The Ravens have rolled up their sleeves and addressed multiple offensive issues this season.
The Ravens were criticized for not running enough, then pounded the ball against the Browns. The offense had started slow, then scored its first opening-drive touchdown Sunday. It had fizzled late on the road, yet finished strong in Cleveland.
Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron has the next item on the docket: third downs.
"Major. It's our No. 1 critical issue that we need to continue to work on," Cameron said.
Last year, the Ravens ranked seventh in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (42.4). They've flipped to the other end of the rankings this year.
The Ravens now rank 22nd in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (35.4), converting on 34 of 96 opportunities. Baltimore went 4-for-15 on third down in Cleveland, which contributed to seven straight punts and six three-and-outs. It was also 4-for-15 in Houston, before the bye.
Cameron said there isn't a single factor leading to the failed conversions.
"Maybe we need a little better protection one week," he said. "The next week maybe we need a little more separation. Again, uncharacteristically, maybe one week we won't catch the ball as well. So, it's one thing here and there."
Playing better on the road, having confidence to throw into tight windows and staying out of third-and-long situations are key factors to improving, according to Cameron.
The Ravens offense has generally not performed well on the road, and third downs have been a distinct contributor to those road woes. The Ravens are 15-for-56 (26.7 percent) on third downs away from home.
Quarterback Joe Flacco said road conditions can make difficult third-down conversions even harder.
"When you leave yourselves at third-and-long and those guys have a lot of momentum, they are feeling good about themselves, the crowd is into it, it becomes tough to convert," Flacco said.
Difficult situations such as those require difficult throws, often in the face of pressure from the defense. That's an area where Flacco could use improvement.
Flacco's completion percentage, which Head Coach John Harbaugh said is lower than he wants at 59.8, drops to 53.8 on third down. The Ravens have also had troubles in pass protection on third down, so that affects Flacco's timing.
What the Ravens need is more confidence that they're going to move the chains,* *Cameron said.
"The bottom line is the [throwing] windows are going to be tight," Cameron said. "So your ability to just have the confidence to throw the ball in there and have guys make catches for you is everything. We all see the same games on TV. There are not a lot of guys running around just wide open on third down. So, confidence then takes on an added dimension on third down."
The issue in Cleveland was that the Ravens got into too many third-and-longs.
During their stretch of seven straight series without a first down, they were in third-and-10 or longer five times. The other two were a third-and-9 and a third-and-5 that began the drought.
"We've got to be better on first and second down," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We're getting into too many third-and-long situations and no offense is going to be successful in third-and-long consistently. That's a big problem that we're facing."
But stats show that hasn't been the Ravens' problem for the majority of the year.
Instead, Baltimore has been worst in third-and-2 or third-and-3 situations. They're actually fifth-best in the league in third-and-1, but tied for worst in the NFL (with Oakland) in third-and-2 or 3. Cameron said that simply requires better execution.
Overall, it's a problem that Cameron said needs to be corrected now or it could be what knocks Baltimore out of the playoff chase down the stretch.
"We don't get that solved," Cameron said, "we're going home early."