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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.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. icebowl November 6, 2017

    GB 24 – DET 17

    Keeping on mind :

    11/06/2017 at 6:00 am
    If we win, we beat a sub .500 team at home….YAY!!

  2. KILLER November 6, 2017

    Sort of, Rob. First downs, yes, always. But the key to getting the first downs will be RB screens and TE passes. Lions are vulnerable those areas with poor pass coverage LBs. If the Packers get at least 130 yards in passing to RBs and TEs they will likely win. Manageable downs and distance, reduced turnovers, etc.

  3. PF4L November 6, 2017

    I have no clue who will win this game, i really don’t. Detroit can look so pathetic sometimes, and now their in the cold on grass. No running game, bad red zone % like Rob noted. Then we have the Packers, and they don’t have an identity, on either side of the ball right now.

    I guess the best chance the Packers have is if Hundley can do what he does best, run the ball. I think what were seeing in Hundley is Colin Kaepernick 2.0.

    I just don’t know, but i do know, that i will be highly entertained this game, and the rest of the season, win or lose.

    Cue the circus music. Lets do this.

    1. Ferris November 6, 2017

      I have a clue….the team wearing blue. The Green Bay defense solves other teams problems on 3rd down. Then when the Hundley offense takes the field, the defense coming back out is only 3 plays away. It is the Lions though they do find creative ways to lose.

      Here is a fun fact though…Of the 15 teams that have never won the Super Bowl, four (4) are expansion franchises younger than the Super Bowl itself (Bengals, Panthers, Jaguars, and the Texans). The Falcons were enfranchised the season the Super Bowls began. The eight (8) other clubs (Cardinals, Lions, Eagles, Oilers/Titans, Chargers, Browns, Bills, and Vikings) all won an NFL or AFL championship prior to the AFL–NFL merger; in the case of the Vikings, however, the Super Bowl existed at the time they won their league title, leaving them and the Falcons as the only two teams to have existed for as long as or longer than the Super Bowl and to have never secured the highest championship available to them.

      Vikings in the top 2 as biggest losers ever.

      1. Ferris November 6, 2017

        I have them and Killer as #1 loser though. My one is with a middle finger.

  4. Ken November 6, 2017

    If the Packers won with Hundley then I’d say that McCarthy did a good job. Since my premise is that McCarthy is an average coach at best who needs a very good QB to win, I don’t expect the Pack to do much without Rodgers the rest of the season.