Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Season in Review: Second Down

In our look at first down play calling and its effectiveness we noticed that while the mix of pass-to-run was similar over the last eight seasons, we saw a decline in yards gained on first down in 2007. As a result we surmised that second down play calling would be effected. Here's a look at those numbers:

Rushing Plays196182155151230178160174
Passing Plays144173209186112150177165
Total Off. Plays, First Down340355364337342328337339

The past season featured the fourth highest, and fourth lowest, percentage of running plays v. passing plays (51.33% v. 48.67%) over the last eight seasons. To say that 2007 was "average" is something of an understatement: From 2000-2007, on second down, the Steelers have averaged 178.25 rushing plays and 164.5 passing plays.

But the question we were really wondering about, based upon the first down yards gained in 2007, is whether or not the Steelers had more second-and-long situations that in seasons past. So we looked at how many second down plays the Steelers had on which they needed 5 or fewer yards, how many plays they had on which they needed between 6 and 10 yards, and how many plays on which they needed more than 10 yards. Here's a graphical look at the data:

As expected the 6-10 yard plays is overwhelmingly the #1 category in terms of total second down plays, and for only the second time in the last eight seasons the Steelers had more than 200 plays in that category. Also on the positive side, 2007 featured the fewest number of second-and-really long plays (44).

However, and this was to be expected, this past season also featured the fewest number of second-and-short -- i.e. five yards or fewer -- plays (88) of any season in the last eight. And while 2007 was the worst season in this regard, it was a continuation of a four year slide in the number of plays in which the Steelers offense had five or fewer yards to gain for a first down or touchdown.

Finally, as we move forward it is worthwhile to look at the average yardage gained on second down. Once again, here's a graphical look at the trends over the past eight seasons:

When we examined the Steelers' passing attack we saw that the effectiveness of the running and passing attacks have tended to expand and contract in the same direction, and we see something similar on second down. The average gain by running on second down has declined the past two seasons, and the same has occurred in the passing game as well.

We're beginning to see a trend here, and can only imagine what third down is going to look like.

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