Keep the chains moving and the wins will follow

Hey, Bart Scott, what’s the difference between the Ravens-Redskins rivalry and the Jets-Giants rivalry?

“When I was in Baltimore I could remember with the Redskins you had guys fighting over strippers and all kind of stuff,” Scott told 1050 ESPN New York, via “I don’t sense that here. I think it is a mutual respect.”

Wait, what? Bart, can you explain that in a little more detail, please?

“When you are in a small place like Baltimore and the temperature is relatively cold - hey you compete over the same chicks,” the former Ravens and current Jets linebacker said. “That’s a football player’s favorite spot. Especially young football players. It was always a rivalry. Guys fight about, ‘Hey that is my girlfriend and that’s my girlfriend,’ but here? Five million people, maybe more. There is plenty for everybody.”

I sure do miss Bart.

Do you want to know how you can compete with any team on any Sunday, regardless of nearly every other offensive statistic? You convert 14 out of your 21 third-down opportunities, that’s how.

It doesn’t matter if you’re having trouble running the ball or you aren’t getting good starting field position. If you can convert third downs and keep drives moving, you’ll be in every single game you play.

That’s what the Ravens were able to do Sunday night against Pittsburgh, when they set a franchise record for the most third-down conversions in a single game with 14. Time after time, quarterback Joe Flacco was able to keep drives alive by finding open receivers and moving the chains. As a result, the Ravens ran a whopping 77 offensive plays on Sunday, 19 more than their opponent.

Even more impressively for Flacco and the Ravens, 11 of those 14 third-down conversions were on plays where they needed to pick up four or more yards. Normally, teams excel when they’re able to get into third-and-short situations (plays where they need three or fewer yards for a first down). On Sunday, the Ravens had very few of those opportunities, but were even able to move the chains five times when they faced difficult third-and-long situations - times where they needed to gain at least seven yards.

“That was key,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to move the chains against any football team, but especially against the Steelers. You’ve got to keep any good defense out there if you can. You’re not going to have too many explosive plays, you’re not going to gash them by any stretch, but if you can move the chains, I think you have a chance.”

Another positive coming out of the Pittsburgh game is that the Ravens might have found a big third-down weapon. Of the Ravens’ 14 third-down conversions Sunday night, five of them went to tight end Dennis Pitta.

How effective was Pitta against the Steelers? Every single one of his catches that night came on third down and kept the drive moving for the Ravens’ offense.

“It’s all about making money on third down,” Pitta said. “Those are critical plays. Joe did a great job of seeing the field and delivering the ball right on the money. We were able to take advantage of some mismatches out there.”

Pitta has really come on strong lately, making 11 grabs for 90 yards in the Ravens’ last two games. Just for the sake of comparison, the second-year tight end only had 10 catches in Baltimore’s first six games this year.

“Dennis has a knack for getting open,” Harbaugh said. “I think he and Joe have really built a chemistry with timing and anticipation, because some of those routes are routes that you have to kind of run on the fly based on what the defense gives you. For those two guys to be on the same page like that, it says a lot, and it bodes well for our offense going forward.”

Pitta’s emergence bodes well, and so does the Ravens’ overall efficiency on third down. If Flacco and company can convert 67 percent of their third down opportunities against the NFL’s No. 2-ranked defense, maybe this is a sign of good things to come over the second half of the season.

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