Harbaugh defends decision to attempt onside kick

Written by on October 25, 2011 in Ravens, Sports - No comments

OWINGS MILLS — Coach John Harbaugh firmly stood by his decision to kick an onside kick with over two minutes remaining to play in a 12-7 loss to Jacksonville on Monday night.

The Ravens had two timeouts and employ a strong kicker in Billy Cundiff. Instead of attempting an onside kick, Baltimore could have decided to have Cundiff kick the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. Then with just over two minutes, and down 9-7, the Ravens would have two timeouts and the two-minute warning to stop the clock in an attempt to force the Jaguars into a three-and-out and get the ball back.

But ultimately, Harbaugh figured his team had a better chance to win with an onside kick. And the kick was almost perfectly executed. Coming down off a bounce, the ball landed somwhere between one and three inches from the 45 yard line, just short of the required 10 yards it needed to travel. Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura recovered the kick as the ball took a Baltimore bounce backwards.

Referees conferred and ruled the ball didn’t travel 10 yards.

“Now that I’ve had some time to think about it I’m even more sure it was the right thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think you can go both ways on it.”

Harbaugh said his team has a probability study that shows there’s a 21 percent onside kick recovery rate. He also made the case that if Cundiff mishits the kickoff and it doesn’t go out of the end zone, the Jaguars would have run the ball out to waste the two minute warning Baltimore needed with only two timeouts.

If Baltimore went without the two minute warning, the Ravens would have lost about 45 seconds. Assuming it forces Jacksonville into a three-and-out, the Ravens potentially could have had roughly a minute to work with for a drive toward a game-winning field goal. By not recovering the onside kick, the Jaguars were able to kick a 51-yard field goal of their own to force Baltimore to score a touchdown to beat them.

But like many 50/50 or gut decisions in football, there’s a double edged sword. If the Ravens recover an onside kick that traveled 10 yards, Harbaugh is probably lauded as a genius for taking the risk that payed off. Harbaugh expressed confidence his team would come up with the play, and after viewing the film, he still liked what he saw in terms of schematics.

“You can take that 21 percent (onside kick probability rate) and make it 50 percent plus in my mind because I liked our scheme on that play,” Harbaugh said. “If you look at the play we had them outnumbered at the point of attack. If that ball goes 10 yards, and that’s not asking too much, then we’re going to recover the ball.”

By Jason Butt
sports@baltimoreguide.com

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