As Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked Monday, analytics have been round since his dad, Jack, was teaching. Back in these days, they amounted to determining what performs weren’t viable on third down.
“There’s always been analytics in football,” the youthful Harbaugh mentioned. In 2021, nevertheless, there’s “just a much more advanced version of what’s been going on for many years in football.”
The scrutiny is larger, too. The Ravens (8-6) enter Sunday’s showdown with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) on a three-game shedding streak outlined as a lot by its slender margins of defeat (a mixed 4 factors) as by the analytical reckonings left in every sport’s wake.
In a 20-19 loss to the Steelers, the Ravens went for a go-ahead 2-point conversion with 12 seconds left, decided to not let Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger benefit from a depleted secondary. In a 24-22 loss to the Browns, the Ravens went for a 2-point conversion after they’d lower Cleveland’s fourth-quarter result in 9 factors, relatively than wait for one more landing to make up the bottom.
And in Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the NFC-leading Packers, the injury- and coronavirus-ravaged Ravens went for a last-minute 2-point conversion, hoping one final go-ahead rating is perhaps sufficient to carry off Green Bay and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. All three performs failed. All three stoked conversations throughout the game in regards to the use and abuse of analytics.
If the sector can appear inscrutable, that’s as a result of a lot of soccer is. No crew has the identical personnel, coaches or analytical fashions. But because the discourse reaches new decibel ranges amid Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley’s daring fourth-down play-calling and Harbaugh’s stretch of unsuccessful 2-point makes an attempt, it’s vital to separate reality from fiction.
Fact: The Ravens are among the many NFL’s most analytically inclined groups.
Just have a look at the outcomes of ESPN’s October survey of NFL analytics staffers: The Ravens have been thought to be having the league’s second-most analytically superior crew, the second-highest degree of “analytics work” and the second-most incorporation of analytics into their decision-making — behind solely the Browns in all three classes. (Not surprisingly, the Ravens are additionally believed to have one of the NFL’s bigger analytics staffs.)
In observe, essentially the most mainstream affect of analytics is on fourth-down play-calling. According to Football Outsiders, Harbaugh “set an all-time record for fourth-down aggressiveness” in 2019, going for it on 23% of what the analytics web site referred to as qualifying fourth downs. The Ravens led the NFL that season in fourth-down success, changing 17 of 24 alternatives general.
In 2020, Harbaugh was the fourth-most aggressive coach on fourth down, in accordance with Football Outsiders’ metrics, going for it on 15.3% of qualifying alternatives. The Ravens’ conversion fee fell to 63.2%, nonetheless good for eighth within the NFL.
This yr, the Ravens have already got as many fourth-down makes an attempt as they did final yr (21), however with improved effectivity (66.7% conversion fee, No. 2 within the NFL). Some of their fourth-down successes are season highlights: Jackson’s 2-yard run to carry off the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, a 1-yard landing move to fullback Patrick Ricard in a Week 9 comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings, a 30-yard completion from Huntley to broad receiver Rashod Bateman late within the near-rally in opposition to the Browns two weeks in the past.
Fiction: The Ravens’ decision-making course of Sunday aligned with standard analytical knowledge.
Harbaugh mentioned his determination to go for 2 Sunday was primarily based extra on feeling than on numbers — “mostly gut,” as he put it, as a result of “the numbers aren’t perfect.”
In this case, the numbers weren’t clear-cut, both. ESPN’s mannequin indicated that an extra-point try would’ve given the Ravens only a slightly better win probability. EdjSports’ mannequin additionally favored a Justin Tucker kick, however not decisively so.
The most vital variable in Harbaugh’s calculation was time. In going for a 2-point conversion with 42 seconds left, he appeared to acknowledge that the Ravens would have a greater likelihood of stopping the Packers as soon as than they might for probably a second time, in extra time.
In a Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers had wanted simply 37 seconds — and no timeouts — to steer Green Bay on a 42-yard drive capped by a last-second area purpose. On Sunday, the Packers had extra time and a timeout out there. The Ravens, in the meantime, with out 4 of their prime six cornerbacks and their two beginning safeties, have been permitting 8.6 yards per move try.
“Forty-two seconds was a little bit more time than you really want to go for two there; I would rather have it be around 20 seconds, but decided to do it there at the end,” Harbaugh mentioned Monday. “If there would have been any more time than that, we would have certainly kicked it.”
Harbaugh’s extra fascinating determination got here on the Ravens’ earlier landing. When Huntley scrambled in from 3 yards out with 4:47 remaining to chop the Packers’ result in 31-23, standard analytical knowledge steered that Harbaugh would go for 2. With a theoretically 50-50 likelihood of changing, the Ravens can be well-positioned to both take the lead after a second landing or tie the sport with one other 2-point strive in its closing moments.
