Harbaugh’s “Gaffes” – Bad Coaching, or Bad Breaks?

Harbaugh sidelines

It has been a season to forget so far for Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, with a collection of coaching miscues that have directly affected the outcome of at least three games.

While Harbaugh didn’t drink a mojito while the Buffalo Bills were rushing the passer at will like his offensive line did, or personally throw five interceptions in that game, his decisions helped cost the team in the Denver, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh games, all losses.

Some of the mistakes have been gut-decision calls – which sometimes work, but sometimes don’t.  When the gut-calls work, the coach gets called “brilliant” or “gutsy” by fans and media members alike, but when they fail – as they mostly have this season – a procession of both groups starts calling for his head.  But not all the mistakes have been gut-checks.

In the Denver blowout loss, a key first-quarter non-challenge of what was clearly not a catch by Wes Welker on third-down led to a Denver touchdown that changed the game after a resulting touchdown gave them a 21-17 from which the Ravens never recovered.

Harbaugh’s nap on this play – which any fan watching at home saw and would have thrown a red flag – could have been caused by his booth coaches not seeing the play, but that’s no excuse.  The head coach is the captain of the ship and you just can’t miss plays like that against Peyton Manning.

The Ravens were ultimately blown out of the water, but had that series ended up in a punt, they might have been able to put together a drive and keep the momentum they seemed to have.

In the Green Bay game, Harbaugh, in a 4th and goal situation, decided to go for it at a critical juncture in the first half.  He wanted to put points on the board and put pressure on Aaron Rodgers and his defense had been playing well.

But with an offensive line that has been lousy (at best) on running plays, the choice to run the ball there is confusing.  A chip-shot field goal would have put points on the board and kept the energy with Baltimore and the score tight.

Instead, Baltimore got no points and would have trailed by three at the half, but for another bone-headed call, trying for points with 12 seconds left in the first half.

With the offense slumping and Green Bay leading, Harbaugh tried to get Flacco to rally the troops from Baltimore’s 34.  Despite bringing just a three-man rush, the Packers got to Flacco, and Joe (like’s he done in similar situations against the Steelers in years past) fumbled deep in his own zone. Baltimore was lucky Green Bay had only a short field goal to kick rather than a walk-in touchdown thanks to being knocked out of bounds on the fumble recovery.

Harbaugh said later he liked the odds of trapping the Packers on the one yard line if the Ravens didn’t score, but against a good red-zone defense and in a close game, the call didn’t make much sense.

On the Flacco call, Harbaugh did have some time-outs left, but ultimately this was just another bad decision with not much time on the clock and bad field position.

Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens chose to try an on-side kick despite the fact that Pittsburgh’s special teams coach had not given up a surprise onside kick in 20 years.  Harbaugh claimed that he “saw something on tape” that led to the decision, but radio analyst Vinny Cerrato (former Redskins general manager) said he also looked at tape and found nothing that would suggest a surprise kick would work.

Then Justin Tucker lost his footing on a kickoff, resulting in a floater into the Steelers end zone after the Ravens had tied the game late.  The Steelers nearly scored a touchdown but for a miscue of their own, but still got the ball back on the 35 yard line with a little under two minutes to play and promptly put together a game-winning drive with the strong field position.

In some ways, the Steelers’ scoring a TD would have been better for Baltimore because then at least the clock could not have run out against them and they would have timeouts left.  As sad as it is, at least Baltimore would have a chance to play to tie rather than have time run out in a loss when the defense, for the second game in a row, couldn’t get a key stop.

Ultimately Harbaugh is responsible for his decisions, but not for luck.  But this year, as the Ravens look very unlikely to go 7-2 and make the playoffs, Harbaugh’s blunders will resonate loudly when the team watches the Cincinnati Bengals on TV in the postseason while they sit at home.  It isn’t luck that’s cost Baltimore games, just untimely bad play and bad coaching.

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About Tom Moore

Tom Moore
TOM MOORE is from Baltimore and writes on sports for Press Box, and he previously served as a columnist for The Baltimore Examiner on many topics related to Baltimore and Maryland. Described by many as a ‘Renaissance man,’ Mr. Moore has hosted the weekly radio program The Tom Moore Show...more

16 Raves on “Harbaugh’s “Gaffes” – Bad Coaching, or Bad Breaks?

    • RJ on said:

      And it is the coaches job, specifically the HC, to demand that the players execute said assignments – Lombardi NEVER would’ve tolerated this sort of ineptitude from either his players or his coaches

      • ECD on said:

        Lombardi wouldn’t have fired anyone on the spot either. He’d have had a talk with them. Let’s not forget most of these people won a SB last season. Moore really doesn’t know what he is talking about and mostly just tries to stir things up…1) We on TV didn’t see the replay of the drop in Denver until about 2 seconds before Manning snapped for the next play; 2) the Green Bay call did make sense…if you can’t get the ball in the endzone from there, you don’t deserve to win and 3) the on-side kick was a good idea; it just wasn’t executed well and that is the problem with the Ravens this year…poor execution. So far, they haven’t played any better or worse than they did through the first 7 games last year, but they haven’t gotten the bounces/breaks/luck that they did last year.

