Avoid Third Downs

June 23rd, 2024

Can Liam Coen reverse trend?

Former NFL suit Michael Lombardi harps on this during the season and it seems the stats back him up.

Lombardi, on his podcast “GM Shuffle,” always pounds the table saying to win with offense in the NFL you have to pretend you’re playing under CFL rules. The more an offense converts on first and second downs, the better.

Noted handicapper turned stathead Warren Sharp’s research suggests Lombardi is right on.

Sharp found last year eight of the top-10 offenses in avoiding third downs advanced to the playoffs. Only four teams in the bottom-10 at avoiding third downs made the playoffs. The Bucs ranked No. 28.

Simply put teams that can manufacture explosive plays avoided third downs.

It’s all about moving the ball and scoring, people. You can throw any sort of stat at Joe you want, but at the end of the day, the only stat that matters is points scored.

It’s not about preventing points (though that’s very nice), it’s about scoring.

Fun fact: The Bucs at No. 28 last year under former offensive coordinator Dave Canales were worse at avoiding third downs than they were with currently unemployed Byron Leftwich in 2022 (No. 24).

29 Responses to “Avoid Third Downs”

  1. Buc4evr Says:

    It didn’t help when the Bucs were always trying to run on first and second down.
    Wonder what the Bucs’ third down conversion rate looked like in comparison with the rest of the league?

  2. teacherman1983 Says:

    Hainsey never won a single 1st down in 2 years.

    He didn’t move a single player on 1st down in 2 years.

    For 2 years our center was getting blown up or they were just blowing right by him.

    We put a RT who never played center in his life in front of Tom Brady.

    The only reason Mayfield was better than Brady is because Mayfield wasn’t afraid of getting hit.

    But go back and watch the season.

    Mayfield was Houdini or Jameis Winston back there!

    Mayfield dodged dozens of sacks!

    He would drop back. Avoid the first pass rusher half of his pass attempts!

    Brady just got rid of it in 1 second because he knew Hainsey was an open door.

    Hainsey: worst center in the history of the NFL.

    Manziel. Worst call ever.

  3. Boss Says:

    1983 puffin early. Bake was always running because he waited on evans every play. Dude could not read and deliver in under 3 seconds to save his life

  4. Steven007 Says:

    I keep wondering if Warren sharp is a handicapper turned stathead. Seems like I’ve heard that before. Would be nice if they mentioned that in an article. Or 50.

  5. Beeej Says:

    Boss–according to PFF, Baker was in the top ten of passing efficiency UNDER 2.5 seconds. So, either Evans is a magician on getting open UNDER 2.5 seconds, (78.4) or Baker must have surveyed the field and made a decision.

    Aside from that, what Teacher said

  6. infomeplease Says:

    It would be nice to avoid 3rd downs more often. Duh! Perhaps the new OC and revamped OL can make that happen this year.

  7. Show Me the TDs Says:

    “It’s not about preventing points”? The Bucs were 28th in avoiding 3rd downs, yet still had a successful season. It appears that defense is just as important. Your reasoning makes no sense.

  8. Defense Rules Says:

    Joe … ‘It’s not about preventing points (though that’s very nice), it’s about scoring.’

    Another way to look at it is that IT’S ABOUT BOTH, because not only do POINTS SCORED for the team that wins always exceed POINTS ALLOWED, but … POINTS ALLOWED is always less than POINTS SCORED. Defense AND offense BOTH play vital roles in today’s NFL, and those teams whose defense COMPLEMENTS their offense (and vice versa) usually do quite well in the regular season and in the playoffs.

    Our 2020 Super Bowl team kinda bears that out. Our offense was very good overall (ranked #3 in Points Scored), but our defense (ranked #8 in Points Allowed) complemented them very well. Our defense created 25 takeaways for our offense to capitalize on, while the offense had 17 giveaways (for a PLUS 8 Turnover Differential). And that really proved to be critical in the playoffs (Bucs’ defense had 9 takeaways vs 4 giveaways for the offense).

    Our 2002 Super Bowl team was somewhat different however. Our defense was the best in the NFL (ranked #1 in Points Allowed), but our middle-of-the-pack offense (ranked #18 in Points Scored) complemented them reasonably well. That incredible defense not only generated 38 takeaways, but it also scored TDs on 4 Pick-6 and 1 fumble return. That offense really only scored 304 points themselves on the season, and they had 33 other takeaways to work with. They gave the ball away 21 times, so we ended up with a PLUS 17 Turnover Differential.

