Third Downs Should Determine the Packers-Lions Outcome
It might seem obvious that teams with high third down conversion rates are going to have a lot of success, and vice versa. For the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, however, there is a particularly great disparity between the two teams in having success on third downs.
It was just a few games ago that an announcer informed us that the Packers were leading the lead in third down conversions. That came as a surprise to me, but it has indeed been one of the team’s strengths, until recently.
On the year, the Packers have converted 39 of 92 third down plays, for a success percentage of 42.4. A percentage of around 35 is about the average conversion rate. For the Packers’ first five games, however, Aaron Rodgers led the team to 31 first downs in 64 – a fine success percentage of 48.4.
If you count the Packers’ fourth down success rate in those games, five out of five, that yields a sparkling percentage of 52.2.
With Brett Hundley at quarterback the Packers went four of 16 against the Vikings and four of 11 against the Saints, for an awful 29.6 percentage. Hundley was successful on two of his three fourth down plays.
Meanwhile, the Lions’ losing record on the year has largely been blamed on their poor third down conversion rate. The Lions have converted 37 of 100 third down opportunities for a percentage of 37.0. If you add in the fourth down stats, in which they are zero for six, this yields a percentage of only 34.9.
The Packers have 40 first downs by run, 86 by air, and 18 by penalty. The Lions have only 26 first downs by run, and 11 by penalties, but they have 92 via the arm of Matthew Stafford.
A lot of the Packers’ success rate can be attributed to Aaron Jones, who in participating in less than 37 percent of the year’s offensive snaps has rushed for 17 first downs.
The Packers’ third down futility in the last two games has dragged the team down to having the eighth best third down conversion rate. Detroit stands at 20th in the league.
If I were the Green Bay play-caller, I’d have concentrated the past two weeks on devising and practicing the best possible third down plays to be sent in to Brett Hundley. I believe those dozen or so plays are the keys to whether the Packers’ offense will rebound from its dreadful performance against the Saints.
Third down success keeps drives alive, it controls time of possession, it results in favorable field position, and it allows the defense to rest and avoid the fatigue we saw happen against the Saints.
If Hundley can convert on or maybe six of 14 (42.9%) or seven out of 16 third downs (43.7%), that should be enough to prevail against Detroit – a team that ranks 27th in offensive yardage. If Green Bay falls below 40 percent, they will probably lose. If they can finish at 50 percent or more, it should be a happy day by the Bay.
There is one big caveat, however. We have readers out there who don’t want to go by yardage — they want to go by points scored. Detroit ranks ninth in the league on that basis, at 25.1 points scored per game – Green Bay is 11th.
How can a team be lousy at converting third downs, but be effective at scoring points? I thought that by looking at red zone success percentages I’d have the answer for you. Wrong: Detroit’s success rate from 20 yards out or less is 45 percent, which ranks 27th in the league. I don’t know, maybe the Lions have a bunch of pick-six’s on the year?
And speaking of red zone percentages (touchdowns only), I have good news. Even when taking into account the last two Rodgers-less games, Green Bay still comfortably leads the league in red zone success, at 73.9 percent; the next closest teams are the Eagles (65%) and the Texans (62.2%).
The bad news is that Hundley has so far seldom driven his team to anywhere near the opponent’s end zone.