How Running Game Affects Third Downs

November 12th, 2017

Third down struggles.

Joe enjoys how BSPN’s NFL Matchup does a lot of research and floats the results on Twitter for all to consume.

Recently, the researchers there found that America’s Quarterback, Pro Bowler Jameis Winston, is one of the poorer quarterbacks when it comes to third downs (see graphic below).

Joe wondered if this was tied to the running game. Of course, the Bucs have the fifth-worst ground attack in the NFL, no surprise to keen observers.

Joe did some simple math (always a frightening thought) and figured since the run game stinks, that likely means the Bucs paint themselves into a corner, seeing more third-and-longs because of the lousy ground game.

Joe asked winning Bucs coach Dirk Koetter about this on Friday. Koetter wasn’t sure if the Bucs had more third-and-longs this year than last year He said he’d have to look that up (but he does have the detailed stats in his office).

But Koetter rollling about third-and-longs and told Joe that on a normal season (Joe isn’t sure this season could qualify as “normal.”), the conversion rate of third-and-longs is less than 30 percent.

“When it comes to third downs, obviously the longer yardage you have [the harder it becomes],” Koetter said. “The way we break ours up is: third or fourth and short is one yard; two to five [yards], which we call medium; six to nine, which we call long; and 10-plus we call extra-long. We have certain concepts up each week for those down and distances. Your percentages are going to go down the further you have.

“If you do have to get to third down, you’d like it to be third-and-short or third-and-medium. When you are in third-and-six-plus, your percentages go down into the 20 percent range on a normal year that you’re going to get it. If everything plays out the way that the stats would play out over a 16-game schedule, you want to stay in third-and-six or less.”

That stunned Joe, that the conversion rate on 3rd-and-6-or-more is that low of a percentage.

Again, Joe doesn’t know what the third-and-longs were for the Bucs last year compared to this year. But it stands to reason if a team cannot move the ball on the ground, that offense will likely see more third-and-longs than if the ground game was humming.

And if the percentage of conversions on third-and-long is less than 30 percent in a “normal” year — and Joe’s willing to assume this isn’t a normal year — no wonder Jameis stinks on third downs this season.

13 Responses to “How Running Game Affects Third Downs”

  1. Tbbucs3 Says:

    Has Dirk ever heard of a 1st or 2d down pass? He should try it sometime rather than putting our quarterbacks in terrible situations. Run Run Predictable 3rd and long pass.

  2. Bob in Valrico Says:

    We also lacked a good running game last year and I think there were more third and longs completed last year. We may be going for the big play more than in the past which are are low percentage. But this is a key ingredient to a top scoring offense. When Jameis starts hitting one on one deep passes, his and the teams confidence will soar.They will start to believe there no is obstacle too large.

  3. The Buc Realist Says:


    that is not true at all!!!!!!!!

    Bucs 2017
    1st down – rushing 110 attempts, passing 121 attempts
    2nd down – rushing 56 attempts, passing 107 attempts
    Maybe you should try less drinking, or pay attention instead of whatever your doing now!!!!!!!!

  4. Fire the glazers Says:

    I TOLD ALL YALL… I know that Ali is playing “well” at center, but JR Sweezy at RG is a down grade in the run game, and Pamphile can’t stay healthy enough to not get spelled by Evan Smith who is a glorified backup who may only ever play well if he starts in the postseason. Should have moved ali to the LG spot, kept Hawley in at Center, now that he is 30 pounds heavier and healthier. We wouldn’t be putting up with this crap in the run game if Ali could just focus on what he was doing so well since he came in to One Buc Place.