Instead, Harbaugh despatched Tucker out for an extra-point try, which he transformed. Asked in regards to the determination Monday, Harbaugh referenced the Ravens’ loss in Cleveland the earlier week, after they went for 2 when trailing by 9 and failed.
“I wasn’t quite as sure it was going to be a two-touchdown situation in this game,” he mentioned. “There could have been another score involved, so I just wanted to wait and see how that played out. That’s why I didn’t go for it on the first score. I wanted to wait for the second score. Plus, you never know how much time you’re going to have left. So, if it had been any more time, we would have definitely put it into overtime or attempted to put it into overtime and tried to get the stop.”
Fact: The Ravens have struggled on 2-point conversions.
Every yr, 2-point makes an attempt quantity to almost coin-flip propositions within the NFL. That’s been the case by way of three-plus months this season: Entering Week 16, 129 have been tried, and 63 transformed (48.8%).
The Ravens’ manufacturing, nevertheless, has been subpar. After their failed conversion Sunday, they’re 2-for-8 on 2-point tries this season. Among groups with not less than 5 makes an attempt this season, their success fee ranks forward of solely the New Orleans Saints (0-for-5) and Vikings (1-for-7).
The Ravens have fared higher in earlier years. Last season, they transformed each of their 2-point conversions. In 2019, they went 0-for-3 in a September loss to the Chiefs, then 2-for-2 over the remainder of the season.
While offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been criticized for his play design on 2-point tries — Steelers star outdoors linebacker T.J. Watt was left unblocked in Week 13, and Huntley’s rollout to tight finish Mark Andrews’ facet Sunday eradicated half a area of potential targets — the extra salient critique is perhaps of his play alternative.
A 2018 examine discovered that, over the earlier seven seasons, groups handed the ball nearly 4 instances as typically as they ran it on 2-point makes an attempt, even whereas the conversion fee on runs (63.6%) far exceeded the speed on passes (44.9%). This season, regardless of J.Okay. Dobbins working in each of the crew’s 2020 conversion makes an attempt, the Ravens have handed on all however one in every of their eight 2-point tries. (Jackson was stopped quick on a designed quarterback run in a Week 5 comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts.)
Fiction: Analytics aren’t useful in the long term.
Analytics are a device, not an orthodoxy. They assist groups make extra knowledgeable in-game selections. They assist form offseason team-building methods. They can have purposes as vital as fourth-down aggressiveness and as ignored as particular groups worth. (Ravens punter Sam Koch informed Nebraska’s Lincoln Journal Star this summer time that, in accordance with analytics, punts to the 13- and 18-yard line “might be the difference” between a 13% likelihood of scoring and 28% likelihood of scoring, respectively, for the opponent.)
Every trendy sports activities crew makes use of some form of analytics, and even franchises as progressive because the Ravens can embrace old-school methods. In 2019, when the Ravens had the NFL’s best offense, they’d soccer analysis coach Daniel Stern sitting subsequent to Roman, shelling out details about in-game conditions. They additionally rolled over defenses not by throwing the ball, as analytics would have nearly all offenses do, however by main the league in speeding.
Analytics didn’t doom the Ravens on Sunday, both. Well earlier than the Ravens scored the last-minute landing that drew them inside some extent of the Packers, Harbaugh appeared conflicted. There was what the numbers informed him. There was what his intestine informed him. And there was what his gamers informed him.
According to Huntley, Harbaugh informed him that the Ravens, then trailing 31-17, would rating two touchdowns and go for a 2-point conversion on one. But in Harbaugh’s sideline conversations Sunday, footage of which the crew launched Monday, he nonetheless appeared unsure about what to do after Huntley’s would-be tying rating.
Harbaugh requested a handful of offensive gamers, together with Huntley, “What do you want to do?” He added: “We can go into overtime here or we can go for it.” There was extra to think about than simply knowledge on a spreadsheet. When one participant informed him to go for the win, Harbaugh agreed. The offense went again out onto the sector, and Tucker stayed on the sideline.
“I’ve thought about it all night,” Harbaugh mentioned Monday. “There are two decisions, and so they’re each viable. Either one can prove proper. Either one can prove incorrect. It’s principally 50-50. We talked about rather a lot, [and] we determined to go for it. It didn’t work out. I do know half the individuals are going to say we should always’ve kicked it. I get it; they’ll actually criticize me for it. I’m OK with that; I criticize myself for it. So I perceive it. That’s simply the way in which it goes. …
“I think it’s a little bit like decisions in life. Maybe it would have turned out differently, maybe it would’ve turned out the same. There’s no guarantee we would’ve gone down the field and won in overtime, either. So that’s where we’re at. We’ll do the best we can going forward with those kinds of decisions.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Bengals by 2 ½