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Getting Better on Third Downs Means Better Red-Zone Efficiency for Packers Offense

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Getting Better on Third Downs Means Better Red-Zone Efficiency for Packers Offense

Anyway you look at it, the Packers haven't been all that good in the red zone this year.

Through Week 5 in the NFL, the Packers rank 14th out of 32 teams in red-zone efficiency, coming away with a touchdown only 56.25 percent of the time they drive inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

By comparison, the undefeated Denver Broncos led by ultra-efficient quarterback Payton Manning are putting six points on the scoreboard 82.61 percent of the time.

It's been a fall from grace for the Packers, who led the league in the same category last year, finding the end zone at a 68.52 percent clip.

The red-zone difficulties were apparent in last week's game against the Detroit Lions when the Packers twice entered the red zone and only came away with a pair of field goals.

But perhaps looking at the red-zone statistics is a case of paralysis by analysis or micro-managing. If the Packers could just get better on third down, no matter where they are on the field, the offense would be operating a whole lot smoother.

Keeping the chains moving would certainly help when the Packers go to the home of the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens this upcoming Sunday.

"We need to pick it up on third down, that's the thing," said head coach Mike McCarthy after Wednesday's practice. "I know we've spent a lot of time on it last night as a staff and this afternoon. So we'd like to do a better job there, and today was our first work of it.

"Baltimore's defense is very good in third-down defense. Once again, we have a plan, we have a process, and we definitely go the players, and I have confidence it will get to where it needs to be."

Despite the team's success on first down and Aaron Rodgers having the best first down passer rating in NFL history, it hasn't translated into converting third down opportunities the way the Packers had hope in 2013.

As things currently stand, Green Bay ranks 12th in the NFL in third down conversion rate, getting a new set of downs on only 19 of 49 chances (38.8 percent).

The Packers took some heat for failing to convert on two separate third-and-1 opportunities this past Sunday against the Lions, choosing to pass the ball instead of pound it up the gut with 230 lb. running back Eddie Lacy.

One of those third-and-1 situations came when the Packers were in the red zone, driving as far as the Lions' 13-yard line late in the third quarter.

The Packers faked a play-action handoff to the speedy but certainly not powerful Randall Cobb out of the backfield, while Rodgers rolled out to the right before a pass intended for Jordy Nelson sailed out of bounds.

"We had two opportunities and got two field goals out of it," said Rodgers of the red zone in their most recent game. "We definitely got to improve in that area, especially when you're playing real good football teams.

"You've got to get seven points, make it easier on your defense and really change the momentum of games by getting in the end zone. it's a tough opponent this week, a tough challenge, and it's going to be important to make sure we help our defense out."

It's partially a product of having an early bye, but only four NFL teams have converted fewer than the 19 first downs from third down opportunities the Packers have faced this season.

Whether it's at midfield, backed up in their own territory or threatening to score in the red zone, converting on third down keeps drives alive and hopes that the Packers will eventually find pay dirt.

Failures in the red zone are magnified, but taking a step back and getting better on third downs in general will translate into more success.

"It's been four weeks and it's not quite where we want it to be," said McCarthy, "but we have confidence that it's going to get there."

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (12) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

T's picture

Isn't 19 of 39 48.7%?

Beep's picture

Packers are 19 of 49 for 38.8%

T's picture

Ah. I just can't read.

Beep's picture

You're not crazy T. He corrected it, you caught it first...

Idiot Fan's picture

I do agree that we should be able to perform better than ranking 14th and 12th in the categories mentioned because of our personnel, but sometimes it's hard to separate certain statistics. For example, it's possible that we only have 19 third-down conversions because we tend to get first downs on first or second down (I don't know if this is true or not).

The good news is that we rank #3 in points per game, and that's against some pretty decent defenses, no less. That Denver offense is amazing, but they've played some pretty poor defenses so far. Also, for what it's worth, Football Outsiders has the Packers ranked #2 in offensive efficiency, behind Denver.

bomdad's picture

Just commented about this on another thread. Is it just me, or does it seem like the WRs just aren't getting open in the red zone especially, due to physical coverage by the opponents' DBs? Seems like AR is trying to "throw them open" sometimes, and the PI calls are not forthcoming.

MarkinMadison's picture

I kind of feel that way too, but I think it is mostly an illusion. The contrast is really stark when the Packers are playing zone. You see opposing receivers "running free" through the zone defense. The Packers get the ball back and you see their receivers "struggling to get open," particularly when they are playing against a physical defensive secondary that is playing man. It creates a mental impression that is a little misleading.

The other factor has been the lack of a run game. Look at James Jones' long touchdown run against the Lions. He got wide open because the D was respecting the run. We used to see that all the time three years ago. Now the Packers are having to prove that they have a running game again. As they do coverages will have to adjust and then you will see more Packers receivers getting open.

I'm really optimistic about this team, despite the 2-2 record.

Bomdad's picture

Jones scored because Houston thought he had safety help. Safety was moving toward Cobb in the slot. So I don't see your running game point in that example, that was their admitted lapse in coverage. And in that instance, Jones beat a downfield jam by Houston.

Stroh's picture

Good play design to get Cobb to influence the safety so they could get Jones over the top. Props to McCarthy for a great design and playcall.

marcopo's picture

I agree with Rodgers. There is absolutely no reason for concern at this point, 4 games into the season. Rarely do the Packers come out of the box a complete team. They have a new offense with key new pieces and it take time to get that perfect timing we're used to seeing. Rodgers needs time to confidently use his weapons. We should all know by now that that will happen sooner then later. But this year we have the makings of a pretty fair defense, as well. Sit back. Watch the progression and enjoy.

C's picture

Bears and Giants defenses looking as though they will be padding the Packers 3rd down stats, pronto...

fish and crane's picture

Third and one needs to be, will be 27 time. He's nimble as hell then dives forward like a twisting and slippery rock.

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