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Third down has not been a charm for Ravens

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Third down has not been a charm for Ravens

Move the chains. It sounds simple enough, but in fact the Ravens have had all sorts of trouble doing it.

The Ravens continue to struggle to convert on third down, and third-and-short situations were at the heart of their offensive problems at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

"Third down is a concern," coach John Harbaugh said at his media session on Monday. "If you look at the stats, we aren’t as good on third down as we need to be. That’s something that we really have to get better at. We’ve known that. That’s something that we’ve been working really hard on."

The Ravens rank 23rd in the league in third-down conversions, succeeding about 34.4 percent of the time. In their 13-10 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Ravens converted three of 14 third downs.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron likes to talk about staying "on schedule" -- getting decent gains and first and second down to set up third-and-short. But against the Steelers, the Ravens had four third-down plays of 3 yards or less and went 0-for-4.

They mixed up the play calls in those situations, too, but none of them worked. On third-and-3 in the first quarter, Joe Flacco threw high to Torrey Smith in the right flat. On third-and-1 in the third quarter, Ray Rice was stuffed for no gain after tight end Ed Dickson was overpowered at the line of scrimmage by LaMarr Woodley. Facing third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Flacco overthrew a well-covered Jacoby Jones down the right sideline.

On the Ravens' final possession, facing third-and-2 coming out of the two-minute warning, Flacco was sacked. Harbaugh explained afterward that the plan was to hit the pass if it was there, but to take the sack if it wasn't so that the clock would continue to run. (The Steelers had just used their final timeout).

It's worth noting that the Ravens were without tight end Dennis Pitta, a frequent third-down target, who had left the game with a concussion in the first series -- after making a third-down catch.

Some have thought the Ravens should be utilizing fullback Vonta Leach more in those short-yardage situations, but the Ravens frequently swap out Leach for a third receiver, and Harbaugh said it's not that simple.

"A dive play wouldn’t have worked against the defense they ran," Harbaugh said. "They were bringing everybody inside. ... Something running outside would have had a chance, but they were bringing safeties off the edges, too."

So on the final possession, Flacco took the sack, and the Ravens punted away. It was a recurring theme.

"We need to get better at third down, no doubt," Harbaugh said, "and third-and-short, absolutely.”

 

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are no dreary work days for Don Martindale, who has overwhelmingly embraced his new role as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

After serving for five seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to coordinator in January after Dean Pees left the post.

Enthusiastic doesn't even begin to describe Martindale's attitude about being in charge of the defense.

"Ever since we've made this transition, it's been a joy to just come through those gates every day. I love it," Martindale said after Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.

This isn't the first time Martindale has been put in charge of molding a defense. In 2010, he watched over a unit in Denver that was the worst in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.

Given a second chance, the 55-year-old Martindale is putting together a defense that will rely heavily on the instinct of several of its most proven players, most notably safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," Weddle said. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

Martindale called Mosley "the quarterback" of a fluid unit that can make a snap-change from drop-back coverage to an all-out blitz. In that regard, Mosley believes this defense is superior to the one that in 2017 yielded 18.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

"The way we're able to use our core guys, put them in different spots and do some of the same things just from different positions, it's more creative, I would say, than where we were last year," Mosley said.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh promoted Martindale rather than go outside the organization because he wanted to extend his vision of a defense that has evolved since his arrival in 2008.

"All we're doing is forwarding John's plan," Martindale said. "We're remodeling the package. It's still Ravens football, it's still Ravens defense, but we've streamlined it. It's the elegant simplicity. Guys are playing really fast."

Asked for his take on Martindale's defense, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg replied, "They're fast and they're furious."

Sure, things might be different once the pads go on at training camp, but at this point, Martindale's boss likes what he sees.

"We're doing a lot of neat things on defense, things that are really good," Harbaugh said. "More than ever, we're putting it on our players to make decisions in real time."

Martindale has a new title, but old habits die hard.

"For the most part, it's been the same," Mosley said. "He always comes in and says, `I have to lead the linebacker room,' and sits down and gets to talking like he's back at linebacker coach."

Told of Mosley's disclosure, Martindale smiled and said, "I've been trying to stay out of there, but you can't help but go in. That's home. I have a good time in the secondary room as well."

And just about everywhere else.

"Where we're going with this thing is really exciting to me," Martindale said, "and I know it's exciting to the players."

In other training camp news, cornerback Jimmy Smith was a surprise participant at practice, going through a light regimen of individual drills just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know if Jimmy's like half Wolverine, but he's healed up in half the time of regular human beings," Weddle said, referring to the amazing recuperative powers of the Marvel super hero.

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