The Ravens’ decision to go for two presented various factors

Green Bay Packers v Baltimore Ravens
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For the second time in three Sundays, the Baltimore Ravens scored a late touchdown that brought them within one point of the opposition. Coach John Harbaugh decided to go not for a one-point tie but a two-point lead. The decision sparked a social-media firestorm that requires much more than 280 characters for full and proper analysis.

Thus, with no limits in this space (other than our ability to hold your attention), here’s a look at the various factors that were (or should have been) relevant to Harbaugh’s decision — and that will be relevant to future situations that unfold in the same or similar fashion.

1. The time remaining in the fourth quarter.

When the Ravens went for two against the Steelers in Week 13, 12 seconds remained on the clock. If Baltimore had converted, the Steelers most likely would have had no chance to win the game with a late field goal or touchdown. On Sunday, Baltimore’s two-point try happened with 42 seconds left. That’s a big difference, half of a minute. Also, Green Bay had one timeout left. Thus, while it truly was a win-or-lose proposition in Pittsburgh, Sunday’s game was going to continue for a little while, and possibly just long enough.

2. The opponent.

In Week Three, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got the ball back with 37 seconds left and zero timeouts, down one point to the 49ers. Rodgers led Green Bay to the win, with a six-play, 42-yard drive that put the Packers in position for a walk-off 51-yard field goal. Rodgers quite possibly would have done the same thing again against the Ravens.

3. The opponent’s incentive to score.

Green Bay’s urgency would have been very different if the game were tied than if the Ravens were ahead. In a tie game, the Packers would have been much more careful about turning the ball over. If they’d landed on a fourth down in their own end of the field, they  would have punted. If behind, the Packers would have thrown caution to the wind.

Throughout that final drive, the Packers could have decided at any point to just take a knee and go to overtime. If losing, they’d have to keep pressing.

4. The menu of available two-point plays.

One important factor that often gets lost when rattling off percentages regarding kicking the extra point and going for two is the fact that, while the kick generally operates like most mechanical propositions based on objectivity (e.g., flipping a coin, rolling dice), the two-point conversion becomes more complicated than calling “heads” or “tails.” In the week before the game, the offense develops its potential two-point plays for use in the game. How well the head coach feels about the options becomes a factor in deciding whether to go for it.

That’s what made Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s public lamentations from two weeks ago regarding his team’s play calling when trying (and failing) on multiple occasions to convert two-point conversions against the Lions so surprising. The head coach knows (or should know) what the choices for the current game are. The head coach knows (or should know) whether there is or isn’t confidence that those plays will work against this defense. The head coach knows (or should know) which specific play will be used when each decision to go for two is made.

5. The ability of the players to execute the play as called.

This is part of the fourth factor, but it merits its own explanation. How confident is the coaching staff in the men who will be asked to get the ball across the goal line? Many who support Baltimore’s decision to go for two didn’t like the play that was called, given that quarterback Tyler Huntley sprinted to the right and threw the ball toward tight end Mark Andrews, who was covered by a pair of Packers. Andrews was covered in part because, as Harbaugh explained it after the game, safety Darnell Savage swooped in from the left in order to make it harder for passer and receiver to connect.

But what if the play was designed to potentially lure the safety toward Andrews, clearing out the middle of the field — where receiver Marquise Brown was wide-ass open? What if Huntley was supposed to read Savage, throwing to Andrews if Savage stays put and looking for Brown if Savage took the bait? That’s not something Harbaugh would be expected to disclose publicly; Huntley played admirably in place of Lamar Jackson, and nothing would be gained by calling Huntley out. Still, it’s possible that the play call seemed so bad because Huntley made a bad read as to the safety.

6. The opposing defense.

After the Ravens went for two and lost to the Steelers, coach Mike Tomlin said that Baltimore is predictable in its willingness to go for two. That predictability places greater importance on every team preparing to face the Ravens to work, work, and work on their two-point defensive plays and concepts. It’s therefore better to be unpredictable, in all things regarding football. If you make your habits too obvious, your adversaries will spend the hours and minutes they have preparing to counter the things they know that you will do. If they don’t know what you will do, they’ll have a harder time allocating their available resources.

Maybe there are other factors (feel free to suggest some in the comments). But these seem to be the biggest ones. The point is that, when it comes to choosing to go for two, it’s not nearly as simple as convening a game of rock, paper, scissors, shaking a Magic 8 ball, or crunching numbers.

30 responses to “The Ravens’ decision to go for two presented various factors

  1. The Ravens decision NOT to kick the FG and TAKE the points on the opening drive hurt them just like it did the Chargers…

  2. I wouldn’t have gone for it, but I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision. Going for it presents you with a higher ceiling, you have a chance for your defense to win the game if you convert but if you fail it’s game over. If you kick the PAT the best case is you go to OT, however as long as you can kick the PAT you at least give your defense a chance to get to OT so the floor on the decision is higher.

  3. Harbaugh feels the need to go for it because of the defense that has been gashed to bare bones..
    Argue this, had they not gone for it 4th and goal, wouldn’t have had short field after the Packers punt from their own end zone.. So it didn’t cost them game in end..
    Steelers as poor as their offence is, scored 17 points in last quarter against this Ravens team, how can you trust them to stop the current best qb Rodgers.
    The problem was Greg Roman play call on 2 pt conversion, everyone knew going to Andrews. Harbaugh right to go for it. Even Rodgers post game understood decision, “they couldn’t stop us” he said..

  4. Harbaugh apparently uses the stats, but it is becoming clear that he doesn’t understand them.

    Yes…generally speaking, going for 2 points is the better move. But those stats are AN AVERAGE OF ALL TEAMS. Some teams are better at making the 2…some worse. The stats for an individual team are what matters…..and Baltimore record of making 2 point conversions is 23%….not good odds.

