NFL teams build their identities over periods of years. Sometimes it takes a while for changes they make in their approach to be recognized as part of that identity.
So for those watching the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Baltimore Ravens 33-28 on Sunday, the Ravens’ aggressiveness on offense might have seemed out of character.
In four different situations, the Ravens opted to go for it on fourth down. Two of those were in the second quarter when the Ravens were on their own side of the field and trailing 7-6 — not the kind of situation where NFL coaches would typically take that risk.
The Ravens also attempted three two-point conversions — all of which were blunted by the Chiefs defense.
CBS commentators speculated that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made those decisions not only because he was facing the Chiefs’ high-powered offense, but also because forecasters were expecting rain to return to Arrowhead Stadium at the beginning of the second half. When the rain did return after halftime — and the Ravens’ first drive consisted almost entirely of running plays — the commentators sounded smart.
Against another opponent, they might have been exactly right. But after the game, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that the Ravens’ aggressiveness was exactly what the Chiefs expected.
“I know you study this,” Reid said, “but they are third in the NFL on going for it on fourth downs. This isn’t something that caught us by surprise. And they have the fire power to do it. You have to be on your toes right there.”
Harbaugh wasn’t about to apologize for his decisions on fourth down.
“I can just tell you analytically — like when you look at the numbers — it is not even close,” he told the media. “So you understand that in terms of percentages in terms of winning the game. I am just telling you that is what the analytics are.
“We believe in our offense and we are going to try to make as many first downs as we can,” he continued. “I think it led to a touchdown the very first time, did it not? We will keep doing that probably if it suits us. Whatever makes the most sense. We are not going into it blind. We got the numbers. We know what we are doing and that was the plan.”
The Baltimore media wanted to ask about about the points left on the field with the failed two-point conversions. But Harbaugh wasn’t having any of it.
“The point was to score as many points as we could,” he said. “Let me just tell you: I do not remember the situation, which one was what. Every one of those [were] clear analytic decisions to go for two. We had a mindset that we would come in and score as many points as we could. That is what we tried to do.
“I know we all felt the same way. I know Lamar [Jackson] felt the same way,” he added. “We all did. We are going to keep playing that way for the record. When you write your articles, just understand that. We will disagree with your criticism. You know we are going after it. That is the way we are going to play all year.”
Ravens running back Mark Ingram approved.
“I love it,” he told reporters. “Come here into a hostile environment… one of the better teams in the league, everyone says, and we went toe-to-toe with them. We played aggressive. We have to make sure we execute so that we have our coaches’ back for believing in us. I love the aggressive mindset.”
While this way of playing is common for the Ravens, it might be reasonable to expect that teams may begin to play a little out of character when playing the Chiefs. The Ravens no doubt had some things sway their way, but their approach got them within one score of winning at Arrowhead Stadium.