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Was it right for the Chiefs to run on last offensive play against Ravens?

On Monday’s Out of Structure podcast, we debated whether that situation called for a handoff.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday’s mailbag edition of Arrowhead Pride’s Out of Structure podcast, we answered all of your Twitter questions about the Kansas City Chiefs’ 36-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football.

Multiple questions were centered around the last play the Chiefs’ offense ran. Trailing 36-35 on the Ravens’ 32-yard line with just under 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs elected to run the ball on second-and-3. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was immediately met by multiple Ravens defenders — including one who punched out the ball, forcing a turnover.

Before this play, the Chiefs had run three plays on the drive; all were completed passes for chunk gains. Was this the right decision?

Matt Stagner and I evaluated why each answer could be correct.

Answer: No

First of all, the coaching staff should not want to settle for a field goal in this situation — and a handoff may have indicated that this was their intent.

On the previous four running plays the Chiefs had called, the ball carriers lost two yards in total: a gain of one yard, a loss of five yards, a four-yard gain and then a loss of two. Down the stretch, the run blocking had simply not been good enough.

On top of that, the Chiefs’ running game was getting predictable. All four of those rushes had been on first down. The fumble occurred on a second down — but after coming out with Mahomes under center (with three yards to convert), the team clearly communicated a running play was coming.

Ultimately, the coaching staff ran the ball rather than keeping it in the hands of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who can be trusted enough to make a quick pass — or even scramble and slide if there’s nothing there. He’s the best quarterback in football — and when the game is on the line, the ball should always be in his hands.

Even if the staff was insistent on playing it safe, calling an RPO — a run-pass option play — would have allowed Mahomes to decide whether the defense was more vulnerable to a run or a pass.

Answer: Yes

The act of running the ball here doesn’t automatically indicate the team was settling for a field goal.

With under 90 seconds left in the game, the Chiefs down one point — and being in a position to score on any given pass play — chewing a little clock with a simple run was the right call. You have two plays to gain three yards for a conversion. Ensuring that the clock still runs also forces Baltimore to either take their last timeout or drains another 25 seconds off the game clock.

If Mahomes drops back to pass and the Ravens can cover well — or pressure him to force an incompletion — the clock stops with roughly 80 seconds and Baltimore can save their timeout.

Even if the run were to absolutely nowhere — like it would have if Edwards-Helaire had hung on to the ball — the Chiefs would still have had a manageable third down to convert. Part of the justification for answering “no” to this question is that the ball is taken out of Mahomes’ hands — but on the ensuing third down, the ball would still be in Mahomes’ hands.

If Mahomes happens to be forced into an incompletion on that play, there’s more than 30 seconds less on the clock when the Chiefs attempt a field goal — and Baltimore likely has no timeouts remaining.

The bottom line

No matter if it was the right decision or not, Edwards-Helaire cannot allow the ball to be punched out that easily. He did not have two hands on the ball; head coach Andy Reid mentioned after the game that he thought “he didn’t quite have it all tucked in there.”

So regardless of how you answer this question, you should be able to acknowledge that a fumble in that situation is just inexcusable.

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