Late for Work 9/26: John Harbaugh and Ravens Are ‘Doing Everything Right’

092619_LFW

John Harbaugh and Ravens Are ‘Doing Everything Right’

John Harbaugh’s decision to repeatedly go for it on fourth down and attempt two-point conversions against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday drew some criticism from fans, but his strategy was praised by analytics experts and Ravens players.

Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino took it a step further in his assessment of the Ravens head coach’s aggressive mindset, as well as the organization’s overall decision-making: He contends they are “doing everything right.”

“Ravens fans should be pleased with the way head coach John Harbaugh has been running things through three games,” Cosentino wrote.

One of the main things the Ravens have done right this season is build the offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson’s unique skillset.

“The Ravens spent the offseason signaling that they’d look to turn the clock back toward a run-centric offense, with Jackson and his running ability as its fulcrum,” Cosentino wrote. “But that’s not exactly what new coordinator Greg Roman’s offense has been doing. The Ravens are all-in on Jackson’s ability as a dual threat – and they’re mixing it up.”

Cosentino dove into the stats to illustrate his point.

“According to analyst Warren Sharp’s data, the Ravens ran the ball a ton on first and second down (41 rushes, 19 passes) in their Week 1 blowout of the overmatched Dolphins. But in their last two games, their pass-run ratio on early downs has been 64:54,” Cosentino wrote.

“Jackson … is taking plenty of shots downfield, with 21 attempts of 20 yards or more (which ranks second in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus), and eight completions (which ranks tied for fifth). Jackson’s intended air yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats, is 10.7, fifth-most in the league. The Ravens have also combined this sort of big-play threat with a solid dose of play-action: Per PFF, Jackson has play-faked on 33.6 percent of his dropbacks, which ranks seventh among qualified passers.”

As for Harbaugh’s aggressive approach against the Chiefs, Cosentino wrote that his “forward-thinking risk assessment of fourth downs and two-point conversions … is what a lot of smart analysis has been telling teams to do for years.”

“Football is undergoing an analytics arms race. Smart teams already understand this, and are behaving accordingly,” Cosentino wrote. “The Ravens certainly appear to be one of those smart teams.”

Cosentino also noted how savvy it was for Harbaugh to call for Justin Tucker to attempt a drop kick on the kickoff after the Ravens had pulled to 33-28 with 2:01 remaining in Sunday’s game. The maneuver resulted in a fair catch that prevented any time from running off the clock.

“The Ravens had just one timeout remaining, so the maneuver basically bought them an extra timeout with the two-minute warning,” Cosentino wrote. “That it didn’t ultimately work because the Chiefs picked up a first down and salted the game away isn’t the point. Harbaugh again worked to maximize his team’s opportunities in a game in which it would need all of them.”

Freddie Kitchens: AFC North ‘Goes Through Baltimore’

The prevailing narrative during the offseason was that the Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers were likely to win the AFC North crown in 2019, but Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens said yesterday the division runs through Baltimore, where the Ravens (2-1) will host the Browns (1-2) Sunday in both teams’ division opener.

“Everything we do in the division goes through Baltimore. They’re the defending champs of the division,” Kitchens said yesterday. “We are looking forward to the challenge. It is going to be a physical game. They always try to create that and we want to form our identity to do the same thing.”

Kitchens went on to say that the Ravens are always a formidable opponent.

“[Harbaugh is] tremendous from the standpoint of, they’re prepared,” Kitchens said. “They create a mindset there that they’re the toughest team on the field, and that’s what they try to demonstrate every year.”

Historically, the Browns haven’t had a lot of success against the Ravens, who lead the overall series, 30-10. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 19-3 against the Browns, including a 10-1 mark at home.

Of course, these are not the same old Browns. The last time the two teams met, the Ravens held off a late rally to win 26-24 in Week 17 last year and clinch the division title. Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s impressive rookie season and the Browns’ acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and others this offseason resulted in Cleveland being the media’s preseason favorite to win the AFC North.

“That's just what it is – it's hype,” Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “You can't really buy into it. You don't really know what a team is until you see them on Sunday. When somebody gets hit in the mouth, what's the plan then?”

Ravens running back Mark Ingram II said: “That’s just kind of the narrative the media created. You have to play football at the end of the day. You can have as many players as you want to on paper, but if the guys don’t mesh and they don’t communicate well, they don’t play well together, it really doesn’t mean anything. We’re going to have to see them twice. That’s why you line up and kick it off. That’s why you line up and play football, to settle the score.”

Shannon Sharpe Picks Lamar Jackson As Top Young Franchise QB

In yesterday’s Late for Work, we noted that several analysts chose Jackson when NFL.com asked them who among 10 first- and second-year quarterbacks they would want to build a franchise around.

Reacting to the NFL.com article, “Undisputed” co-host and former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe strongly endorsed Jackson.

“When you look at Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, they won a Heisman Trophy, but they had outstanding players. The best offensive line in college, Hollywood Brown, CeeDee Lamb, they had outstanding running backs,” Sharpe said. “Lamar Jackson didn’t have that [at Louisville], and he was outstanding. So I believe if you’re starting from scratch … I’m going to take Lamar Jackson because I believe he can do more with less than these other guys can.”

Sharpe marveled at how much Jackson has improved as a passer this season.

“The ball jumps out of his hand,” Sharpe said. “He looks like a quarterback now. Last year he looked like a running back playing the quarterback position.”

One aspect of Jackson’s game Sharpe didn’t mention that has significantly improved is ball security. After fumbling a league-high 12 times last year and throwing three interceptions in seven regular-season starts, Jackson has not committed a single turnover yet this season.

As noted by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Jackson’s 221 consecutive regular-season pass attempts without an interception is the longest current streak in the league and the best in Ravens history. He has the lowest interception rate in NFL history (1.1 percent) among quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts.

“Jackson threw three interceptions in his first two NFL starts but hasn't thrown a regular-season pick since,” Hensley wrote. “By Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, he will have gone eight regular-season games, 511 playing minutes and 308 days without an interception. Over that stretch, 53 quarterbacks have thrown at least one interception, including an NFL-worst 12 by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.”

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