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

DISTANCEPLAYSYARDSYPPFD%
2nd & 1-52951133624.53151551%
2nd & 6-93496177025.0697428%
2nd & 10+3944221905.6373219%
3rd & 174824823.3249066%
3rd & 255223654.2830555%
3rd & 351924504.7225549%
3rd & 451826235.0621742%
3rd & 553726444.9222542%
3rd & 655331805.7523042%
3rd & 753728325.2719937%
3rd & 848726545.4515933%
3rd & 939020915.3611229%
3rd & 10+2008127476.3545122%

1st & 10 Rushing & Passing Success

*RushingPassingTotals
TeamPLAYS 4 YDS +4 YDS + % FDPLAYS 4 YDS +4 YDS + % FDPLAYS 4 YDS +4 YDS + % FD
KC25113152%341638049%4441421151%81
NYG24212150%4219612061%7143824155%114
HOU1979850%3224113154%8343822952%115
DAL1849250%2622111351%6640520551%95
JAC23911749%291709254%5840920951%90
NYJ27413449%201547851%4442821250%66
NE22810747%2416310061%5839120753%82
CLE1939147%171848948%5437718048%73
SF1798447%211828848%4636117248%71
ARI1728047%251918846%4636316846%71
CIN1958946%2421811955%5841320850%82
PHI1888746%2522311853%5941120550%92
SEA1697746%1520510350%4837418048%64
NO1768045%2125413654%6043021650%81
OAK24110945%341748649%5341519547%90
BUF2129545%211647646%4437617145%71
GB2008844%1219612162%6339620953%77
MIN2059044%2519410454%6139919449%87
TB2089144%231709053%5437818148%83
WAS1797944%2223511951%7641419848%99
SD2389942%2520411858%8644221749%112
CHI2018442%221708550%4237116946%69
BAL24510242%181718248%5041618444%68
DEN2048341%2020310954%6740719247%89
PIT2249141%231649256%4938818347%72
ATL2359741%241889651%4842319346%75
STL2068441%241969749%4240218145%68
MIA2078340%1120911555%7041619848%81
DET2158740%301959247%4241017944%72
TEN1967840%291607547%4335615343%75
CAR2088139%261535536%2736113638%54
IND2037838%1324114159%6544421949%78

2nd & 3rd Down Distance Conversion Rates By Distance

TEAM2nd & 1-5 2nd & 6-92nd & 10+ 3rd & 13rd & 2 3rd & 33rd & 4 3rd & 53rd & 6 3rd & 73rd & 8 3rd & 93rd & 10 3rd & 11-153rd & 16+
ARI47%25%14%59%50%47%22%39%31%50%33%8%11%12%19%
ATL52%26%19%84%50%50%44%52%47%25%53%36%42%24%20%
BAL58%28%21%52%38%53%50%37%36%43%50%47%37%19%15%
BUF44%24%18%63%46%63%23%47%60%40%38%0%29%17%33%
CAR46%19%12%50%67%53%21%43%23%47%24%15%33%18%4%
CHI51%25%24%48%62%43%47%33%50%39%23%16%21%19%12%
CIN50%23%15%55%43%60%35%40%27%33%33%38%41%31%0%
CLE46%26%12%77%50%59%54%35%32%42%11%25%33%17%8%
DAL54%30%19%74%44%46%47%33%58%40%29%33%25%33%8%
DEN47%33%29%53%57%29%43%39%39%50%19%50%24%14%13%
DET45%21%20%43%70%50%67%47%63%47%38%24%40%14%7%
GB50%30%25%60%48%50%55%50%31%47%43%50%35%21%0%
HOU56%38%24%80%57%50%44%33%31%27%30%43%31%17%50%
IND64%36%24%62%74%63%46%46%31%43%36%36%34%31%0%
JAC50%36%19%59%56%55%72%50%27%27%35%33%15%28%8%
KC47%27%25%42%47%50%21%48%58%50%22%50%25%17%13%
MIA57%23%15%73%45%44%46%56%53%40%27%15%41%19%0%
MIN45%28%17%73%63%36%31%19%42%26%30%27%25%26%15%
NE62%34%13%74%86%71%55%71%45%41%63%27%36%16%13%
NO61%32%19%73%73%67%44%48%50%44%26%30%58%37%7%
NYG54%29%14%76%50%11%68%39%33%28%33%36%19%23%7%
NYJ56%27%15%73%78%43%42%29%38%42%14%27%56%24%9%
OAK45%29%15%75%62%42%43%43%26%29%47%29%18%19%5%
PHI56%31%18%76%68%39%30%38%29%31%29%47%41%16%23%
PIT51%25%26%86%63%53%19%50%33%57%63%20%36%13%21%
SD57%33%18%63%58%50%43%47%58%64%50%31%38%32%0%
SEA45%27%19%45%48%67%58%47%59%29%38%9%11%27%7%
SF48%18%17%74%35%29%33%33%40%27%36%0%26%19%14%
STL50%27%18%75%55%40%20%27%45%25%24%40%30%9%25%
TB41%27%16%73%47%45%58%23%47%33%33%31%52%29%18%
TEN41%26%14%70%47%63%42%40%37%28%29%20%35%15%0%
WAS50%34%18%53%53%50%27%54%31%24%25%15%16%14%22%

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.