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Down and Distance Stats Must Improve

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For the offense to be successful, the Ravens need to improve their down and distance numbers.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Third down conversion rate is a very popular statistic among football pundits, and for good reason. In my opinion, this is the most important play of the game. If a team continually converts on third down, they keep their defense on the sideline and the other defense on the field. Not to mention, the fact that they are moving towards scoring. During the regular season in 2012, the Ravens were not very special on third down. They finished tied for 10th (with the New York Jets) in the AFC in this category. The Ravens converted 36.9% of their third downs, which was 11.8% less than the New England Patriots who converted an unbelievable 48.7%.

If the Ravens have designs on continuing to improve their offense, then they need to improve on third down. I’ve identified a few areas that the Ravens could improve to help them convert more third downs. The first thing they need to shorten the yards to go distance of their third downs. Of the six AFC playoff teams last year, the Ravens were the worst at getting to 3rd and 5 or less. The below tables shows the percentage of third downs attempted from each distance:

1-5 YTG 6-10 YTG 11-15 YTG 16+ YTD
Baltimore Ravens 43.46% 38.79% 11.21% 6.54%
Cincinnati Bengals 46.30% 36.57% 12.96% 4.17%
Denver Broncos 47.64% 36.32% 10.38% 5.66%
Houston Texans 47.51% 29.86% 16.29% 6.33%
Indianapolis Colts 45.12% 33.95% 12.56% 8.37%
New England Patriots 45.78% 38.22% 9.78% 6.22%

Out of over 200 third down designed rushing and passing plays, less than 100 of these plays were from 1 – 5 yards. In addition, they had the highest percentage of 3rd and 6 – 10 yards. They also had the second highest percentage of third down plays of over 16+ yards to go. It’s not rocket science to figure out it is easier to convert from shorter distances.

1-5 YTG 6-10 YTG 11-15 YTG 16+ YTD
AFC Playoff Team Average 53.09% 35.00% 22.65% 13.29%

The only upside to the numbers I analyzed is the fact that the Ravens were actually quite good at third and long, comparably. They had the second most 3rd and 10 passing conversions with 9 (~34%). The Ravens had a sparkling conversion rate on 4th and 29s, but it is generally a bad idea to get into that situation, either. The Colts were the only team better in third and long as they converted 10 3rd and 10s through the air and had an astonishing 27 (including 3 scrambles) total conversions on 3rd and 10 and longer (unsustainable, anyone??). Joe Flacco’s big arm certainly helps the Ravens on third and long as he is able to still throw high percentage patterns. However, the Ravens need to try and avoid these situations.

The distance is not the only problem here, as the Ravens only converted 49.26% of their 3rd and shorts, which was 5th among playoff teams. The Patriots, Broncos and Texans were all near or above 55%. However, if the Ravens are able to cut down their yards to go, they will most certainly improve their overall conversion rate.

Another way to keep the offense on the field is to get first downs before 3rd down. This was yet another issue for the Ravens during the 2012 regular season.

First Down Second Down First and Second Down
Baltimore Ravens 19.57% 29.41% 23.73%
Cincinnati Bengals 17.05% 31.23% 23.21%
Denver Broncos 22.82% 35.44% 28.11%
Houston Texans 21.70% 34.06% 26.98%
Indianapolis Colts 17.46% 33.06% 24.27%
New England Patriots 24.05% 38.79% 30.21%

The Ravens ranked last among AFC playoff teams in 2nd down conversions at 29.41%. They also were 5th when combining 1st and 2nd down conversions, just above the Bengals at 23.73%. Getting first downs on down other than third will take a lot of pressure off the offense and help to get them in rhythm.

In the end, the Ravens drastically improved these numbers in the playoffs. In their four postseason games, they were 45.5% on third down, which is a marked improvement from the regular season, but that seemed a lot like a lightning in a bottle situation. The Ravens have lost some key weapons from last year’s team, so it will be up to Flacco, Jim Caldwell and the rest of the offense to put themselves in manageable situations. I think the team needs to focus on getting yards on first and second down. Small chunks of yardage on these downs will take some of the pressure off third downs. A bad third down conversion rate is not a recipe for success and staying in third and manageable will help to improve this average. This is Joe Flacco’s offense and to be successful the team needs to stay out of third and long.