Confessions of a Sports Nut
For as long as I’ve been following Ravens football as part of my job, I’ve openly championed coaches as my favorite people in sports. In fact, in my first blog for Russell Street Report RIGHT HERE I put it all out in the open so there was no confusion on the subject.
But that doesn’t mean I just stamp “APPROVED” on everything coaches do.
Coaches, I know, are generally their own harshest critic. In my own small world as the head coach of Calvert Hall’s golf team, I generally feel like I played the wrong players or put them in the wrong spot in the lineup anytime we come up on the short end of a MIAA match.
Coaches don’t blame the players – they blame themselves.
That dovetails nicely into today’s edition of “Confessions”, because a Ravens coach will get the brunt of my harsh critique in the aftermath of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. If Gary Kubiak doesn’t want to blame himself for that disaster in the 2nd quarter on Sunday, I’ll do it for him, here.
You know what happened, but let’s relive it for a minute.
The Baltimore defense had held firm through the opening quarter, stopping the Colts on a 4th and 1 on the doorstep of the red zone and then forcing a 3-and-out before Jacoby Jones allowed a ball to deflect off of him on an Indy punt and the Colts eventually jumped out to a 3-0 lead.
As the second quarter started, the Ravens mounted an outstanding drive that started on their own four yard line, eventually moving deep into Indianapolis territory and looking like they were about to post a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead.
Faced with a 3rd and 1 from the Indy three, Kubiak called for an off-tackle run play that saw Lorenzo Taliaferro stopped for no gain to bring up 4th down.
What happened next drives me completely freakin’ crazy and this, by no means, is isolated to Gary Kubiak in the long history of Ravens offensive coordinators or others around the NFL, because lots of guys insist on trying to outsmart the other team.
On 4th and 1 from the three-yard line, Kubiak tried to get fancy and throw the ball, which resulted in a Colts blitz, a sack, and the ball getting back into the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indy offense.
OK — let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. Should the Ravens have kicked the ball there and taken the guaranteed three points? Sure, they could have, but early in the 2nd quarter, on the road, I had no problem with eschewing the kick for a try at the first down or a touchdown on 4th down. The Ravens defense looked strong and they were on the verge of completing a powerful 96-yard drive on offense.
“Go for it here,” I said as 4th down came around.
Now, back to that pass play on 4th down that exploded on Kubiak.
What is it with these coordinators who want to throw the ball on short-yardage-situations? That was a favorite tactic of Cam Cameron, too, who routinely tried to outsmart everyone in the stadium by doing dumb stuff like calling for a quick out to Anquan Boldin or Derrick Mason when all they needed was a yard or two for a first down.
If you want to armchair-coordinate, and let’s face it, we all do, why not have the throw come on 3rd down? Maybe a little play action or perhaps that misdirection screen to Daniels or Juszczyk that the Ravens have successfully used a handful of times thus far in 2014? With Juszczyk in there, you could throw or run with him — he’s certainly big enough to get you a yard, isn’t he?
If the 3rd down throw doesn’t net you a TD, you still have 4th down to either kick and grab three points or go for it, knowing you only need a yard to give yourself four more cracks at the end zone.
Throwing the ball on 4th and 1 there was just dumb.
Third and 3 or fourth and 3 in the NFL has become a throwing play 95% of the time. I’ve accepted that for what it is, even if I still think running the ball in situations like that is a useful option. But 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 should be a run 95% of the time…at least.
I look at gaining one yard in the NFL the same way I do at laying down a bunt in Major League Baseball. In Sunday’s Game 3 finale of the Orioles/Tigers series, Detroit tried to move the tying run over from 2nd to 3rd base with no one out and some goof couldn’t lay down a simple bunt when called upon. I’d pull my hair out if I was managing that kid.
And the same goes for needing one yard in the NFL. You have eleven football players on offense (and, yes, I know, the defense has eleven too) and YOUR team controls everything about the play — what you’re calling, the snap count, etc. There’s simply no excuse at all for not being able to plow forward 36 inches for a first down.
I understand the concepts of “the other team tries too” — and yes, sometimes you DO run the ball on 4th and 1 and you’re stopped, but on Sunday, the Ravens didn’t have even give themselves that option because Kubiak called for a pass play.
Was it the difference in the game? Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s no way we’ll ever know what direction the game would have gone if Baltimore would have gone up 7-3 there, but I know this: Not getting a first down and/or touchdown on that series was a momentum clogger for sure.
It’s the type of outside-the-box thinking that’s just not necessary.
Yes, if you set-up for the run, the other team sniffs that out and positions themselves accordingly, but that’s OK by me. Alter the snap count on 4th down if you want to be “different”, but by all means, on 4th and 1, please just run the ball at the defense. It can’t be as hard as these coordinators make it out to be particularly when your running game is as decent as the Ravens has been this season.
Oh, and while I’m spanking Kubiak, here’s one last crack to his red behind. Do you really think you’re going to beat anyone running the ball fifteen times in sixty minutes?
Office memo to Coach Kubiak: DO NOT GIVE UP ON THE RUN SO EASILY, PLEASE.
There, I’m done now, or at least until this Sunday in Tampa Bay when the Ravens are trailing the Bucs 20-16 with four minutes left in the game and Kubiak tries a throw on 4th and 1 from the Tampa Bay 39 yard line.
If that happens, Tony, Derek and the gang at RSR can simply cut and paste this for next Tuesday’s edition of “Confessions”.