019 after the Ravens rolled to a 14-2 record and outscored their opponents by 249 points, the second-highest point differential in the league since 2000.
This season, the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries, but they keep finding ways to win close games and have clawed their way to a 7-3 record, which is good enough for first place in the AFC North and the No. 2 seed in the conference. Their point differential is plus-17, which is the lowest among division leaders and 15th overall.
There's still a lot of football to be played, but at this point in the season a strong case can be made for Harbaugh as Coach of the Year.
The latest dose of adversity the Ravens were dealt was finding out on Sunday that Lamar Jackson was too ill to play that day against the Chicago Bears, so backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, a 2020 undrafted free agent, would make his first NFL start.
Once again, the Ravens found a way.
"Harbaugh's ability to help the team adapt to different circumstances and his know-how to develop his players have shaped him into one of the best coaches of this era, and it would be insulting if he weren't included in the Coach of the Year discussion," Ebony Bird’s Kristen Wong wrote. "Other candidates, like Arizona Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury or Los Angeles Chargers' Brandon Staley, may also get attention based on their respective teams' more impressive performances. But Harbaugh deserves a tip of the hat as well, especially considering that his side beat Staley's Chargers in a decisive win."
WBAL's Bobby Trosset strongly endorsed Harbaugh for Coach of the Year following Sunday's 16-13 win in Chicago.
Some pundits have said that the Ravens are more lucky than good, but that's not giving enough credit to Harbaugh, who has a 136-82 (.624) regular-season record and just one losing season in 13 years.
Pundits Agree With Logic of Ravens' Fourth-And-11 Cover Zero Blitz
The Ravens and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale were heavily second-guessed for calling a Cover-0 blitz on fourth-and-11 with under two minutes to play against the Bears — which resulted in a 49-yard touchdown pass that gave Chicago a 13-9 lead.
But Harbaugh explained yesterday why he thought it was the right decision.
"Sometimes a quick death is better because you're not dead yet," Harbaugh said.
"Harbaugh is obviously going to back his coaches publicly, but what he says does make sense in some regards," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "A touchdown is not the worst resolution there. With 1:48 to go, the worst resolution would be the Bears picking up the first down because it would have pretty much put them in field-goal range and given them a new set of downs to get even closer and milk the rest of the time off the clock.
"Thus, if the Bears played it right, they could have gotten the game-winning field goal without Huntley and the offense getting the ball back or getting it back with no timeouts and time to do much of anything. In effect, calling a Cover-0 blitz there can either mean the defense wins the game or the offense at least gets the ball back with enough time and timeouts left to win the game. The latter played out Sunday."
Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones also agreed with the approach.
"Allowing the touchdown on fourth-and-11 in Cover 0 predictably drew criticism, but another suboptimal outcome is surrendering a first while going conservative and Chicago exhausting the clock to kick the game-winning field goal," Jones wrote. "Of course, you'd rather have Marcus Peters or Anthony Averett over Chris Westry in a perfect world."
Tyler Huntley Going Undrafted Was 'Blessing in Disguise'
Eight quarterbacks were selected on Day 3 of the 2020 draft, but Huntley did something on Sunday that none of them have done: lead their team to a regular-season victory.
He did so in dramatic fashion. Huntley, who did not know that he was starting until walking to the bus to head to the game, engineered a 72-yard game-winning drive after the Bears had taken the lead with 1:41 left.
Why wasn't Huntley, a three-year starter at Utah who set several school records and tested well before the draft, selected?
"I'm still asking that question every single day," Joseph Behar, Huntley's agent, told Zrebiec yesterday.
The Ravens were not the only team interested in signing Huntley after the draft, but he chose Baltimore in part because he was friends with fellow South Floridians Jackson and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and had built a good rapport with Ravens Quarterback Coach James Urban during the draft process.
"I think it was all a blessing in disguise," Behar said of Huntley not getting drafted. "He fits that system perfectly. It was a no-brainer, honestly."
Zrebiec wrote: "When the Ravens waived Huntley at the end of the 2020 training camp and opted to go with [Trace] McSorley as their third quarterback, Huntley got some practice-squad interest elsewhere. He again opted for Baltimore. It's a decision that has worked out well for both sides."
Rashod Bateman Quietly Made a Big Impact in Win Over Bears
By looking at the box score, it doesn't appear that rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman had a significant impact in Sunday's victory. The first-round pick had three catches for 29 yards. Both stats tied his lowest output in his five games.
However, as is sometimes the case, the box score doesn't tell the whole story.
"All three of his receptions — and all of his 29 yards receiving — occurred during first-half scoring drives," Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed wrote. "He picked up a pair of first downs on gains of 12 and 15 just before halftime where he showed off shiftiness after the catch."
Bateman did not have a catch in the second half and was targeted just three times, but he still played a pivotal role.
"Two of those targets drew defensive pass interference penalties on Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor, with the second coming on the second play of the game-winning drive for 21 yards," Reed wrote.
Bateman hasn't scored a touchdown yet, but he's been a chain-mover and is showing why expectations for him are so high.
"While the sample size is small, the Ravens' first-round pick is off to a hot start, despite the fact that he missed the majority of training camp, the entire preseason and Baltimore's first five contests after groin surgery due to an injury," Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz wrote. "... Bateman [will] be among the most important factors that will determine if the Ravens make it to the postseason."