Packing the Stats: Packers First Down Failures All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Packing the StatsOne thing I noticed while watching the Green Bay Packers humiliating loss to the New York Giants was their inability to put themselves in favorable down-and-distance situations.

In fact, of the 54 offensive downs that Aaron Rodgers was on the field for, 40 of them were at or over ten yards to convert. Three were in the moderate-long range (7-9 yds.), eight were in the moderate-short range (4-6 yds.), and only three were in the short range (1-3 yds.).

But how does this compare with the rest of the season? It’s one thing to have the numbers, but we also have to have some context and comparison. After all, there will tend to be more downs of 10 yards to go, since that is what most first downs start with.

Without further ado, here is some raw data concerning the Packers’ offensive performance by down-and-distance (click on the image for a larger resolution):


2012 Green Bay Packers, Yards Gained by Down and Distance


The first thing to look at is the yards per play on first down. Green Bay had its lowest overall production on first-and-long this season (2.68 yards per play). Their second lowest output came against the Seahawks where they averaged a full yard more at 3.68 yds/play. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, their best production on first-and-long came against the Indianapolis Colts (6.79 yds/play).

What that means is the Packers should have faced more long second downs than normal. And, in fact, that was the case. Eleven of 20 second downs were in the 10+ yards-to-go range. That’s 55.0% for those keeping track. On the season, the Packers have only ended up in second-and-long situations 32.8% of the time.

What becomes even worse is how they performed on second down. Their 3.73 yds/play on second-and-long is a yard short of their season average. And one very misleading statistic is their production on second down with 4-6 yards to ago (moderate-short). While 78 yards on 7 plays gives an average of 11.14 yds/play, consider what happens when we remove the 61-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson. It becomes a paltry 17 yards on six plays for just 2.83 yds/play – or about half of their season average.

We can clearly see that an inefficiency to move the ball forward into manageable situations led the Packers to downs where they were forced to throw deeper. And that, I would say, is a bad situation to be in against such a formidable New York Giants pass rush.

Before we finish, let’s look at how well the Packers converted on each down-and-distance (click on the image for a larger resolution):


2012 Green Bay Packers, Conversions by Down and Distance


What’s rather interesting here is that the Packers were still converting overall at around the same rate as their season average. The percentages get a little crazy in the second and third down categories, but the totals remain relatively consistent.

So what gives? If they were still converting, does it really matter?

Well, yes and no. Part of the problem is when they were converting. Averages are nice measurements to have, but they don’t get into the specifics. If a team converts four times a drive but stalls each time they get into the opponents’ territory, then it doesn’t really help much. Likewise, a couple big plays mean fewer conversions but bigger chunks of yardage.

If you look, the Packers converted 100% of their plays on second down and short and moderate-long, but they only had one play at each of those distances on second down. Meanwhile, they only converted four of the 18 remaining second downs, which is just 22.2%. The effect of that was more third downs, which they didn’t convert as well as normal.

Part of the success when it comes to third down conversions (completing them on offense, or stopping them on defense) boils down to how well a unit does on the early downs. More success on first and second down, and you have a much better chance of being successful on third down. On the other hand, if you struggle during those early downs, then it becomes much more challenging to find success.

The Green Bay Packers didn’t do well enough to put themselves in manageable down-and-distance situations, and that’s something you just can’t do against good defenses that have the personnel to play Cover-2 well.


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


  • steve cheez

    Excellent analysis again Chad. Thanks!

  • Lucas

    You hit on the offensive woes at the end of the article. When they convert is extremely important. Failing to convert once in a drive results in no points. The offense has the ability, but it misses for little reasons often. The fine line of success was seen last year. This year, a few more things need to be tightened up and we can again see a humming offense.

  • Dan

    I hope MM has a good game plan ready for the Viks game. Something that combats the Tampa 2 D and a plan that helps the problems on the Oline. Please make some adjustments muscle head Mike.

    When is the last time we sat back after a game and said..Wow, what a great game MM just called. Great game plan, great in game adjustments, great in game decisions…Boy, did Mike out coach his opponent……its been awhile and few and far between… Come on MM, get innovative

  • For a team that won the SB in 2010 and went 15-1 last year, I can’t remember having a bad feeling about the Pack like this for a long time. Because were a draft and develop team and how horrible the offensive line and RB situation is I have this feeling we’re not nearly as close as I thought we were. How many times have we heard Capers say I should have done this or that? How many games does M.M. continue to throw a 65 yard pass on 3rd and inches or say I called a bad game. Capers can’t adjust and it’s starting to seem M.M.’s ego refuse’s to let him see 65 yard passes on 3rd and inches don’t work. IMO that’s a clear message that he doesn’t believe his O-line can block well enough for one our deadly weapons at RB to pick up the inches. Are you telling me Saturday, EDS, and Sitton can’t get a big enough push for a QB sneak? When’s the last time we saw that? I’m really hoping they go back to the shorter game and Jennings can help beat this cover two. Common guys, give us postseason like 2010. I hate watching Eli and Brady!

  • Since ’61

    Chad – good analysis. However, it is a lot of data and little information. We don’t know whether these are runs or passes or the game situation or score etc… It just proves what we already know, which is the more efficient that you can be on 1st and 2nd down you will likely be more efficient on third down,on both sides of the ball. However the packers defense seems to have many 3 downs and 7s,8s or 9s and still does not get off the field. To me this due to the lack of a consistent pass rush. On offense they struggle with differnet downs and distances throughout the game, again lack of consistent O-line play. The team needs to find consistency on both sides of the ball, this begins with the O-line and the D – line. Injuries are an issue, but this is when coaching needs to step up and approriate adjustments need to be incorporated into game plans. Maybe the adjustments are there but the execution is not. We’ll see the outcome this week against the Vikes.
    Thanks, Since ’61

  • Fred Mueller

    I haven’t given up on the Pack. I NEVER give up on the Pack! But I have to ask: what the H**L happened? The Packers played more like slackers than Packers! I expected some pay back, a bit of revenge, even. Instead, the Pack stunk up the place! I just hope McCarthy can figure out what went wrong and DO something about it, or the rest of the season will be a dismal one.

  • PissedoffinAZ

    Two things. Well, maybe three. First, we have now developed a mental block about the Giants. You cannot go into a game assuming you are going to get your ass kicked and then play well. Second – what O-Line? Do we have one? Third – if MM keeps calling run-run-pass over and over and over, youe opponent doesn’t even have to think about defensive plays. Ok, a quick fourth – I agree with Nick. Throwing the bomb on third and inches may work occasionally as an element of surprise. But I am reminded of that old definition of insanity. The one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.