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Third And Long A Must For Ravens

There will be many match ups that determine the outcome of the Ravens, Chargers game this tonight in San Diego but the most important may be the Ravens third down defense vs. the Chargers third down offense. San Diego’s offense is top flight on third down, converting 47.7 percent of the time – third in the NFL behind New Orleans and Green Bay. They have come close to perfection on third-and-one running plays, converting 16-of-17 chances. Norv Turners offense has three backs in the NFL’s top 10 at converting from that distance, while no other team has more than one player on the list.

Fullback Jacob Hester has converted 5-of-6 chances, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are a combined 11-for-11. Mathews averages 12.8 yards per carry on third-and-1, with at least two yards on each try, and Tolbert has runs of 5, 4, 2 and 10 yards along with a pair of 1-yard touchdowns. With Ray Lewis making his long awaited return for the Ravens it will be up to him to sniff out the running lanes the Chargers will look to create.

The Ravens are first in the league, allowing a 28.7 percent third-down conversion rate on defense, and many of their NFL-best 45 sacks have come in third-down situations. Five different Baltimore players have at least 4.5 sacks.Terrell Suggs leads the team with 13 and six forced fumbles. Rookie Pernell Mcphee and third year player Paul Kruger have come on strong and become key third down contributors.

Baltimore fans know exactly what it is like to see a team convert on huge third downs in big games this time of the season. Over the past several years Ravens fans have watched helplessly as the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed defeated late in games, only to convert on third and long and beat Baltimore once again. It always seemed that the Ravens would have them right where they want them, then Ben Roethlisberger would manage to create time to covert on key third downs. The good news is, Phillip Rivers does not have anywhere near the mobility and play-extending capabilities that Roethlisberger does. The bad news is he is a much better pure pocket passer. Pressure from the Ravens front four will be key so they can drop more men into coverage.

This year Baltimore may be one of the most difficult teams to convert on in short yardage. Especially if you want to run the ball. Haloti Ngata (6'4",340lbs.) and Terrence Cody (6'4", 349lbs) anchor a huge defensive line that has been reborn under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Pagano has re-energised the Ravens defense and has them leading the league in sacks.

If the Ravens can effectively take away the run and force San Diego to keep the ball in the air then they can keep the bolts in third and long situations, leading to sacks and turn overs. Much of this will depend on the ability of Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams to play the Chargers over-sized receivers in man coverage. Phillip RIvers should not have another day like he did in 2008 when he picked the Ravens defense apart for over 400 yards.( Although the Ravens did win that game as well.) This Ravens defense is much bigger, faster and more athletic. The fact that they have two corners over six foot should make a difference right off the bat.

This game, as in any, third down will be huge. Baltimore must be able to get off the field and get Joe Flacco and company as many shots at the end zone as they can. Baltimore has shown they can win a knock down, drag 'em out, street fight on a few occasions this year. Now, it's time to prove we can win a shoot out as well or shut down one of the most prolific passing offenses in the NFL.

Baltimore has a chance to clinch a play-off berth today. If they do that will be the Ravens 8th play-off appearance in their 16 year existence. I guess 50 % isn't bad.