    Even today I’d say that any team that only allows 196 points on the season like our 2002 team did will probably have a winning record.

  9. Dave Pear Says:

    Another article making the point that Todd must loosen the reins on offense and be more aggressive, especially early. And stunningly, it’s true that you need to keep the opponent from scoring as much as you. That’s easier to do when you’re scoring an average of 25ppg instead of 19ppg.

  10. D Cone Says:

    Regardless of how Bucs faired on first and second they were 9th best in the league on third down @ 41%in the final game with the Division on the line 33% is alarming but it was a win.

    Mayfield numbers were lights out passing on third down and got media praise.HOF QB’s pointed out that it is unsustainable and Mayfield would come back to Earth and level out closer to his career numbers. Makes me wonder after a 132 QBR on 3rd down in 2023 how low it will have to be to meet at his career 78 QBR on 3rd down.

    Say what you want about Canales’ run the ball manifest but he put the team in plays to move the ball and execution was the issue. Incompletions on first and second we’re just as responsible for stalled and low PPG as failed running plays.

    Bring in a new OC and even if he is more aggressive on early downs will make now difference if the guys on the field don’t execute.

  11. Gipper Says:

    Last years offensive scheme under Dave Canales would have pleased Woody Hayes. Trying to pass on 3rd and long was insanity. If Bucs want to run the ball in 2024, let’s try to use the passing game to set up the run. Last year opposing defenses knew what was coming as did every fan watching on TV.

  12. ManzielMadness Says:

    Canales emphasized 3rd and manageable situations in his scheme, I would expect to see different results under Cohen.

  13. Kgh4life Says:

    The reason why the Bucs were in so many third downs is because they ran it on 1st downs too often, and with no success. It seems they were playing for 3rd downs.

  14. Joe Says:

    Kgh4life Says:

    The reason why the Bucs were in so many third downs is because they ran it on 1st downs too often, and with no success.

    There you go.

  15. ATLBUC Says:

    Actually Leftwich’s offense out performed Canales 5894 to 5321

  16. SlyPirate Says:


    3rd down is magical. I love 3rd downs. When a team is down by one score, the entire team and fan base knows they need just one stop, then it’s 3rd down and 5. It’s their time to rise up, shut the offense down, get the ball, and win the game. Then it happens, the offense opens a hole and the running back goes for six yards. 1st down! It is the single MOST DEMORALIZING THING. It’s just a 1st down but the disbelief and soul crushing failure is palpable. You’ll literally watch every player and coach mentally, emotionally, and spiritually lose. It’s awesome.

    Baker was so good at this last year. One of the things I appreciated about Baker, was his will to convert on 3rd down. He respects the psychological dynamic of third down better than most QBs. So, avoid 3rd? Sure. I get it. But I say embrace third down, crush 3rd down, and you’ll win the game.

  17. ChiBuc Says:

    Joe, I’m confused. You spend a great deal of time pointing out buccaneer bottom dweller stats (e.g. avoiding 3rd downs, yac yardage, games with a lead, run game futility, poor pass defense, DL sacks, OL wins, the loss of Davis, etc, etc) and the remainder bemoaning how Vegas/media don’t give the bucs their just dues for winning a weak division and beating a pathetic nose-diving eagle’s team. The rest of the world/talking heads see the same stats you throw at us daily which makes a strong case for their lack of respect for our beloved bucs. Are you on Licht’s payroll? You are working really hard at cultivating a victimhood narrative. Then again, I guess inciting the masses is how you garner a loyal base.

  18. Rod Munch Says:

    Stop wasting your 1st downs running the ball when you can’t run.

    If you actually think the Bucs will improve that this year, with Bowles putting his full approval stamp on the offense, you’re nuts. This will probably be the most boring, uninteresting and predictable offense in the NFL.

    I hope to God I’m wrong – but if Bowles is putting his finger on the scales, it means more 3-and-outs than ever.

  19. KABucs Says:

    Defenserules… the 3 defensive scores in that 200superbowl, 2 by Dexter Jackson and 1 by Brooks was beautiful.. all in a si gle game. Raiders were screwed! Our offensive only had to be average and fairly mistake free that year. Loved that whole season!

    Back to the 3rd down thing, it’s no coincidence that Bucs kept having.a.high number of 3rd and short/longs for the last 2 seasons after the interior O-line quit/left/got injured in same off season. Been a slow and rough attempt to repair this, hopefully Barton is the answer.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Been saying this forever. It’s common sense. Hearing Byron and other coaches preach about the key is setting up 3rd and shorts is/was baffling.

