Throwing First Also Opens Up Run Game

July 21st, 2022

Warren Sharp.

For those that follow handicapper-turned-stathead Warren Sharp on Twitter, you know how much he hates teams that often run on first down.

Sharp, armed with numbers, railed during the Bucs’ championship season of 2020 that they ran too much on first down. Hey, they won a Super Bowl, how can you argue with that?

Last years the Bucs offense was well-oiled despite injuries all over the place at the skill positions, yet the team was better offensively. Sharp documented in his Warren Sharp’s 2022 Football Preview that the offense hummed because the Bucs threw more on first down in 2021.

This, Sharp noted, allowed the Bucs to have much shorter distances to reach a first down later in a series of downs.

The correlation between yards-to-go on third down and third down efficiency is so evident.

In 2020, the Bucs had the 14th best yards-to-go on third down and the 13th best third down conversion rate.

In 2021, the Bucs had the best yards-to-go on third down and the second-best third down conversion rate.

The way that they had the best (aka shortest) yards-to-go on third down was their increased first down pass rate, coupled with running less often into heavy boxes and a more efficient early down strategy.

And by throwing more on first downs, Sharp says that forced defenses to have less men in the box because they used nickel and dime lineups against the Bucs. This is when the Bucs cleaned up on the run, Sharp noted.

If the Bucs continue to throw on first down so often, both the offense in general and the run game in particular, will shine as a result.

10 Responses to “Throwing First Also Opens Up Run Game”

  1. Ausgust 1976 Buc Says:

    Bill Walsh blazed a trail with Joe Montana chewing up teams this way.
    Again you make a lot more 2 foot birdie putts than you 7-10 feet.
    I agree, set up easy yards for 1st downs, it just makes sense. Why make the game complicated. Brady gets the ball out so quick, seems simple to me.
    The death by a 1000 cuts paper guy is Qb for the Bucs. More paper cuts on first down, let Brady, the living legend do his thing, and possibly hoist Lombardi #8 for him, and 3rd overall for the Bucs franchise.

    GO BUCS!!!!!

  2. Defense Rules Says:

    Stands to reason that there’d be a ‘correlation between yards-to-go on third down and third down efficiency’. I suspect that by-and-large we’d find that for just about every team.

    But then again, I would’ve expected that there’d be a correlation between third-down efficiency and time-of-possession too. (The more times you convert on 3rd down, the longer you end up holding the ball?) In the Bucs’ case however, I’d be wrong. Bucs were 5th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage (44.8%) last season , but we were way down at #18 in TOP (30:11 mins/game).

    I suspect that’s because the Bucs are so good getting 1st downs on 2nd down plays and even on 1st down plays. And oh ya, we seem to get more than our share of explosive plays that generate a lot of yardage … and points. Doesn’t appear that the NFL keeps any stats on those though so that’s just speculation.

  3. Oddball Says:

    Stathead. Wasn’t wearing my glasses at first and thought…

  4. 2022 Year of the GOAT RETURN Says:

    Play to your strengths and keep the defense off balance…

  5. Beeej Says:

    If I had a nickel for every time I was screaming at the TV to NOT run on first down into 8 dudes up front…

  6. BucBoy Says:

    Running on first down + Prevent defenses = Losers

  7. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Defenses and Offenses are always adjusting – if Bucs continue to throw more on 1st down, then Defenses will adjust – every game is a challenge for Offenses to create schemes and formations that confuse the Defenses. Passing on 1st down is great when it works and the Bucs have been successful but as opponents adjust, Bucs may see more pass rushing pressure and blitzing on 1st down.

  8. UKBuccaneer Says:

    BucBoy, prevent defense has its time and place when it absolutely should be used. Like the last half minute vs the Rams….

  9. Dooley Says:

    Part of me feels that some of this was to avoid the slow starts that plagued our offense pretty much the entire first half of the 2020 season. Last season there were a few games where Brady was just come out the first few series and target Evans/Godwin a lot right from the jump to the point it’d looked like he was forcing balls to those guys in effort to kick start the offense.

  10. Señor Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    DR: “…I would’ve expected that there’d be a correlation between third-down efficiency and time-of-possession too…”

    Not sure this is the reason for our deficiency in TOP, but if we are throwing the ball more (as you know, the Bucs led the league in passing yards), the clock stops on all incompletions (this would shorten the TOP), whereas running and getting one yard the clock is moving, thus longer TOP.

    The Bucs also led the NFL in chunk plays of 20+ yards (76 such plays). To me, this would indicate we are moving the ball down the field faster, again, shortening TOP