Much of the Chargers’ success this season has come on third and fourth downs. So it should come as no surprise that when the Ravens’ defense shut down the Chargers’ offense on third and fourth downs on Sunday, it resulted in a dominant Ravens win.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Ravens, the Chargers had converted 48.5 percent of their third downs and 87.5 percent of their fourth downs, both far better marks than the NFL average. But on Sunday, the Chargers converted just 25 percent of both third and fourth downs (3-for-12 on third downs and 1-for-4 on fourth downs).
The Ravens, meanwhile, were never so dependent on third- and fourth-down success: Their offense has been successful enough on first and second downs that it hasn’t needed to succeed on third and fourth downs. That continued to be the case on Sunday, when the Ravens gained a total of 27 first downs and only needed to face third down 11 times (converting six of them). The Ravens never went for it on fourth down on Sunday.
That the Chargers’ luck would eventually run out on third and fourth downs, while the Ravens’ success would continue on first and second downs, was predictable: As Josh Hermsmeyer wrote before the game, success on first and second downs is far more sustainable than success on third and fourth downs. That means the Ravens’ way of winning is more sustainable than the Chargers’ way of winning.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has received a lot of praise this year for his strong third-down passing stats, and Chargers coach Brandon Staley has received a lot of praise for going for it on fourth down, and succeeding, a lot. That praise is deserved. But if the Chargers want to be a Super Bowl team, the best way to get there is to get better on first and second downs, so they don’t need to keep doing so well on third and fourth downs.