101ESPN St. Louis audio: Miklasz Show

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
6:44
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Quarterbacks are supposed to earn their money on third down. Some aren't willing to wait that long.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick took note of this after his team lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 11 passes for 141 yards and two scores on second down in that game. He has thrown five of his eight postseason touchdown passes on second down over the Ravens' three playoff games.

Slowing Flacco on second down could be a key for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That was among the subjects Bernie Miklasz and I discussed from radio row during our recent conversation on 101ESPN St. Louis.

First, we had to get past just how uncool it sounded to be singling out second-down production from all the potential Super Bowl story lines. That didn't take long, but it got worse Thursday: While hundreds of reporters were crowding into the Beyonce news conference, I was crunching second-down playoff numbers for Anquan Boldin (six receptions for 113 yards and two scores).

Boldin over Beyonce? Belichick, too.

"It felt like defensively we didn’t do a good enough job on second down," the Patriots coach said after losing to the Ravens. "We had them in a number of second-down situations, second-and-10s and those kind of things, and they got off the hook there with a couple passes to [Ray] Rice, [Dennis] Pitta, [Torrey] Smith, a run by [Bernard] Pierce."

Flacco completed only 2 of 7 passes for 43 yards on third down against the Patriots. He has completed 9 of 26 passes (albiet for an impressive 232 yards) on third down in these playoffs. His third-down Total QBR score in the playoffs (42.5) lags far behind his 93.0 mark on second down.

What is at work here? Balanced offenses should be less predictable on second down relative to third down, when defenses often can play the pass.

"Second down, they'll put it in three-wide and throw the ball," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said.

The numbers bear this out. Flacco's second-down numbers from three-receiver personnel have been outstanding since Week 15. He has completed 22 of 30 passes (73.3 percent) for 355 yards (11.8 per attempt) with six touchdowns and no interceptions on those plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"When you are playing a really good offenses, everyone thinks third down is the key down," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Well, you've got to get them to third down to make third down the key down. These guys have been able to make some money on second down either with the throw or the running game.

"They have the balance that keeps you on edge a little bit on defense as far as where you want to lay your eggs."

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