Ravens' Aggressiveness On Fourth Down Paying Off


The Ravens were at their own 25-yard line, leading by four points with just more than 14 minutes remaining on Monday Night Football in Cleveland.

Surprisingly, Baltimore kept the offense on the field. Head Coach John Harbaugh has been aggressive going for it on fourth down all season, but this was taking it a step further.

ESPN commentator Mike Tirico apparently didn't think the Ravens would actually go through with it. When center John Urschel snapped the ball, Tirico called out, "Oh, they will!"

Quarterback Matt Schaub plunged forward behind Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Urschel and right tackle Rick Wagner tried to pinch off the sides and running back Javorius Allen gave Schaub the final push he needed.

The Ravens got it, and Harbaugh gave a nod of approval on the sideline.

"We're fourth and about a foot. Urschel is a very physical player, Marshal Yanda, [Ryan] Jensen is a very physical player," Harbaugh said after the game.

"Plus, I had Marc Trestman telling me, 'It's six inches. Go for it! It's six inches. Let's do it!' Once your offensive coordinator believes in it, you really have no choice. I'll give him credit; he's the one that really wanted to do it."

As modest as Harbaugh is, he's the one that gives the final thumbs up or down in such situations. If the Ravens fail, he's the one that takes the media and fan criticism.

But Harbaugh's aggressiveness has paid off in a big way this season.

The Ravens have gone for it on fourth down a league-high 17 times. They've converted an NFL-high 11 times. That's the fifth-best conversion percentage in the league (64.7 percent).

Specifically in fourth-and-1 situations, the Ravens are 6-for-7 this season (85.7). Only one other team has gone for it that many times in that situation (the Buccaneers), and they've only been successful four times of the seven.

Baltimore converted twice on fourth down in Cleveland. On the other, the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-2 from Cleveland's 34-yard line with seven minutes left, trailing by three points in the third quarter.

That time, Schaub hit fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a 15-yard gain, setting up a go-ahead touchdown pass to wide receiver Kamar Aiken two plays later.

The Ravens' two fourth-down conversions led to 10 critical points in an eventual 33-27 victory.

Baltimore has done multiple offseason studies on the success rate of going for it on fourth down, and when it makes sense – statistically – and when it doesn't. Most of the time, the stats say to take the gamble.

Harbaugh is very much the intellectual, and he likes the math behind football. But it also takes hardened nerves to make the call in the heat of a game.

"What a gutty call," ESPN color commentator and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden said. "John Harbaugh, you think he wants to win this game, Mike? Division rivalry, fourth quarter, who wants it the most?"

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