Third down has not been a charm for Ravens

Third down has not been a charm for Ravens
November 21, 2012, 9:15 am
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Ed Reed, Cary Williams, Anquan Boldin on Reed's successful appeal

Move the chains. It sounds simple enough, but in fact the Ravens have had all sorts of trouble doing it.

The Ravens continue to struggle to convert on third down, and third-and-short situations were at the heart of their offensive problems at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

"Third down is a concern," coach John Harbaugh said at his media session on Monday. "If you look at the stats, we aren’t as good on third down as we need to be. That’s something that we really have to get better at. We’ve known that. That’s something that we’ve been working really hard on."

The Ravens rank 23rd in the league in third-down conversions, succeeding about 34.4 percent of the time. In their 13-10 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Ravens converted three of 14 third downs.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron likes to talk about staying "on schedule" -- getting decent gains and first and second down to set up third-and-short. But against the Steelers, the Ravens had four third-down plays of 3 yards or less and went 0-for-4.

They mixed up the play calls in those situations, too, but none of them worked. On third-and-3 in the first quarter, Joe Flacco threw high to Torrey Smith in the right flat. On third-and-1 in the third quarter, Ray Rice was stuffed for no gain after tight end Ed Dickson was overpowered at the line of scrimmage by LaMarr Woodley. Facing third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Flacco overthrew a well-covered Jacoby Jones down the right sideline.

On the Ravens' final possession, facing third-and-2 coming out of the two-minute warning, Flacco was sacked. Harbaugh explained afterward that the plan was to hit the pass if it was there, but to take the sack if it wasn't so that the clock would continue to run. (The Steelers had just used their final timeout).

It's worth noting that the Ravens were without tight end Dennis Pitta, a frequent third-down target, who had left the game with a concussion in the first series -- after making a third-down catch.

Some have thought the Ravens should be utilizing fullback Vonta Leach more in those short-yardage situations, but the Ravens frequently swap out Leach for a third receiver, and Harbaugh said it's not that simple.

"A dive play wouldn’t have worked against the defense they ran," Harbaugh said. "They were bringing everybody inside. ... Something running outside would have had a chance, but they were bringing safeties off the edges, too."

So on the final possession, Flacco took the sack, and the Ravens punted away. It was a recurring theme.

"We need to get better at third down, no doubt," Harbaugh said, "and third-and-short, absolutely.”