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Saturday, September 22, 2012
Big Decision: Run on first down?

By Mike Rodak

The day before each game this season, this space will feature one big decision facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

This week's decision: Should the Patriots run on first down?

RavensPatriotsWhen it comes to running the ball against the Baltimore Ravens' defenses of the last decade, the first question that comes to mind is: "Why bother?"

The Ravens, of course, have been traditionally stingy against the run. At first glance, things have changed through two games this season. They're allowing 129 rushing yards per game, the 20th-best mark in the NFL.

However, that statistic doesn't tell the whole story. When the Patriots line up for their first offensive play on Sunday night, it would make sense to try to establish the running game against a Ravens defense that has lapsed in that area, right?

Wrong. On 1st-and-10 plays this season, Ravens opponents -- the Bengals and Eagles -- have actually passed the ball more (29 times) than they have ran it (27 times). And they've had tremendous success at doing so.

The Ravens are allowing an average of 9.28 yards per 1st-and-10 passing play, with teams converting 14 first downs on those 29 plays, a 48.28 percent clip. Only the Buccaneers have allowed more first downs on 1st-and-10 passes this season.

Meanwhile, teams have gained an average of only 3.19 yards per 1st-and-10 rush, for only two first downs (a 7.41 percent conversion rate).

The simple question, then, is: Why run it on first down, if you have a 50-50 shot of gaining a first down by passing the ball?

Avoiding 2nd-and-10 would be one reason to run the ball instead, but teams have faced 2nd-and-10 against the Ravens only six times, passing it four times for a 10-yard average gain.

What do you think? Should the Patriots try to establish the run on first down, or exploit a weakness in the Ravens' pass defense? Join the discussion in the comments section below.