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):
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):
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.——————Follow @ChadToporski