The Ravens boast the eighth-most prolific offense in the NFL in terms of yards per game at 397.0. But the high number masks a cause for concern.
According to statistics compiled by Pro Football Reference, the team has not gained a yard on first-and-10 41.4 percent of the time through its first two games (24 second-and-10s out of 58 first-and-10s). That is the fourth-worst rate in the league, trailing only the New York Giants (52.2 percent), the Arizona Cardinals (46.9) and the Buffalo Bills (45.2).
Despite that lack of success, the Ravens are tied for second in the NFL in first downs with 54 and rank sixth in third-down percentage at 43.3.
So what’s the problem? The concern is that while the offense has found ways to extend drives despite the frequency of second-and-10 scenarios, that run might not continue against future opponents such as the Los Angeles Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers and Sunday’s opponent, the Denver Broncos — all of which feature defenses ranked in the top 15.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg acknowledged the significance of gaining yards on first downs, saying Thursday morning, “It’s always important. Every drive’s a little different, but not that you can’t overcome [it]. I think some of the best offenses are really good on first down.”
Mornhinweg is correct. Four of the top five offenses in the league in yards per game have not gained a yard on first-and-10 33.3 percent of the time or even less often. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL leader, has not managed a yard on first-and-10 only 27.8 percent of the time.
The frequent rate at which the Ravens find themselves in second-and-10 situations can be physically and mentally taxing for the players tasked with digging out of such deep holes.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us just to focus, not even get put [in] those situations,” wide receiver John Brown said. “But when we have the weapons that we have, we can do anything. We can get the first [down]. We can get explosive plays.”
Again, according to Pro Football Reference, the offense has gained 10 yards or more on first-and-10 10 times and nine have involved passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. The only rushing play included in that group was a 15-yard burst by running back Kenneth Dixon, who is now on injured reserve.
“We’ve done some really good things offensively — statistically,” Mornhinweg said. “But the first-down situation, that is important. Typically, the really good teams get a couple of explosive plays per game on first down.”
Flacco said the onus is on the offense to be more efficient with its chances.
“If you have to take the checkdown, checkdowns usually get 5 to 10 yards on a first-down play — simple things like that,” he said. “If we’re running the ball, we just have to move forward. … It still just goes back to executing your part of the play and everybody being on the same page with that.”