Third downs have been problematic for the Ravens offense through the first five games of the season.
The Ravens have converted on 33 percent (19-of-57) of their third-down plays this year, which ranks 24th in the NFL. The trend was most apparent in Sunday's victory over Kansas City, where the Ravens converted on just three of their 11 third downs, with two of the conversions coming on the games' final drive.
The issue, however, is rooted in the offense's performance on first and second downs. The Ravens struggled to move the football on the early downs against Kansas City, which put them in difficult third-and-long situations.
"The key is just keeping us in situations where we don't have to overcome the big deficit, like third-and-10 plus," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think if we can give ourselves reasonable downs and keep our third-down plays to a minimum throughout the game, I think that's the key."
Against the Chiefs, the Ravens had only three third downs plays where they needed less than five yards. The average distance that the Ravens needed to get on third down plays was 8.9 yards.
The Ravens converted twice on third-and-1 with Ray Rice runs, and the one conversion of longer than five yards came on Flacco's 16-yard scramble in a third-and-15 situation on the final possession.
"It all ties together," Head Coach John Harbaugh said about needing to have more success on early downs. "The more you're in third-and-long, the tougher it's going to be to convert."
When the Ravens get into third-and-long situations, it forces them to pass and makes them one dimensional. The defense can then key in on the pass and bring pressure on Flacco.
"You're kind of sitting back there like a sitting duck and it makes it hard on the offensive line," Flacco said. "I think the biggest thing is we have to be in situations that allow the offensive line to be aggressive, allow our guys to get open quick and still get the first down."
Heading into Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, Flacco and the offense want to see improvement on their third-down success, but the bigger focus is to take advantage of early downs, keep drives alive and put points on the board.
"Third down is the one that kind of keeps you on the field and keeps you going, but I think first and second down are just as important," Flacco said. "Third down is obviously make or break if you get to that point, but first and second down have a lot to do with how successful you are."