Oct 14, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) talks with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) along the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Lions defeated the Eagles 26-23 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Detroit Lions on 3rd Down: A Closer Look

Losers of 4 of their last 5 games, the Lions are sputtering out of playoff contention in the NFC. One glaring issue is the

offense’s in-ability to convert 3rd downs.  It is often said that 3rd down is the money down.  It is where offenses “earn their money.” The Lions have not done a good job of converting 3rd downs, particularly early in games.  After charting the first 6 games, it’s easy to see why this team has no rhythm on offense.  Below is a week-by-week breakdown of early 3rd down conversions: 


Overall Efficiency

Early Efficiency


4-9 (44%)

3-6 (50%)


6-15 (40%)

1-5 (20%)


3-12 (25%)

2-10 (20%)


6-16 (38%)

2-10 (20%)


3-13 (23%)

0-8 (0%)


4-13 (31%)

0-6 (0%)

The Lions have to generate some consistency & rhythm on offense by being more efficient on 3rd down.

Another concerning issue on 3rd down is the team going three & out on occasions where they gained 7+ yards on 1st down. In week 1, the team went 3 & out & failed to convert on 3rd down after gaining 8 yards on a 1st down run by Kevin Smith.

In last week’s Monday Night Football tilt vs the Chicago Bears, the Lions went 3 & out & failed to convert on 3rd down twice.  Once on a 9 yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew & another on a 9 yards pass to Titus Young.  That is like taking free money.  You have to convert in those situations.  Especially on the road, against good teams.

So how do the Lions rank 4th in yards per game, 5th in passing yards, & 2nd in passing yards per game league wide, while doing so poorly on 3rd down?

For starters, they are pretty solid on 1st down.  After 7 games, the Lions are averaging 4.53 yards per carry & 6.9 yards per attempt on 1st down.  They have generated more 1st downs than their opponents with a 148-117 edge.  After some sorting, I noticed the Lions haven’t been getting to 3rd down a whole lot through the first 7 weeks.  In fact, of the team’s 148 total 1st downs, 110 (75%) were generated without getting to 3rd down!

This offense is in a horrible funk.  Converting some early third downs can go a long way to generating some continuity, rhythm, and confidence back into this group.

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