    And let’s not forget that the Ravens have the best kicker in the NFL. IF they go to overtime, they have a great shot at winning with Tucker.

  5. As a Packers fan, I was very pleased Baltimore went for two. The Pack was playing the end of the game as if Mike McCarthy was back in charge, not playing to win just hoping not to lose. I had very little confidence the offense could turn it around and start playing to win again and the defense was being gashed by a running QB. Nobody on the defensive side of the ball thought, hmmm, maybe we should stay in our lanes and contain the running QB.

  6. Don’t forget that the Ravens are down to using practice squad players, one of which was a Defensive Back who had never taken a snap in an NFL game! Aaron Rodgers vs. rookie DB? Let the armchair coaches make the call! I guess you could tie the game, play a few more minutes, get even MORE players hurt, and THEN lose!

  7. Tie game or down one Rodgers is going to try to score. He doesn’t throw picks normally so the thought he would be more careful is far fetched. There is always second guessing but you have a chance to win the game and you are the team who is banged up playing their back up I go for it too. Your chances in OT aren’t very good and leading with 42 seconds is a good place to be.

  8. Weather, home/away, momentum of the game, injuries, division standings, all are factors to add

  9. It is better to make the opponent have to prepare for 2pcs. That takes time away from base defense or exotic 3rd down blitzes. A 2pc is <50% to be needed in any individual game.

  10. Taking all of the subjectivity out of your options Mike it boils down to this: Harbaugh could not win the game if he converted the two point try he could ONLY lose if he didn’t. If he. kicks the extra point and ties the game maybe Aaron Rodgers marches down the field with 42 seconds and a timeout and beat you anyway but because you didn’t convert Rogers didn’t even have to TRY.

  11. you ignore the FACT that MASON CROSBY has been horribly INCONSISTENT all season (20 of 29)

    Admit it, RAVENS do not TRUST the Defense!!!! that I the message to the club.

    wasted season on 2 PLAYS!!

  12. Nothing wrong with the play. Huntley just made the wrong read and threw to the wrong player. Inexperienced QBs will do that. Hell, even Mahomes, Rodgers and Brady do it.

  13. When are people going to realize that these decisions are decisions because the margins between the outcomes are so tight that there is no obvious decision. Yet people talk like only one choice is the right choice when either choice is a good choice if executed.

  14. Two great red zone stops by Green Bay, one at the start and one at the end. They were a turnstile in-between. The pass was bad and three feet behind the guy, too.

  15. GB hadn’t stopped Andrews all game, so it wasn’t a bad choice. Savage just closed like a greyhound and got fingertips on the pass. I was surprised though that they didn’t do a straight dropback and give the QB a choice to scramble. The Packers hadn’t had any luck at all corralling him.

  16. 2 of 3 weeks, going for the W. Even with the D playing as badly as it is, you gotta tie it up and hope someone makes a play on D. You have an all-world kicker and a capable offense.

    Huntley is playing better than LJax, btw Ravens fans. If Lamar misses a few more games and you might make it into the playoffs.

  17. Not a bad decision to go for it but definitely a bad play call. Calling a rollout to the right eliminates over half the field, so even with brown being wide open Huntley would have had to thrown across the field which is the riskiest of passes. The play didn’t leave alot of options for Huntley, essentially it was run it in or throw to Andrews.

  18. Ravens had momentum and it’s not as if the Packers were just burning clock. Minus the last possession to seal the victory the run/pass ratio still favored the pass and the Ravens were living in the backfield. Should’ve kicked the extra point.

  19. Of course Andrews was double covered on that play. Everyone knew it was going to him. When they tried it against the Steelers it was the SAME PLAY!!!

  20. Hero or zero move. I’d have kicked the extra point, hoped the defense stopped them and went to overtime.

  21. That defense just may the what costs the Pack their superbowl appearance this year unless they can stay tight the WHOLE 60 minutes…..

  22. It takes balls to make that decision. It’s better to try to win the game then instead of giving the ball back to arguably the best qb in the league.

  23. Everyone forgets the opening drive when Harbaugh went for it on 4th down, inside the 5…rather than taking the 3…the ended up chasing those points the entire game…

  24. I thought the decision was fine. Yes, Rodgers has pulled off incredible odds in the past to score with very little time remaining. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or even all that likely. Moreover, the Packers’ kicker (Mason Crosby) has been shaky all year and the special teams unit overall is dismal. I wouldn’t feel too bad being up 1 and forcing Crosby to try a 50-plus yard FG to win it, if it even got to that point.

  25. If Ravens had kicked the EP, they would be required to deny Rogers on at least two, possibly 3 more drives – the 42 seconds in 4Q, and at least one OT drive. And assuming you make it to OT, you have to avoid giving Rodgers the chance to win with a TD against a defense that had already over-performed its expected rate, with off the street DBs, and the only way to do that is win the coin toss and score a TD first. The combined odds on those two events occurring is much less than 50% or scoring the 2PT. To the argument that Ravens had been able to stop GB, GB had likely been stopped the prior couple of drives partly because it had relied more on runs to use up clock, whereas in OT it would have been more aggressive to win.

    Huntley had been playing well but the same people criticizing coaching have to admit it’s at least as risky to then expect the same coaches to call multiple successful plays in OT, or for a virtual rookie QB to execute numerous plays, to score a TD in OT than to make one 3 yard play for the 2PT.

    In their first game the Ravens took a lead on Raiders with 37 seconds to play and no Raider time outs. Raiders advanced to score a FG (to tie and get to OT) on two plays.

    No perfect way to approach it but I would have tried to reduce risk of giving Rodgers a chance to win by having to stop him only once.

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