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Mixing Up First-Down Play Calls

Posted Oct 17, 2013

Despite some criticism, the Ravens have been mostly balanced on their first-down calls.

The Ravens had just caught a break in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Packers, recovering their own blocked punt to give the offense another set of downs and a chance to move the football.

The offense came out in an I-formation set on first down and ran Ray Rice up the middle for no gain, which brought down a light chorus of boos from a home crowd that was frustrated with the lack of production in the running game. At that point, the Ravens had run the ball on five of their seven first-down plays, for a total of eight yards.

The Ravens showed a commitment to running the ball, especially early in the game, and after the loss quarterback Joe Flacco was asked if the Ravens were too predictable on first downs.

“I always feel like we can mix it up a little bit more on first and second down just to get everybody going,” Flacco said. “It’s tough to say when we’re just not running the ball up to the ability that we think we should run it.”

There was some criticism of the Ravens’ run-first tendency, but a closer look at the overall game shows that the Ravens were very balanced calling run and pass on first downs. The Ravens ran the ball on 15 of their 28 first downs in the contest (53.5 percent).

Balancing those first down calls is critical to prevent getting too predictable.

“We try to keep as much balance as we can in most situations,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell said Thursday. “But it doesn’t always work out that way.”

The truth is that Caldwell has been almost completely balanced in calling run or pass plays on first down. The Ravens have run the ball on 52.5 percent (93 of 177) of their first-down plays this season.

“You’d like to try to be balanced so that you don’t have too many things in terms of tendencies that they can game plan against,” Caldwell said. “But that’s not the end-all, be-all in that situation because of the fact that most good teams have some sort of tendencies because they do some things extremely well and they don’t care if you know it or not.”

Rather than the issue of play calling, the problem for the Ravens has been the actual execution on early downs.  The Ravens have seen little success running the football, especially on first down.

Of the Ravens’ 93 first-down rushes this season, those runs have gone for an average of 3.12 yards per carry, ranked 30th in the league. On 12 of those runs, the ball carrier was stopped in the backfield for a loss of yards. 

“It’s an execution game and we just haven’t executed consistently well enough to get the kind of yardage we need on first down, second down, the run downs situation,” Caldwell said.

Flacco pointed to the same issue.

“If we were running the ball better, we wouldn’t be saying it,” Flacco said. “We wouldn’t be talking about it. We’re just not getting the yardage and the creases that we need right now in that part, and we’re kind of unsuccessful at a lot of other things we do just because of that.”

The Ravens have stressed this week that they are combing through multiple aspects of their offense to see if they can make changes, including scheme, play calling and personnel.

“In some cases you have to make some [changes],” Caldwell said. “If things aren’t going extremely well, then you have to make some adjustments. And we look at every single aspect."

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