John Harbaugh Weighs Analytics Into Ravens Decisions


Analytics are becoming a more significant part of the Baltimore Ravens decision-making process. That was clear when the Ravens came up short against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. There were many factors in the 33 – 28 loss including a couple of intriguing decisions made by head coach John Harbaugh.

Harbaugh decided to go for the two-point conversion after their opening touchdown but was unsuccessful. He decided to go for two later in the game but the Ravens couldn’t convert.

Lamar Jackson led Baltimore in a touchdown drive to pull within five points with just over two minutes left in the game. Harbaugh went for two to try and make it a three-point game. Their attempt was unsuccessful but the Ravens head coach felt it was the right thing to do.

“We are standing by our decisions. Our decisions gave us the best chance to win the game in that particular game,” Harbaugh said the day after the game. “These are not like league average choices. These are determined by this game, and in that game specifically. There’s a lot of factors that go into it— weather is even factored into. A lot of factors go into it that are mathematically calculated.”

“Mathematically calculated” isn’t something that an old school, football purist like Harbaugh typically says. However, it’s a sign of change within the Ravens decision- making process.

The team made some additions to their analytics department back in June. Harbaugh acknowledged how much work goes into the research and development side of analytics while admitting that it weighs in on his decisions on game day.

“There’s a lot of time that goes into it. It’s part of what we do. It’s not all of what we do but I have a good understanding of the numbers and how it works,” Harbaugh explained. “I have people in my ear that help with that too. Not just with that, but with challenges and things. We’re very organized in what we do. We have a method in the process and it’s very detailed and well thought out.”

Analytics have their place in the formula for making the right call in the right situation. Knowing the probabilities of outcomes and putting the team in the best situation can be extremely helpful. Even though Harbaugh has embraced, there is still value in going with his gut feeling. That’s something that can’t be measured by analytics and he still has more trust in his own instincts.

“The analytics guys will tell you that I don’t follow the analytics nearly enough. They’ll say I go by my gut way more than I go by the analytics, and I do. The flow of the game, the feel of the game, the situations I’ve been in— momentum, all of those things are something as a coach you have a real sense for. I’ll go against the analytics a lot more than I’ll go with it,” Harbaugh said.