What we learned from Sunday’s Week 3 NFL games - Kevin Patra
Lamar Jackson couldn’t find the range deep throughout Sunday’s loss. The second-year quarterback missed a bevy of shots early and overthrew Marquise Brown multiple times as the Ravens got down big early. Credit Jackson and running back Mark Ingram (103 rushing yards, 3 TDs) with helping the Ravens (2-1) battle back to make it a game late, but the miscues in the passing game hurt Baltimore early. Jackson’s 51.2 completion percentage on 43 attempts was his lowest in a regular-season game in his young career -- only game lower was last season’s playoff loss (48.3). Outside one beautiful deep shot to Brown late in the game, Jackson’s wayward long balls zapped some of the dynamic play-making we’d seen from Baltimore’s offense through two games. The Chiefs’ D also did a great job bottling up Jackson’s run (8/46, long of 9 yards).
Off the bat, Ravens coach John Harbaugh signaled that he knew he’d need to keep up with Mahomes. Harbaugh repeatedly went for fourth downs in the first half (converting two of three) and attempted three two-point tries, all of which failed. Some might question Harbaugh’s aggression, especially going for two, but the coach stuck to his game plan coming in against the most explosive offense in the league.
Lamar Jackson came back down to earth this week after two great starts. He struggled with accuracy and forced multiple dangerous throws. He did have a couple of nice throws, but overall it was not the best day for the young signal-caller.
Matthew Judon got up close and personal with Mahomes on more than one occasion during Sunday’s game, forcing the Chiefs quarterback to avoid pressure or get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted. What the Ravens lacked in pass coverage, they certainly made up for with pressure, and Judon was a big reason for that.
The speed on Kansas City’s offense was clearly an issue for the Ravens’ defense. Players like Hardman and LeSean McCoy were able to burn defenders in the open field on short completions that racked up a lot of yards after the catch. Baltimore also struggled with more than a few missed tackles.
The Breakdown: Five Thoughts on Ravens vs. Chiefs - John Eisenberg
The Ravens had little margin for error, as is true for any opponent of the Chiefs, especially in Kansas City. To pull off the upset, the Ravens needed a few things to go their way. Instead, a lot of little things didn’t. Cornerback Anthony Averett slid over a fumble instead of falling on the loose ball, allowing the Chiefs to extend a drive. A 52-yard run by Gus Edwards was nullified by a questionable holding call on Willie Snead IV. A Brandon Carr interception was nullified by a pass interference call on Tony Jefferson that the Ravens heatedly argued. Peanut Onwuasor put his fingertips on what would have been a leaping interception, only to see the pass become a big play for the Chiefs. A pass interference call on Miles Boykin nullified a big gain when, in fact, he was blocking on what looked like a lateral play, not a pass.
Things did even out late, as the Ravens benefited from a couple of Hail Mary completions by Jackson, which fueled their comeback. But they could have used more of those variable elements going their way. (And yes, I’d certainly call the officiating a variable element.)
This new approach was especially apparent in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens went for two again. After another Mark Ingram touchdown, the Ravens trailed 30-19 with 12:22 left on the clock. The straightforward decision would have been to kick the extra point, leading to a 10-point deficit for the Ravens: just a touchdown and a field goal away from tying it up.
Instead, the Ravens went for two, and again they failed: Jackson could not find an open receiver and his pass attempt fell incomplete. The logic behind this decision is more complicated, but it’s very similar to why teams should go for two when they’re down eight. 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. 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.
In 2017, FiveThirtyEight looked at the circumstances under which it makes sense to go for two and found that doing so when down by 11 carries a slight advantage in win probability. All of this is to say: The Ravens’ decision to go for it was analytically sound.
Analytics are about processes, not results. 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.