Packers Have Made Their Money on Third Downs

However you want to judge the Packers' 2016 season, whether it be by a late-season rally for the ages or an ultimate failure because they didn't reach the pinnacle of the NFL world, there's one aspect of their offensive performance last season that can be universally agreed with.

They were really good on third down.

With arguably the best quarterback in today's league at the helm, there's no reason why the Packers shouldn't have an impressively high third-down conversion percentage on a yearly basis. Albeit Aaron Rodgers is some kind of otherworldly mutant of a quarterback, that's not necessarily the sole benefiting factor to success on third down.

You can equip Rodgers with the best-of-the-best at their respective positions. Load the backfield with Le'Veon Bell, line up Julio Jones on the perimeter and place Rob Gronkowski in the slot: it won't matter. It's about forming cohesion, something the Packers have done over the years with both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the two longest-tenured receivers on the team.

Both Nelson and Cobb are skilled in buying space for Rodgers, who tends to extend plays—sometimes more than he needed to early last season—and leave the pocket. A mobile quarterback like Rodgers provides the Packers with another escape route when dealing with crucial third-down scenarios. 

Davante Adams, now entering his fourth year and coming off of a 12-touchdown season, is also beginning to create his own chemistry with Rodgers.

The duo earned prestige from Pro Football Focus for their excellence when running slant routes last season, which soon became Adams' forte with his explosive burst off of the line of scrimmage.

"Adams scored 6 touchdowns on his slant 23 targets, two more than the next-closest receiver, Dez Bryant. Adams’ total numbers on slants were 19 catches on 23 targets, 195 yards, 6 TDs, 141.6 QB rating. Adams used the slant successfully, but in a different way from Wallace. Adams’ longest play on a slant route was 23 yards, but he was very efficient with this route: 9 of his 23 slants led to first downs or touchdowns."

These three helped give the Packers their highest third-down conversion percentage since 2014. They converted 46.12 percent of their third downs last season, behind the Patriots' 46.69 percent and the Saints' 48.64. It's an exponential leap from their percentage in 2015 (34.19), which was the sixth-worst in the league. 

The Packers were also third-ranked in third-down conversion percentage on the road, tallying 48.00 percent on the dot—still behind both New England and New Orleans.

It helps their rate when they don't see very many third down situations in general, and the Packers' 12.9 average third downs per game was the 10th-fewest in the league last season. They converted an average of 5.9 of them per game, good for fourth-most in the league and a lift from their dismal 4.4 average a season prior, also sixth-worst in 2015.

The Packers' high third down conversion rate helped them stay on the field for extended periods of time in 2016, giving them the fifth-highest time of possession average. They maintained the consistency despite the early-season struggles and averaged the 12th-most at home and sixth-most on the road.

As aforementioned, being able to get out of these specific downs provides the Packers with a fighting chance of extending their drives. They averaged 0.345 first downs per play last season, behind Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta. This averages out to 22.3 first downs per game which puts Green Bay in the top-six of teams a season ago.

There's nothing that could be more vital than staying healthy, but keeping your defense well-rested comes in at a close second. The Packers can only hope to maintain the same success in these crucial situations and avoid getting off the field in a hurry in 2017, and with their offensive repertoire, that shouldn't be too difficult.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (9)

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Tundraboy's picture

July 09, 2017 at 10:00 pm

All true, but the Defense was the opposite on critical 3rd downs. That has to change.

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gr7070's picture

July 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Well, maybe not all true. This statement is laughably false.

"Load the backfield with Le'Veon Bell, line up Julio Jones on the perimeter and place Rob Gronkowski in the slot: it won't matter. It's about forming cohesion..."

It would matter, a lot. It's even possible that the leagues best players also better enable this referenced "cohesion". Thus possibly a factor in why they're the leagues best. I won't make that argument, but one could. I'm confident saying having the leagues best players vs. other, lesser players matters, and a lot.

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GBPDAN1's picture

July 10, 2017 at 12:43 am

It will be fun watching the offense this year. Hope the D can hold their own

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NickPerry's picture

July 10, 2017 at 06:06 am

I can't help but think the 3rd down percentage might even go up a little in 2017. With more 2 TE sets and the versatility that gives Rodgers at the LOS, I would think they covert at a little higher rate in 2017. I CAN'T WAIT!

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Tundraboy's picture

July 10, 2017 at 10:29 am

That's why this year is going to be so exciting. If that happens and if the D could only make a big jump, and we finally catch a few breaks on injuries for a change, this can be a great season . Please let this be the year!. We are due.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 10, 2017 at 10:31 am

Yup. Last year had to be one of the worst as far as that goes.

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Lphill's picture

July 10, 2017 at 06:27 am

I agree with Tundraboy the Packers defense seemed to always give up a big play on third down especially third and long , always a receiver open in the middle of the field time after time , I guess the only person who did not anticipate that was Dom Capers because we all knew the middle of the field would be open . Just think if the Packers defense made a few more stops on third down and put the ball back in Aaron's hands sooner , how many more points they could have scored .

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The TKstinator's picture

July 10, 2017 at 07:25 am

I don't even want to talk about GB's "third down conversation percentage". ~~~

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Tundraboy's picture

July 10, 2017 at 10:32 am

Lol

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