Late for Work 9/23: Pundits Praise John Harbaugh’s Analytic Approach

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Breaking Down Ravens’ First Loss of the Season

In the NFL’s most highly anticipated Week 3 matchup, the Ravens came up short on the road against the Chiefs, 33-28. The loss drops Baltimore to 2-1 on the season, but they remain atop the AFC North division after all four teams suffered losses on Sunday.

Here are pundits’ takeaways from the game.

Defense Struggles to Contain Mahomes, Chiefs’ Offense

If you give Patrick Mahomes enough time in the pocket, he’ll beat you, and the Ravens struggled to contain the reigning MVP. Even without All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill, Mahomes did his damage through the air, throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns.

After coverage lapses against the Cardinals in Week 2, the Ravens’ defense suffered similar problems against one of the NFL’s top offenses.

Mahomes connected with Demarcus Robinson for an 18-yard touchdown to extend the Chiefs’ lead 14-6 in the second quarter and provided his biggest play of the game on the ensuing drive with an 83-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman.

“Baltimore had too many lapses in coverage, and none was more memorable than the breakdown that allowed Hardman to run free downfield,” ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. “The Ravens talked about correcting the miscommunication problems from last Sunday against Arizona. Baltimore needs to try harder next Sunday against Baker Mayfield and the Browns.”

Despite not recording a turnover, the Ravens were a few unlucky breaks from a completely different story. Anthony Averett whiffed on a fumble recovery in the first quarter, Patrick Onwuasor came inches away from an interception and Brandon Carr’s interception was negated by a pass interference penalty.

The Chiefs also had success on the ground and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams both hit big plays with rushes of 41 and 25 yards.

Despite their struggles, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec said the defense is still far from a finished product this early in the season.

“The 2018 Ravens gave up 36 points and 386 yards to the Carolina Panthers in Week 8 last year,” Zrebiec wrote. “Their defense certainly turned things around from that point. There’s plenty of time for this year’s defense to do the same.”

The pass rush got to Mahomes early and totaled eight quarterback hits, but registered just one sack on the day.

“Baltimore struggled to get pressure on Mahomes throughout the rest of the game, particularly in the second quarter,” Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote. “Mahomes routinely had between 4-6 seconds to operate in the pocket, which is too much time for most quarterbacks, let alone the MVP.”

“When the pass rush is there, the Ravens can hang with the Chiefs,” The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer added. “When it goes missing, you have days like Sunday.”

Yet, pundits came away impressed with Matthew Judon’s performance. He got the defense’s only sack and accounted for half of the quarterback hits, continuing a strong start to the season.

“Judon is so consistently active to this point of the season — rushing the passer, setting the edge, even dropping back,” Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote. “Penalties aside, he is an ascending player and apparently popular in the locker room. I’d love for the Ravens to extend [him].”

Pundits Praise Harbaugh’s Analytic Approach

Down 30-19 early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens elected to go for a two-point conversion instead of kick the extra point.

The attempt failed, and Harbaugh’s decision drew criticism from some pundits and fans.

“If you're trying to figure out why the Ravens went for a two-point conversion … you're not alone,” The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck wrote. “The network announcers questioned it on both sides of the ensuing commercial break and agreed that ‘the math doesn't work.’”

As it turns out, the math did work. The Ringer’s Riley McAtee pointed to a study from FiveThirtyEight, which found that going for two down 11 “carries a slight advantage in win probability.”

“The idea is that if the Ravens had successfully completed the conversion, a touchdown and field goal would now win the game, rather than tie,” McAtee wrote. “Meanwhile, a miss isn’t the end of the world: The Ravens could still go for two again on their next touchdown to try to get that game-tying field goal back in play.”

McAtee praised Harbaugh’s analytically-driven approach and believes the Ravens are one of the smartest franchises in the NFL for doing so.

“Analytics are about processes, not results,” McAtee added. “In this case, the Ravens did not get the result they wanted, but Harbaugh’s aggressive approach gave his squad the best chance to upset one of the best teams in the NFL. Despite the loss, Baltimore is 2-1 and has established itself as an AFC contender. After Sunday, we may need to think of them as the NFL’s smartest team, too.”

McAtee wasn’t alone. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit believes Harbaugh won’t be the last coach to use an aggressive approach against the Chiefs.

“Ultimately, Harbaugh’s aggression didn’t succeed … but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong approach,” Benoit wrote. “Harbaugh won’t be the last coach to roll the dice with an aggressive, uncharacteristic game plan against K.C.”

Run Game Should Be Focal Point of the Offense

While quarterback Lamar Jackson struggled to find a rhythm in the passing game, the Ravens had success running the ball. Mark Ingram had himself a day, leading all rushers with 103 yards and three touchdowns.

Baltimore averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and SB Nation’s Adam Stites believes the run game should be the focal point for the offense moving forward.

“Jackson is a much better passer than he was in 2018, but Baltimore is at its best when his throwing is complemented by a well-established running game,” Stites wrote. “The Ravens thrived when they ran the ball 46 times for 265 yards against the Dolphins, and weren’t quite as dominant when they dialed it back to 33 rushes for 182 yards against the Cardinals.”

The Ravens reestablished the run coming out of the half and had success. They ran the ball on the first seven plays of the third quarter, and the trio of Ingram, Jackson and Gus Edwards couldn’t be contained by Kansas City’s run defense.

“Sunday demonstrated that for as explosive as the passing attack can be when Jackson is connecting with Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown on big plays, much of the team’s offensive success may be determined by Ingram’s legs,” Platko wrote.

Chiefs’ Players Praise Jackson’s Athleticism

Despite his struggles, Jackson remains a human highlight reel, and he made multiple Chiefs’ defenders miss big on Sunday. Yahoo! Sports’ Terez Paylor highlighted the praise Kansas City defenders gave the second-year quarterback after the game.

On a short-yardage scramble, Jackson put Alex Okafor on the ground with a juke.

“There was one earlier in the game where he put me in the blender,” Okafor told Paylor. “And listen, I learned my lesson.”

Jackson’s signature run came late in the fourth quarter. He outran Emmanuel Ogbah, sidestepped one defender and spun around another to score on a nine-yard touchdown run.

“Y’all talking about Lamar,” Chris Jones said. “Aw, man. He sauced me up a couple times.”

“Sauce ain’t the word,” Okafor replied. “Blender.”

How did Justin Tucker Pull That Off?

The Ravens brought out all the cards on Sunday, and Justin Tucker may have invented a new kickoff.

Following a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Tucker attempted a dropkick that forced Hardman to call a fair catch.

The Ravens didn’t recover the kick, but that was never the intention, according to McAtee.

Tucker’s kick was perfectly executed.

“In a league where onside kicks have become increasingly impossible to pull off, the Ravens opted instead for a high, floating ball that would force the Chiefs to call for a fair catch,” McAtee wrote. “That kept the game clock at 2:01, meaning the Kansas City offense had to run a play before the two-minute warning, giving Baltimore a slightly better chance of forcing a three-and-out before time expired.”

The Ravens weren’t able to get the ball back, but it was a candid move by a veteran special teams unit.

“The Chiefs held on to the ball for the rest of the game,” Deadspin’s Lauren Theisen wrote. “But at least the Ravens can go home safe in the knowledge that they can properly exploit kickoffs to their advantage whenever they need to.”

Quick Hits

  • Torrey Smith was honored as the Orioles’ “Birdland Hero” in their final home game of the 2019 season.

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