Analytics and game strategy are big topics around the NFL these days, and John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens just gave the go-for-it-on-fourth-down folks some serious discussion fodder.
In Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, the Ravens almost pulled off an all-time fake. Backed up at their own 10-yard line and facing a fourth-and-1, the punt team came on as you'd expect with three minutes left in the first quarter.
But it was a fake! Anthony Levine Sr., a core Ravens special teamer, took the snap as the personal protector and rumbled 7 yards for an apparent first down. It appeared to be a brilliant — and shockingly risky — conversion. Levine has been used on fakes before by Harbaugh, a former special-teams coordinator, but never like this.
However ... the play was called back on, ugh, an illegal shift. What a gut shot.
We looked back with the help of our friends at Pro Football Reference and could not find an instance back to 1994 (when that portion of their database records starts) of a team intentionally going for it on fourth down from inside their own 15-yard line in the first half of a game — not including in the final 10 seconds of the half, when a team theoretically could run out the clock on a missed conversion.
Credit Harbaugh for having the guts to go for it. Most coaches, even the biggest dice rollers in the game, would not.
Of course, not only did the play not work, but the Ravens found themselves in a 21-7 hole in the first half to the Panthers. So while the play in question was historically significant, the game is what matters and things aren't looking good early for Baltimore.