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Looking closer at third-down decisions

Ravens went 0-for-6 against Philly in third or fourth down and short situations

By Jeff Zrebiec

5:29 PM EDT, September 18, 2012

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Much of the fallout following the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles concerned the replacement officials. That’s what happens when the officiating crew loses total control of the game, resulting in a three hour, 38-minute marathon that included altercations after seemingly every other play, a series of long and unexplained stoppages and a handful of controversial calls.  

Quarterback Joe Flacco and middle linebacker Ray Lewis were the most high-profile Ravens to question the performance of the officiating crew. However, to a man, the feeling in the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field was that the Ravens lost the game because of missed opportunities. On defense, that meant allowing the Michael Vick-led Eagles to go 8-of-16 on third and fourth downs. On offense, that meant going a combined 4-of-16 on third and fourth downs.

Through two games, the Ravens’ offense is just 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) on third downs, a number that clearly needs to be fixed with a matchup against the New England Patriots looming Sunday night.

“Generally, it’s a combination of pressure and a combination of separation, and because of that, putting the ball on the money and making those plays – all things that we’re capable of doing and that we probably would all say we can do a lot better and we will,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what you chase. It’s not a league of perfection. Every single week is a fight. They’ve got great players, too. But that’s an area where we have to be really good at, and I’ll tell you this, we expect to be really good at it. We have the players to do it, the coaches to do it and I’m confident we’re going to be really good at it this year.”

Harbaugh made sure not to second guess the play calling, pointing out that the Eagles Sunday stuffed the box to take away running back Ray Rice. However, for the media and the fans, it’s almost impossible not to second guess given one particular statistic.

 In six situations of 3rd or 4th down and two yards or less, the Ravens passed every time and didn’t pick up the first down once. In fact, Flacco was in the shotgun all six times. When you have a Pro Bowl running back in Rice, a Pro Bowl fullback in Vonta Leach and a Pro Bowl right guard in Marshal Yanda, those types of decisions are obviously going to be scrutinized.   

Here’s a look at those six situations and the end result:

 SECOND QUARTER

3rd-and-2 (Eagles’ 49, 5:39): Flacco minus 5-yard pass to Rice

THIRD QUARTER

3rd-and-2 (own 47, 13:40): Flacco pass intended for Pitta intercepted by D.Ryans

3rd-and-2 (own 28, 4:26): Flacco pass incomplete short left to Dickson

3rd-and-1 (50-yard line, 1:48) Flacco pass incomplete short left to Boldin

 FOURTH QUARTER

3rd-and-1 (own 46, 0:57): Flacco pass incomplete short left to Pitta

4th-and-1 (own 46, 0:54): Flacco pass incomplete short right to Rice