  5. Not there yet Says:

    Nope what we call that is an excuse. People are using stats to explain the simple truth that the team simply isn’t executing which means they aren’t focused which means that preparation during the week is the problem which means Dirk doesn’t have what it takes to be a head coach. M Smith is taking up the slack for him by having the defensive side of the ball. Dude can’t get his players to do their jobs

    When you hear believing the hype from players and that is before game 3 of the season it means they aren’t taking their jobs seriously. Questioning the game plan and all the things that are happening are things that happened to the last 3 fired coaches

  6. Tbbucs3 Says:

    The Bucs Realist

    Maybe you should pay attention and not rely on MISLEADING stats so much. We only pass on first and second down if we behind late in games. Hence why almost lead the NFL in pass yardage. That’s certainly not because we have the pass offense in the NFL. If we’re winning or close in a game. Dirk goes FULL conservative mode, watch the game today Run Run Pass Run Run Pass Run Run Pass.

  7. The Buc Realist Says:


    I am breaking my own rule by trying to talk sense to the senseless!!!!!!!! But I am going to give it one more try!!!! Because you grew up like a “rube” and now I am going to teach you!!!!!!! Use that link and you will see all the splits!!!! Even by quarter!!!!!!

    1st quarter splits!!!!!!!!
    43 rushing attempts, 63 passing attempts

    are they that down in the first quarter?????? If your fantasy was true. we would see more of a 2 rushes to every 1 pass ratio!!!!!!!!!!!! What all this is not telling us is what is the defense giving them!!!!! is there an extra man in the box most plays!!!! are the safties less then 10 yards from LOS!!!!!!

    Go Bucs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Tbbucs3 Says:

    The answer to your question is YES we are down in the 1st quarter. We were to the Saints, Cards and Panthers and So on. If we’re in a tight ball games, all Dirk does is try not to lose rather than try to win. You can sit here and be a State guy all day but stats don’t win games or tell the whole story. It’s obvious, Dirk Koetter is a super conservative play caller and calls plays out of fear of turnovers. There is no rythem or intermiadate pass game to this offense. It’s OBVIOUS that their is a play calling problem.

  9. Jimmy T Says:

    Last year our 3rd down % on offense was really good, remember Chiefs game on the road? Jameis was like 12-16. What was different last year was if it was 3rd and 4 the Bucs got 5. Maybe a little swing pass but this year if it is 3rd and 2 KOETTER empties the backfield and Jameis throws a 15 yard pass to a double covered Cam Brate. Remember 2015? Jameis’ rookie year and KOETTER’s first year as OC? C Sims had 59 catches for over 500 yards & also he had 500 plus yards rushing. Even last year there were more screens & short passes. Yes Jameis has been off on the deep balls as he has been since day one but when he is off the mark on a short pass I have to believe it is because he is favoring his shoulder & will not admit it . Jameis never speaks on his injury and if it contributes to his inaccuracy. He needs to be like Rothlesberger, Big Ben lets everyone know that he is injured but still playing. If KOETTER doesn’t get fired he should assign the play calling duties to someone else.

  10. passthebuc Says:

    We have a running game, I was not aware???????

  11. BuccoDav Says:

    Other teams don’t seem to have a problem hitting third and long against the Bucs…

  12. Defense Rules Says:

    Realist, the !!!!!!!! are REALLY getting out of hand. Now they’ve got the ??????? joining in. I was afraid for a second that the Capitalization key was going to join in the fun after the !!!!!! went ballistic, but fortunately my fears were unfounded.

    On a totally unrelated note, excellent article Joe. Very interesting to see how Koetter & company breaks it all down. Bob in Valrico brought up a key point in that Bucs also lacked a running game last year, yet we did quite well in 3rd down conversions (surely many of those were 3rd-and-longs). I’ve long had a theory that NFL defenses are so good (OK, ‘other’ NFL defenses) that coaches & players have to change things up every year just to keep up. Everything goes on film & is analyzed to death. Defenses adapt very well IMO, and personally think that’s why so many skill-position players suffer the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’. Koetter & Jameis adapted quite well last year, but not so much this year. They’ve become too ‘predictable’ IMO. A large part of that falls on Koetter because he’s trying to wear 2 hats as HC & OC … he needs to focus much more on the OC part OR let Monken do it.

  13. Lamarcus Says:

    We need 2 running backs