It doesn’t seem as though it was all that long ago that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was portraying himself as one of the most aggressive head coaches in the league in terms of his willingness to take risks on offense, looking for advantages with two-point conversions and attacking defenses on fourth down, doing so proactively rather than out of necessity.
The Steelers, frankly, don’t have the kind of offense that merits that kind of latitude, and so we saw Tomlin play it very conservatively when he decided to punt on 4th-and-1 on his own 34-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, down by two scores.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was clearly not thrilled with the decision based on his body language walking off the field as he watched Pressley Harvin III, their rookie punter, come the other way. Asked after the game if he had the latitude to lobby for a fourth-down call, he said, not when the punt team is running onto the field.
That remark obviously sticks out more this morning after last night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, in which their divisional rival secured a crucial victory over one of the league’s top teams by converting on 4th-and-1 — and it being very publicized that head coach John Harbaugh was asking his quarterback, Lamar Jackson, if he wanted to go for it.
“LAMAR! Do you want to go for this?” 😈 pic.twitter.com/ZfdJowmWyT
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2021
This is, of course, theater. The Ravens went for it on fourth down because Harbaugh decided that they would go for it on fourth down, not because he asked Jackson and Jackson made the decision. Asked after the game about the call, the head coach said “there wasn’t” any doubt that they would run the play. “But I think I wanted to be sure myself, you know? I knew he was going to say yes, but we were going for it at that point”.
The Ravens have been among the most aggressive teams proactively attempting fourth-down conversions pretty much since Jackson first stepped under center, and that’s because it’s simply what you do when you have the tools that justify it.
Let this be clear, though. Harbaugh wasn’t asking Jackson if he wanted to go for it on fourth down. The question was a means of communicating to him that they were going for it, because of course he was going to say yes.
This is not a case of the Ravens seeking the input of their quarterback and Tomlin shutting Roethlisberger out. Quarterbacks don’t make decisions unless the head coach gives them the opportunity to make decisions, and not even this was Jackson’s call.
Time will tell whether or not that prevents this from becoming a ‘story’ within the local media, though. And among those who don’t read past the headline.