Looking At The Steelers Success & Failure Play Rates By Down

Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats do a tremendous job of drilling down stats on a play-by-level, and you should be well aware of both sites by now.

While my drill downs are a lot more basic in nature, I often times like to drill down the play-by-play to just success or failure the way the book “The Hidden Game of Football” first laid it out several years ago.

In summation, the authors of the book stated that a play was considered a successful one on first down if 40% or more of the yardage needed to make a new first down was gained. On second down a play is deemed successful if 60% of the remaining yardage necessary to pick up a first down is gained and 100% on both third and fourth downs.

Studies by FO have since upped that first down number to 45%, so that is what I use now in these types of stat studies. Once again, if you want these drilled down via a much more complex method, please check out both of the sites listed above.

The basic stats do still paint a pretty clear picture, however, as to how a team is doing on all downs on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The tables that you see below really reflect the ineptitude of the offense running the ball on both first and second downs, while the passing of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is holding things together completely in the passing game on all downs. Real shocker there, right?

If there is one bright spot at all that can be pointed out in the run game it is that 7 out of 11 run plays on third and fourth down have been “successful”, based on the criteria above.

While third down has been the main bugaboo for the Steelers defense through the first three games of the season, they are allowing a 50% successful play rate or better on first and second downs in addition. These stats were compiled without quarterback kneel downs and penalties on the opposing offense, so in essence the defense is allowing a 51% conversion rate on third downs so far this season. My stats also include penalties on the Steelers defense that were deemed no plays, because no matter how you look at it, it is a fail.

The stats back up what we really already know up to this point and that is that the offense needs to run better on early downs to keep from being so reliant on Roethlisberger on third downs and the defense must do a better job on all downs at keeping the opponents offense behind the chains. In addition they must do a MUCH better job at getting off of the field on third downs.


  • Kenneth Wilt

    Running the ball. It is the key to an offense. Not necessarily to get a big play, but running the ball effectively will allow you to throw the ball MORE effectively. The key to any game is stopping the run on D and the ability to run the ball on O.

    Yes, I know that is an oversimplification of reality, but if I was Tomlin this week it is what I would stress. Defense if we can make teams no longer even try to run on us….they will have no choice but to throw and we can start creating pressure through creative blitzes, etc.