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Trying To Grasp A Failed Fourth Down Call

Despite their 16-13 OT win over the San Diego Chargers, there were more than one occasion when the Ravens play-calling completely frustrated fans watching the game, especially one specific play that almost cost the team the game.


Before the Baltimore Ravens converted the now-famous fourth and 29 yards that will forever remembered as "Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle," the Ravens failed to convert what at that time was a crucial fourth and one attempt. The playcalling on both third as well as fourth down seems questionable to be politically correct at the very least and perhaps downright silly or even stupid, depending on how frustrated you were at the moment it failed and you wanted to throw your remote at the television screen.

The Ravens were down 13-3 and driving in Chargers territory when they came up with a third-and-one at the 14-yard line. The call was a QB sneak and the slowest QB in the game failed to convert, stopped for no gain. Down ten points with only 15 minutes left in the game, there was no choice but to go for the first down.

The Ravens had the right personnel in the game, bringing in OT Bryant McKinnie and placing him on the left side next to starting left tackle Michael Oher. Reserve tight end Billy Bajema lined up outside of McKinnie for more muscle on that side.

The Chargers appeared to sniff out the play by overloading the right side of the Ravens offensive line. Watching the replay, you see QB Joe Flacco tapping his right hip, re-setting FB Vonta Leach from the left to the right side. Despite having an extra 360-pound tackle and 260-pound TE on the left side and an over-loaded Chargers defensive front on the right side, the play went to the right and was easily stopped when RB Bernard Pierce was hit behind the line of scrimmage for a two-yard loss.

Regardless of the QB sneak, to not run behind your heavy package that was lined up against and over-matched defensive front and instead choosing to think you were sly by going the opposite way into the meat of the Chargers defense was just head-exploding inconceivable. The question of whether that was the original play by the offensive coordinator or an audible by the quarterback is a legitimate one, but somewhere, somehow and someone obvious made a glaring and obvious error in judgement at what was at that time the most critical play of the game.

We will never know the anatomy of that play and where the responsibility truly lies, but ultimately, the QB has the final word in either running the play as called or changing it based on what he sees from the defense, or perhaps in this case, what he didn't see. If Flacco did see the defense and still insisted on running that play, there should be a concern in that on-field assessment.

If he didn't see the Chargers over-load the Ravens right side of the offensive line, then he should have, which is an equally big concern. Either way, while the personnel decisions were just fine, the play called and execution were not and while the outcome ended up being inconsequential, going forward these types of mistakes, be it made on the field or sidelines, need to be limited if not prevented in the future by better decision-making.