    Why purposely set up a “do or die” down 5+ times every single drive just to score??!? Crazy. If you don’t convert by the end of 2nd down, at least you still have 3rd down as the backup…

  21. ScottyMack Says:

    I was amazed at how successful the Bucs were on third down last year – particularly third and long. Seemed to be far better than they were with Brady (especially his last year).

    I seem to recall one of the greatest QBs of all time, Peyton Manning, saying that the best way to get first downs was by avoiding third downs.

  22. Cobraboy Says:

    teacherman1983 says:

    The only reason Mayfield was better than Brady is because Mayfield wasn’t afraid of getting hit.

    I totally get why Brady, at his age, had no desire to get hit. The thing is, I don’t *want* Mayfield…or Brady…getting hit, even if Mayfield fears the blow less. But your statement is 100% correct.

    Here’s hoping rebuilding the OL this offseason works. I do have faith it will.

  23. Joe Says:

    The rest of the world/talking heads see the same stats you throw at us daily which makes a strong case for their lack of respect for our beloved bucs. Are you on Licht’s payroll? You are working really hard at cultivating a victimhood narrative. Then again, I guess inciting the masses is how you garner a loyal base.

    Joe also recalls the Bucs being tied with the Lions in the fourth quarter in the divisional round and that the Bucs have superior players, at least on offense, knowing the Bucs can be much more than last year.

    And Joe has pointed this out several times. Don’t see a connection there at all. The folks who are down on the Bucs apparently didn’t watch the playoffs. They surely aren’t factoring in Kirk Cousins’ injury.

    Not sure what your issue is.

  24. Rod Munch Says:

    The only thing Baker is better than Brady at is making awful commercials.

    The Leftwich, without Arians, offense was 10000x worse than what we saw last year. With Leftwich, I swear to God, I could tell by the formation what he was running at least 90% of the time, and I say at least to be generous as I bet it was a lot closer to 99%. In those game day threads I’d call out the plays while the team was in commercial break, without even seeing the personnel and would still be right probably 70% of the time.

    Canales last year did a great job of mixing things up, at least when you consider the handicap that he had to deal with in Todd Bowles who demanded you run the ball, regardless of the ability to run the ball. And at least with Canales, he wasn’t as ultra predictable as Leftwich was. I worry with Bowles being more involved on offense we’re going to see Leftwich like predictability, but with about 1/2 the passing, which will be a Mike Shula like disaster if that happens – and even with as much as I like White, he isn’t Dunn and Alstott.

  25. garro Says:

    Enough with the stat geek please. I know we were in third and long too much last year already, and don’t need a stat geek who did not watch a single game we played chiming in. Just pisses me off and then I stupidly read all the stupid comments about stuff that has been tossed around on here ad nauseam.

    BTW that stat is to some degree irrelevant. Jags and Commanders were top ten? Our crap third down defense did not get us the ball enough so that begs the question. Is this stat a percentage of opportunities or a flat number if its a flat number it means absolutely nothing.

    Go Bucs!

  26. heyjude Says:

    Thank you, Joe for pointing out that the Bucs were number 28 last season in being the worse at avoiding 3rd downs, under Canales. Worse than former OC Leftwich, at number 24 in 2022. Bottom line, we regressed under Canales. Looking forward to Coen!

  27. heyjude Says:

    Rod Munch Says:
    “The only thing Baker is better than Brady at is making awful commercials.”

    Baker’s commercials were petty funny, not awful at all. Tom Brady’s too. I like them a lot better than Mahomes, Rodgers, Reid…, and all their tiring commercials that I tune out.

  28. Zoocomics Says:

    I was beating this drum ALL last year, because when you watched those teams at the top of the list, their offenses play to win on 1st and 2nd down. There is nothing predictable about the 49ers or KC, and rarely did you see them in 3rd and longs. At times, Tampa was so predictable last season it was agonizing. The plays being called, just seemed like we were playing for 3 downs and with a offensive line and running game that wasn’t very good at stretches of the season. I think if the offense and/or offensive line can impose it’s will on the line of scrimmage, teams like the Eagles, I think they can handle a 3 down format a lot better, than our situation last season, where our Oline wasn’t as good as it’s been in the past, 3rd downs were a liability because we weren’t great running on short-yardage, and anything longer than 5 years, teams were looking for the short pass. Hoping Coen changes the trend.

  29. ^^mtn^^ Says:

    Time of possession.

    Most football enthusiasts are aware of the significance of T.O.P. stat.

    3rd downs can help to keep your defense from tiring out in the 4th quarter.

    Balance is always key