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A Closer Look At 1st Down Success In 2010


Pat Kirwan had an article on NFL.com back in 2008 entitled, “First-down success is the key to third-down conversions” and I rediscovered it by going through some of my old bookmarks recently. The article is pretty straight forward with quite an obvious tone. The more yards you get on first down the better the chance you will stay out of 3rd and long or avoid 3rd downs as often as possible. Not really an earth shattering revelation by any means, but not necessarily a measure of success though as you will see in the tables below.

First let us start with the 2010 conversion rates like Kirwan did in his article that shows the success rate of converting second and third downs from 2010. Based on the averages last year, if a team can get to 2nd and 5 or less, they have a 51% conversion rate on 2nd down. If they get to 3rd down with 4-6 yards to go, they converted 42% of time.

Kirwan points more specifically to the point of gaining 4 yards or more when running in 1st and 10 situations, but that is not totally a great measure of playing winning football. Does it help? Most certainly, but as you can see in the second table that 5 of the teams that made the playoffs last year only gained 4 yards or more via the run 42% or less of the time and 4 of the 6 teams that gained 4 plus yards on 1st and 10 on the ground 49% of the time or more did not make the playoffs. Some teams are just better passing than they are running.

The numbers seem to balance out a little more when you look at the overall combined totals of teams that gained 4 plus yards on 1st and 10, but still 5 of the 11 teams that gained that yardage 50% or more times still did not make the playoffs.

I think what really sticks out as far as the Steelers go is their run to pass ratio despite not being a fantastic running team on 1st and 10. They ran 58% of the time in those situations compared to passing just 42% of the time on 1st and 10. That is being pretty committed to the run in my opinion on 1st and 10. Perhaps too committed, but that is what Art Rooney seems to want.

I have posted before how good of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on 3rd downs and the second table really confirms this. Just look at his 3rd and 7 and 3rd and 8 conversion percentages where he converted 18 of 30 opportunities in that situation last year. Not bad considering that the Steelers only converted 25% of their 2nd down and 6-9 yards to go opportunities which they were faced with 35% of the time on 2nd down.

While I do not discount the obvious notion that it helps to run better on 1st down, the numbers certainly support that you can be less than average and still win with great quarterback play and a good defense. Look at the Colts and Saints who both relied heavily on the passing game last year instead of the run..

The Steelers biggest offensive need in my opinion heading into the 2011 season will be to run the ball better and more consistently on 1st and 10. I think their balance is pretty spot on last year and not bad overall based on the line going through a constant shuffle and being anchored by a rookie center.


2010 Conversion Rates By Distance

DISTANCE PLAYS YARDS YPP FD %
2nd & 1-5 2951 13362 4.53 1515 51%
2nd & 6-9 3496 17702 5.06 974 28%
2nd & 10+ 3944 22190 5.63 732 19%
3rd & 1 748 2482 3.32 490 66%
3rd & 2 552 2365 4.28 305 55%
3rd & 3 519 2450 4.72 255 49%
3rd & 4 518 2623 5.06 217 42%
3rd & 5 537 2644 4.92 225 42%
3rd & 6 553 3180 5.75 230 42%
3rd & 7 537 2832 5.27 199 37%
3rd & 8 487 2654 5.45 159 33%
3rd & 9 390 2091 5.36 112 29%
3rd & 10+ 2008 12747 6.35 451 22%

1st & 10 Rushing & Passing Success

* Rushing Passing Totals
Team PLAYS 4 YDS + 4 YDS + % FD PLAYS 4 YDS + 4 YDS + % FD PLAYS 4 YDS + 4 YDS + % FD
KC 251 131 52% 34 163 80 49% 44 414 211 51% 81
NYG 242 121 50% 42 196 120 61% 71 438 241 55% 114
HOU 197 98 50% 32 241 131 54% 83 438 229 52% 115
DAL 184 92 50% 26 221 113 51% 66 405 205 51% 95
JAC 239 117 49% 29 170 92 54% 58 409 209 51% 90
NYJ 274 134 49% 20 154 78 51% 44 428 212 50% 66
NE 228 107 47% 24 163 100 61% 58 391 207 53% 82
CLE 193 91 47% 17 184 89 48% 54 377 180 48% 73
SF 179 84 47% 21 182 88 48% 46 361 172 48% 71
ARI 172 80 47% 25 191 88 46% 46 363 168 46% 71
CIN 195 89 46% 24 218 119 55% 58 413 208 50% 82
PHI 188 87 46% 25 223 118 53% 59 411 205 50% 92
SEA 169 77 46% 15 205 103 50% 48 374 180 48% 64
NO 176 80 45% 21 254 136 54% 60 430 216 50% 81
OAK 241 109 45% 34 174 86 49% 53 415 195 47% 90
BUF 212 95 45% 21 164 76 46% 44 376 171 45% 71
GB 200 88 44% 12 196 121 62% 63 396 209 53% 77
MIN 205 90 44% 25 194 104 54% 61 399 194 49% 87
TB 208 91 44% 23 170 90 53% 54 378 181 48% 83
WAS 179 79 44% 22 235 119 51% 76 414 198 48% 99
SD 238 99 42% 25 204 118 58% 86 442 217 49% 112
CHI 201 84 42% 22 170 85 50% 42 371 169 46% 69
BAL 245 102 42% 18 171 82 48% 50 416 184 44% 68
DEN 204 83 41% 20 203 109 54% 67 407 192 47% 89
PIT 224 91 41% 23 164 92 56% 49 388 183 47% 72
ATL 235 97 41% 24 188 96 51% 48 423 193 46% 75
STL 206 84 41% 24 196 97 49% 42 402 181 45% 68
MIA 207 83 40% 11 209 115 55% 70 416 198 48% 81
DET 215 87 40% 30 195 92 47% 42 410 179 44% 72
TEN 196 78 40% 29 160 75 47% 43 356 153 43% 75
CAR 208 81 39% 26 153 55 36% 27 361 136 38% 54
IND 203 78 38% 13 241 141 59% 65 444 219 49% 78