  1. Scott on said:

    Please don’t cite Vinny Cerrato as a knowledgeable football resource in the future. His football acumen (or lack thereof) was clearly displayed over 10+ horrible years in the Redskins front office. Don’t embarrass yourself as no knowledgeable, self-respecting Raven fan would pay any attention to that buffoon.

    • Anonymous on said:

      Cerrato , are you kidding us ( jim from dundalk and spy ) this guy is a redskin lover and a joke all rolled up in one , can anyone tell us what credibility he really has………………..the fired ex-cop , Long , has about the same level of creds……………

    • spy on said:

      Agree , Vinny Cerrato is a joke as well as his partner , the fired ex cop Rob Long,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,these two are certainly not industry experts , except in the bull department…………………

  2. Joshua on said:

    Oh, and thanks for canceling the season already, Tom, even though there are NINE games left. I would love to hear your “insight” as to what we should watch out for with the O’s this offseason since the Ravens season is over. Geesh.

  3. John on said:

    This is now a Harbaugh team, his finger prints are all over the construction of this team, even with the bad friends/coaches he hires, it`s on him, and so far it looks CRAPPY.

  4. Phil on said:

    Harbaugh has not cost us games with aggressive calls, and I honestly hate that fans put the blame on him. Yeah, let’s not put blame on the defense for allowing Eddie Lacy to run all over them. That makes a lot of sense to blame Harbaugh for the defense not being able to stop the Packers and get the ball back. Yeah, let’s blame Harbaugh for the four straight runs within the five yard line failing. Harbaugh only chose to go for it, he didn’t choose to run the ball when the running game had netted zero yards. That would be on Caldwell. Even so, that game cannot be chalked up to the end of the second half and that fourth down. For the Ravens to win, they would have had to gone for the field goal and made it instead of punting in the first, kneeled the ball to end the first half, and kicked a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down. If any three of those fail, the Ravens lose. The Packers had the ball in easy position to make a field goal at the end of the game, and even to score. Plus, had all those three things gone right, we don’t know that the Ravens would have gone for it on 4th and 21. There are too many “What Ifs”. There was no indication that the Ravens could stop the Packers. So, if the Ravens failed to do any three of those aforementioned things, then the Ravens lose. That’s not on Harbaugh. Some of that is on execution, like on four straight runs within the fourth, if you can’t punch it in, you don’t deserve to win. That’s on the players for not executing. While I do not agree at all with going for it within the 35 yard line, Monroe whiffed on the blocks. That’s a player not executing his block.

    The Pittsburgh game is not on Harbaugh either. Can you really blame Harbaugh for the onside kick? What if it had worked? You all would be praising him. I hate how fans say we lost the game because they got three points from that. Fact is, the Ravens had forced ONE punt, and that was on the first drive of the game. Besides, there’s a 60%+ chance of that working with a surprise onside kick, had the Ravens not been offsides. I don’t like the placement because it went right at the Steelers, but that’s execution, not the players. There was no reason to believe that the Ravens would stop the Steelers, and they had just had an 8 minute drive before that. There was good reason to believe that the Steelers might score a field goal quickly, the Ravens could score, and maybe force a punt or overtime. Overtime would have likely happened if the special teams hadn’t broken down on a squib kick from the 40. Seriously, how does that happen? Sanders should have been dropped within the 10. That’s execution, not the coaches. I really can’t believe you want to blame Harbaugh for the players allowing that return. I mean, was he on the field? Damn.

    It’s not Harbaugh’s fault that the Ravens lost. What if the players executed all those gutsy calls perfectly? The Ravens would win. You’d be singing praises for those gutsy calls. Stop being hypocritical and be grateful for the success that we had. I think we as fans are just too spoiled so when things get a little rough, you’re ready to jump ship. Sickening.

  5. JerryB on said:

    Harbaugh obviously has coaching strengths as his record attests, but game management is clearly not one of them! Of course, the same was said of Weeb Ewbank many years ago and he’s in the Hall of Fame!

  6. Frank Kalita on said:

    Harbaugh was strongly supported by Ray Lewis as player rally coach; since Ray Retired Harbaugh is a paper tiger; he looks loss on the sidelines and seems hesitant in acting with the proper personal; letting go Bob Rainey a quality running back who could have taken pressure off of Rice was a major blunder. Moreover, the players are mostly lackluster with no Ray to lite fire they seems loss. Further, the coach does not seem to have the pulse of the team he seems out of step. In every game this year the coach has hurt us by serious missteps; why go for a onside kick with 13 minutes left; you must way the consequences by giving Pittsburgh the ball you gave them at least 3 points/ why????? this is just one example in every game he has made serous coaching blunders…………Frank Kalita, 35 year Baltimore Sports Fan.

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