Skip to main content

A third down collision course


Tight end Owen Daniels will be counted on to produce on third down against Baltimore.

Third down will be a battle ground Sunday when the Texans' offense lines up against the Baltimore defense.

The Texans' offense shares the NFL lead with the Dallas Cowboys for completing 48 percent of their third down plays. The Ravens' defense and Ray Lewis are tops at stopping third downs, allowing only 30 percent conversions.

"Third downs are funny," coach Gary Kubiak said. "You can play some games and have eight or nine and then you play some that are 15 or 16. The one thing that's telltale about third down is you are staying on the field or giving the ball up. We've been vastly improved over the last five weeks, but we're meeting our match this week, so we're going to have to do a great job."

Kubiak is just as familiar with Baltimore's defensive efficiency on third down as he is of his offense's performance.

"They're just a great defensive team," Kubiak said. "Normally as a coach, you watch cut-ups during the week and cut-ups are made up of their last four football games. To give you an idea, in the last four football games, there were 53 third downs against them and only 19 have been less than eight yards. That tells you what kind of defense they are playing."

There's not much film to show the Ravens backed into a corner.

"There's two goal line snaps against them, so there's not a lot of film to study," Kubiak said. "They've been exceptional. They're right there neck-and-neck with Pittsburgh and No. 1 this year. That's what the organization has stood for, for a long time. They've played great defense and 52 (Lewis) leads the group."

Keeping yardage reasonable will be important on third down.

"We're going to have to be pretty good this week to stay on the field," Kubiak said. "I think the key will be if you get (in third down situations) anything over eight (yards) against this group, you're going to be in trouble. We'll have to keep it manageable."

{QUOTE}Any discussion of long offensive drives begins with tight end Owen Daniels. He leads all AFC tight ends with 43 receptions for 528 yards. Thirty of his receptions have resulted in first downs.

Daniels knows any chance of third down conversions must go through Lewis.

"Well, they have a bunch of good linebackers, not just him," Daniels said. "I think it will be fun just because he's one of the best that's ever played the position. To be able to play against a guy like that, I haven't been able to play against him yet, so it should be a tough experience, but it's one I'm looking forward to."

Among Daniels' 30 first down catches, nine have come on third down. It's become a point of pride to keep drives going.

"That's a statistic that's important to winning," Daniels said. "You have to be able to stay on the field when you're in third down situations. We take that very seriously and we work on that every week. We had problems with that early in the year, but lately we've scored more points because of that."

Kubiak has been pleased with Daniels' offensive improvement overall, and not just on third down.

"He's always in our thinking regardless of what down it is," Kubiak said of the third-year player. "People are paying a great deal of attention to Andre (Johnson), which gives Owen a little bit of room to run. So he's getting some balls from that standpoint. I've never seen him play better than he did last week. He's having a fine year."

The Texans have been improving offensively during a string that included three consecutive victories. Third down play has been an important byproduct.

"We emphasize it a lot," Johnson said. "It's something we talk about a lot. That's the only way we're going to stay on the field and keep those long drives. It's just something we focus on and talk about. Third-and-however, we try to get it done."

Houston's third down rate has kept them in games. Their turnover rate, minus-eight, has held them back. Daniels thinks a little success will help.

"I think we have to maybe just get into a little streak of having a couple of games with no turnovers and we'll feel really good about what we're doing and hopefully we'll continue that," he said.

The Texans' offense ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense with 373.8 yards per game. The offensive line has tried to do its part.

"We try to complete as many third downs as possible to keep our defense off the field," offensive tackle Duane Brown said. "The quicker (the defense) can get off the field, the better and the longer we can stay on the field. We try to maintain the ball as much as we can.

"It's communication up front with third-and-long, being able to pick up the blitz for the quarterback. If it's third-and-short make sure you have the attitude you're going to get it no matter what."

Johnson has studied the Ravens defense, too.

"We know it's going to be a big test," Johnson said. "They have a lot of great players on that defense. We have to go out and play our game. When those third downs come up, we have to convert them and stay on the field."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content