You’ve heard him on the sports talk airwaves for years. When his name is introduced by a sports talk host it has a familiar ring, similar to when you hear Bob from Parkville and Ed from Arbutus. And you know that when he is given the proverbial floor you are about to hear a strong and thoughtful opinion that at times can venture outside the box.
You know him as Goomba.
For those who don’t know, the name Goomba isn’t a reference or tip of the hat to the not-so-threatening villain in the Mario video game series. Instead Goomba, means “friend” to Italians and this Goomba is an old friend from my high school days at Archbishop Curley.
Yesterday I got a call from Goomba who wanted to discuss the Kyle Juszczyk touchdown run against the Steelers on Christmas night – the one that put the Ravens up 27-24 with 78 seconds left in the game. Goomba thought that Juice should have gone down at the one making it first and goal and allow the Ravens to burn the remaining time on the clock or at least a significant portion of it.
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2016
In a nutshell, Goomba believes that given the poor play of the defense in that fourth quarter the best case scenario for the Ravens would be overtime. In other words, the way Ben Roethlisberger had carved up Dean Pees’ defense during his previous two possessions, you had to be thinking that with over a minute to go three points from Pittsburgh and a tie game at 27 apiece, was the most optimistic outcome.
Overtime at Heinz Field, at the very least, felt like a lead-pipe lock.
Therefore, Goomba reasoned, why not put the game in the hands of Joe Flacco and the offense? They were the better of the two units in the second half. Wouldn’t it be better to have the ball AND control the outcome while winding down the clock with an offense that was performing instead of a defense that was not.
In hindsight it’s easy to conclude such things.
We now have full disclosure and to go back and reconnect the dots to reach a more preferred outcome is clear, and perhaps unfair. But that’s not to say that hindsight can’t be a teacher. Goomba’s strategy is something to consider going forward. Statistical evidence suggests that it’s worthy of more discussion.
But such important decisions can’t be made on the fly. They need to be prepared for in much the same way that the Ravens analytics team concludes that it’s better to go for it on 4th-and-1 from your own 39-yard line in the second quarter than to punt.
But even if the Ravens had prepared in such a way for this unique situation, you have to wonder if they’d actually make the call to execute the play. Making that call would take some big stones and given the somewhat precarious position John Harbaugh and his staff find themselves in today, what would happen to them if the strategy failed?
For an offense that has struggled too many times in the red zone, how do you not take a touchdown when it’s there?
You sacrificed a sure touchdown to kill some clock because your defense is a sieve?
What does that say about your defense? What does it say to the defensive coaching staff and the players who comprise that unit? Might there then be some negative repercussions that ripple through the locker room and invite other problems?
A head coach like Bill Belichick might get away with it, even if it fails. He has that kind of clout.
But John Harbaugh on the warm seat?
Not so much.
Instead of spending time thinking about and preparing for these rare situations and actually giving consideration to intentionally NOT scoring, maybe the Ravens should spend more time thinking about the philosophical shortcomings of their defensive approach that time and time again produces blown fourth quarter leads.
Fix that and you can fix a lot of the Ravens problems.
Fix that and we wouldn’t be looking at Sunday as Steve Smith, Sr.’s swan song.