We’ve all seen it before. A team is driving for the go ahead score late in the game with the clock winding down. The outcome seems predestined as a feeling of helplessness envelopes the team on defense. Instead of accepting the inevitable demise and to temporarily stop the death by slow hemorrhaging, the defending team allows the opposing offense to score – intentionally. The points allowed seem worth a new possession.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Patriots may have been the first to employ such tactics.
To combat the strategy, we’ve seen running backs stop and flop down just before reaching the end zone. As a countermove, we’ve witnessed some teams on defense dragging opposing ball carriers into the end zone to force the score, all part of an effort to get the ball back.
This past Sunday in Chicago the Bears faced a 4th-and-11 at the Ravens 49 yard line with 1:48 left in the game. The Ravens still had two timeouts. To win the game the Ravens dialed up a Cover 0. They wanted to get after Bears QB Andy Dalton and force him to make a mistake. It was a risk on the Ravens part. Chris Westry struggled in coverage most of the afternoon and despite his day of inadequacies, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale STILL opted to expose Westry – to put him on an island, a dangerous one at that if the Ravens blitz didn’t get home.
Win the play. Win the game.
Unfortunately the blitz failed. Dalton stood tall in the pocket and delivered a scoring strike to a WIDE OPEN Marquise Goodwin.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) November 21, 2021
Following the ensuing kickoff, the Ravens, trailing 13-9, had 1:33 to navigate 72 yards to score the go ahead touchdown, something they failed to accomplish in the previous 57:27.
Of course we know now that the Ravens went on to score the go ahead touchdown and win the game 16-13. During his presser yesterday, John Harbaugh hinted that the Ravens were all-in on the 4th-and-11 call. But just like all of those other teams that allowed opponents to score in order to get the ball back, John suggested that may have been an ulterior motive when calling the Cover 0.
“If you go back to the end of the Browns game last year, when they went down the field and scored so quickly, it was better that they scored so quick than scoring slow. Sometimes, a quick death is better, because you’re not dead yet. We weren’t dead yet after that play, which was the good news.”
If in fact that was the strategy of the coaching staff, the gamble worked. Maybe it wasn’t even a gamble at all. Maybe the team’s analytics team reach the conclusion during prior game simulations that such a strategy provides a greater win probability. That said, if this was the strategy, it could have backfired had Goodwin dropped the pass or if Dalton misfired.
Odafe Oweh was flagged for roughing the passer on the play. The Bears would have retained possession at the Ravens 34 yard line where they could have milked the clock to set up a game-winning score.
In the end, there was no quick death.
Instead, the Ravens added another victory to a crazy season and flew home with a (7-3) record.