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John Harbaugh explains what led to lack of rushing attempts in heartbreaking AFC Championship loss

The Ravens head coach provided an in-depth answer to question that baffled their fans and all of the football world.

AFC Championship - Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens held their annual end-of-the-season press conference on Friday.

Unsurprisingly, the first questions posed pertained to the team’s astonishingly low amount of rushing attempts in their 17-10 loss to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs that cost them a chance to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years.

The Ravens only had eight designed runs with two involving quarterback Lamar Jackson that resulted in a modest and a long gain and their running backs only carried the ball a combined total of six times.

Jackson scrambled six times and finished with a team-leading 54 rushing yards which was more than half of their measly total of 81 in the game against one of the worst run defenses in the league that ranked near the bottom in both EPA and DVOA.

In his postgame press conference, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said “It was that kind of a game” and “That’s the way the game went” but on Friday, he gave a much more detailed explanation of why it played out like that and why the Ravens finished with their lowest rushing total since Week 1 of the 2022 season.

“That’s not the number you want to have,” Harbaugh said. “When it’s all said and done and you look back on it, that’s not really going to win us an AFC Championship game, for sure. It’s more than just calling plays.”

A big part of the Ravens’ and Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s plan of attack heading into the game was to call run-pass options. From there, Jackson had the authority to call “cans” and “check with me” plays, which allowed him to read what the defense showed and get into a passing or running play to counter it both pre- and post-snap.

“A lot of what we were doing was directed at the line of scrimmage by what the defense gave us. And the defense was lined up to take away the run, “Harbaugh said. “The next thing would be to bring it in tight and run the ball out of heavy formations and wide receivers blocking the edge and protecting the edge that way. We could have done it that way, but we were down. We wanted to keep the formations open and give ourselves the best chance to try to move the ball and score points.”

One of the few plays where the Ravens didn’t get into and run out of their heavy formations with a running back getting the ball, veteran Gus Edwards ripped off a 15-yard run on his first carry of the game.

“I think when you look at the way the game played out, you can understand it from a football perspective,” Harbaugh said. “Once you get through all that, you come back – you want to run the ball against the Chiefs. There’s no doubt about it, and we did want to run the ball against the Chiefs. We weren’t able to get to it.”

The Ravens have been accused of panicking and being too willing to either completely abandon or stubbornly stick with their original game plan in big games when they have to play from behind.

When asked if the two long touchdown drives that the Chiefs went on to open the game impacted their strategy moving forward the rest of the game, Harbaugh admitted that it did to a degree.

“We still wanted to stay with our gameplan. We still wanted to run the ball. Believe it or not, it was a big part of our gameplan to run the ball,” Harbaugh said. “[We] had the ball for nine minutes in the first half. So those two long drives [by the Chiefs] took us out of the opportunity to call any kind of plays. Then, we didn’t convert. We had mistakes. [The Chiefs] stopped us. They made plays. We were off the field right away after that first drive. I think all those things played into it.”

Another topic of controversy stemming from this game in relation to Jackson’s decision-making was his unwillingness to use his God-given gifts with his legs and take off when gaping or even slim rushing lanes opened up. Instead, he hitched one too many times and/or moved around behind the line of scrimmage trying to buy more time to throw the ball downfield which led to him taking unnecessary sacks and missing golden opportunities to pick up drive-extending first downs.

The biggest reason why running man coverage against the Ravens is such a dangerous proposition is because if no one is open downfield and the entire defense either has its collective backs turned toward Jackson, he can make them pay with his legs better and faster than any other quarterback in the league.

Unfortunately, he didn’t take full advantage of as many of those opportunities that the defense gave him which was the exact opposite of what the two winning quarterbacks from championship Sunday did. Even though they’re far less athletically gifted athletes and rushed for fewer yards than Jackson, the lack of hesitation and indecision from Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers helped their respective teams punch their tickets to the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh said that he and Jackson spoke on Thursday about his performance in this game and that they were in “lockstep” about what he should’ve done and needs to do in certain situations in the future should they arise again.

“Lamar is just a really good football mind,” Harbaugh said. “I was happy with that because the challenges that you’re facing schematically and personnel-wise against the different defenses that are coming up against us are the things that he’s thinking about.”

As far as where Jackson and the Ravens go from here, they were very pleased by what they did and the tremendous progress they made in the first year of their new offense under Monken. Moving forward, the soon-to-be league MVP won’t just “have the keys” and ownership of the offense in games but he’ll also be more involved in the overall setup of the offense.

“We have to build a car,” Harbaugh said. “If Lamar’s the driver, he has to be involved in the setup of the car even more.”

“Last year, that wasn’t even possible. This year, he’s going to be involved, and we’ve talked about it, he’s already involved by what we talked about yesterday in setting up that car.”

The two of them have already begun breaking down the logistics of how they can improve the offense including how they attack different defenses that they come across “from how we practice to it, to the options that we have, protecting runs, pass protection, how we protect and how we adjust the protection, how we get to certain routes against certain coverages.”

“Those are things that are on his mind, and those are things that he’s going to be involved with the staff talking about. I’m excited about that,” Harbaugh said. “He wants to do it. He’s just into it. He’s really into it.”

Harbaugh completely understands the frustration of the fans as it relates to the Ravens’ shortcomings in the postseason in the last five years since Jackson emerged as arguably the best player and biggest difference-maker in the league. He went as far as to say that he is “heartbroken” about how the AFC championship specifically unfolded but that excitement about the future prospects of the team should remain high.

“I felt the same way last year,” Harbaugh said. “I felt like if we hadn’t not finished the game last year, made the mistakes last year that cost us the game against the Bengals, I’d feel like we would have been in the Super bowl last year. I believe that with all my heart. I’ve told the guys that – they know that.

“Our fans care. They care just as much as we do, coaches and players, I have to believe that. And we all should be feeling that way, but we all should be excited about where we’re going and what’s in front of us and what we’re building here. And then we’re challenged by the things that we have to overcome. There’s always things that you lose, and you have to make up for it and improve on. We did a great job of that last year. I hope we can do even better this year.”