The Baltimore Ravens had a horrible loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. An epic collapse, with horrible officiating and a collection of self-destructing plays from Baltimore.
But perhaps the most talked-about play will be John Harbaugh’s decision to go for the touchdown on fourth and goal from the two-yard line.
While the play failed, the decision to go for it was the right move. And before you jocks stuff John Harbaugh in a locker and steal his lunch money for following the numbers, let me give you a non-numbers explanation of why going for it was the right logical decision.
Let’s start off with the basic fact that the Ravens were not stopping the Bills. Going back to the first half, the Bills had scored points on three of four drives and they did so without much impediment.
Why the Ravens were right to go for it on fourth down
Considering the fact that the Bills’ offense was moving with ease, it makes sense to want to take away the possibility of the Bills going ahead in regulation. Now, of course, there is an area where it is too far to go for it, but the two-yard line is not that point.
Before diving into the yardage numbers, it is important to point out that the ball was intercepted and played a major difference in the outcome of the play, but that should not factor into the play-calling decision.
Interceptions play no bigger role in what you decide to do there than any other play, and in fact, are even rarer in those short-yardage situations.
The vast majority of the time when a fourth down is stopped it will be at the spot that the ball was snapped, and the fact that the ball was at the two-yard line played a major role in Harbaugh’s decision, because that is where everyone would assume the Bills would take over, and anyone saying otherwise is simply lying.
If the Bills were to take over from the two, they would like need to get to around 65-70 yards to feel comfortable with a field goal considering Tyler Bass’ career long is 58 yards, and rain and wind were swirling all over the place.
Anything less than that, the game would be tied and the Ravens could even potentially get the ball back in regulation with a chance to win the game with their superior kicker.
What’s more, in a tie game the Bills would have three down to pick up a first down unless it was extremely short yardage whereas when losing they would have to go for it no matter the distance, meaning the drive would have a greater chance of succeeding.
If the Ravens were to score a touchdown, the Bills would only be able to tie the game unless they scored and attempted a two-point conversion, a play which has a slightly less than 50% success rate, meaning the Ravens would still be in the positive odds wise.
Now, if the Ravens were to kick, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Bills took over at the 25-yard line, even though a kick-off return could go a few yards shorter or longer, an occurrence far more common and one far more likely to factor into field position than a fourth down interception, but let’s say the 25 for simplicity.
The Bills would need 75 yards to go ahead, only a few yards more than the necessary yardage in the previous situation, and only about 40-45 yards to tie the game.
But of course, the most important part is the Bills would be guaranteed a chance to go ahead.
Now while everyone knows scoring a touchdown is the optimal outcome, let’s compare the two scenarios of kicking vs a failed fourth down.
What the Bills need in scenario one:
- To take lead: 65-70 yards
- Game stays tied: anything less than 65-70 yards, time runs out
- If the Bills get fewer than maybe 50 yards, they have to punt the ball back with time
- Offense has three plays per series to get a first down
What the Bills need in scenario two
- To take lead: 75 yards
- To tie the game: 40-45 yard
- To lose: anything less than 40-45 yards
- Offense has four plays per series to get a first down
Essentially, arguing that scenario two is the better outcome is arguing that a difference of maybe ten yards of field position is bigger than a difference of four points and being able to lose the game in regulation, a silly notion on its face.
The goal is to win the game, not to have the lead. And considering the way the Bills were moving the ball, the Ravens were not going to be likely going to hold the lead for a long time.
But by going for a touchdown, the Ravens gave themselves the ability to avoid losing the game in regulation, with little difference to Buffalo’s ultimate ability to win the game.
There is a myriad of areas of the blame for this loss, from horrible play calling to excessive process penalties, to the continued lapses on defense. John Harbaugh’s decision to put his team in the best position to win the game is not one of them.