Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Season in Review: Third Down (2008)

We press on with our look at the performance of the Pittsburgh offense on a down-by-down basis with an examination of third down. As you may recall, the 2008 performance of the offense on downs one and two was pretty poor; so what did that mean, overall, for the offense?

As with previous downs we look at the mix of run-to-pass for 2008 in the historical context of the past nine seasons (i.e. 2000-2008, inclusive):
Rushing Plays, 3rd Down5673604864
Passing Plays, 3rd Down174162163179155
Total Off. Plays, 3rd Down230235223227219

Rushing Plays, 3rd Down66364930
Passing Plays, 3rd Down126181172194
Total Off. Plays, 3rd Down192217221224

Despite the poor performance in the early downs Pittsburgh's offense "only" faced the fourth highest number of third downs during this nine season period. Of course the most important thing about third down is whether or not the offense converted it into a first down. We look at that in two parts. First, a breakdown of the offensive plays by distance required for a first down/touchdown:

The numbers never lie ~ while the number of short-yardage plays was far from its highest level (i.e. 106 in 2004) there was a slight improvement over 2007. Of more interest is the fact that the four seasons in which the offense has had the fewest third-and-shorts have been the past four seasons. Clearly this past seasons's early down struggles were no anomaly. On the other hand the number of "third-and-who-are-we-kidding" plays (i.e. more than ten yards needed) was at its lowest point since 20003 (also 42), and was tied for the third lowest total of the past nine seasons.

With that in mind we now look at the all-important third down conversion rate. Here is how it looks for the past nine seasons:

A pretty unique "pattern" emerges, one that has involved a couple of two year trends (downward in 2001 and 2002, upward in 2006 and 2007) and some swings back-and-forth in-between. Coincidentally, in the four most recent seasons the two that saw the worst third down conversion rate were 2005 and 2008 ~ seasons that saw the Steelers win the Super Bowl.