2nd & 3rd Down Distance Conversion Rates By Distance

TEAM 2nd & 1-5 2nd & 6-9 2nd & 10+ 3rd & 1 3rd & 2 3rd & 3 3rd & 4 3rd & 5 3rd & 6 3rd & 7 3rd & 8 3rd & 9 3rd & 10 3rd & 11-15 3rd & 16+
ARI 47% 25% 14% 59% 50% 47% 22% 39% 31% 50% 33% 8% 11% 12% 19%
ATL 52% 26% 19% 84% 50% 50% 44% 52% 47% 25% 53% 36% 42% 24% 20%
BAL 58% 28% 21% 52% 38% 53% 50% 37% 36% 43% 50% 47% 37% 19% 15%
BUF 44% 24% 18% 63% 46% 63% 23% 47% 60% 40% 38% 0% 29% 17% 33%
CAR 46% 19% 12% 50% 67% 53% 21% 43% 23% 47% 24% 15% 33% 18% 4%
CHI 51% 25% 24% 48% 62% 43% 47% 33% 50% 39% 23% 16% 21% 19% 12%
CIN 50% 23% 15% 55% 43% 60% 35% 40% 27% 33% 33% 38% 41% 31% 0%
CLE 46% 26% 12% 77% 50% 59% 54% 35% 32% 42% 11% 25% 33% 17% 8%
DAL 54% 30% 19% 74% 44% 46% 47% 33% 58% 40% 29% 33% 25% 33% 8%
DEN 47% 33% 29% 53% 57% 29% 43% 39% 39% 50% 19% 50% 24% 14% 13%
DET 45% 21% 20% 43% 70% 50% 67% 47% 63% 47% 38% 24% 40% 14% 7%
GB 50% 30% 25% 60% 48% 50% 55% 50% 31% 47% 43% 50% 35% 21% 0%
HOU 56% 38% 24% 80% 57% 50% 44% 33% 31% 27% 30% 43% 31% 17% 50%
IND 64% 36% 24% 62% 74% 63% 46% 46% 31% 43% 36% 36% 34% 31% 0%
JAC 50% 36% 19% 59% 56% 55% 72% 50% 27% 27% 35% 33% 15% 28% 8%
KC 47% 27% 25% 42% 47% 50% 21% 48% 58% 50% 22% 50% 25% 17% 13%
MIA 57% 23% 15% 73% 45% 44% 46% 56% 53% 40% 27% 15% 41% 19% 0%
MIN 45% 28% 17% 73% 63% 36% 31% 19% 42% 26% 30% 27% 25% 26% 15%
NE 62% 34% 13% 74% 86% 71% 55% 71% 45% 41% 63% 27% 36% 16% 13%
NO 61% 32% 19% 73% 73% 67% 44% 48% 50% 44% 26% 30% 58% 37% 7%
NYG 54% 29% 14% 76% 50% 11% 68% 39% 33% 28% 33% 36% 19% 23% 7%
NYJ 56% 27% 15% 73% 78% 43% 42% 29% 38% 42% 14% 27% 56% 24% 9%
OAK 45% 29% 15% 75% 62% 42% 43% 43% 26% 29% 47% 29% 18% 19% 5%
PHI 56% 31% 18% 76% 68% 39% 30% 38% 29% 31% 29% 47% 41% 16% 23%
PIT 51% 25% 26% 86% 63% 53% 19% 50% 33% 57% 63% 20% 36% 13% 21%
SD 57% 33% 18% 63% 58% 50% 43% 47% 58% 64% 50% 31% 38% 32% 0%
SEA 45% 27% 19% 45% 48% 67% 58% 47% 59% 29% 38% 9% 11% 27% 7%
SF 48% 18% 17% 74% 35% 29% 33% 33% 40% 27% 36% 0% 26% 19% 14%
STL 50% 27% 18% 75% 55% 40% 20% 27% 45% 25% 24% 40% 30% 9% 25%
TB 41% 27% 16% 73% 47% 45% 58% 23% 47% 33% 33% 31% 52% 29% 18%
TEN 41% 26% 14% 70% 47% 63% 42% 40% 37% 28% 29% 20% 35% 15% 0%
WAS 50% 34% 18% 53% 53% 50% 27% 54% 31% 24% 25% 15% 16% 14% 22%

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