Redskins’ Struggles On Third Down Continue.


October 7, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) runs with the ball against the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

As we look back one last time on week 5 and the Redskins lick their wounds after an eighth straight home defeat and an injury suffered by their franchise quarterback, we can ask ourselves, “what happened to our offense?”

Through the first four games, the Redskins offense, led by a rookie QB and a rookie running back, had averaged nearly 31 points per game. Against the Falcons it scored just 10. The only touchdown scored was courtesy of a blown coverage capitalised on by Kirk Cousins who connected with Santana Moss for a 77 yard scoring play. The Griffin-led Redskins scored just three points from seven drives (although this should have been six was it not for a missed chip shot field goal).

Going in to the game, the Redskins were last in the league in third down conversions with just a 26% success rate. Imagine how many points could have been scored if this was improved to a league average 40%. One more conversion per drive maybe. This would likely be the difference in at least two of our games meaning we could be sitting pretty at 4-1, all alone atop the NFC East.

Converting third downs is the way to keep your offense on the field, and your opponent’s offense off the field. Obvious I know but you also keep your defence fresh while the opposition D tires, allowing you to dominate time of possession.

Our third down conversions against the Falcons was even worse, converting on just one of nine attempts. The only success we had was the aforementioned TD from Cousins to Moss. How important are third down conversions? Well that was worth seven points.

I looked at our third downs in the last game to see if there are any tendencies, patterns in play calling, distance of third downs to see if there is a way we can improve.

Our average distance to go in the nine third down situations was six, twice we had third and one or two yards (short), once with medium distance to go (3 – 5 yards) and six times we had six or more yards (long).

Both times we had third and short we ran it to Morris. Both times the Falcons got great penetration and stopped Morris for a loss or no gain. They were clearly expecting a run. On the only third and medium (3 yards) our QB scrambled and was stopped for a loss (when Griffin was injured). So running the ball on third down was not great for us on Sunday.

In the six third and longs, we passed it every time. Probably nothing unusual about that – most teams would pass the majority of times in the same situation. Without having looked at previous games, I’m sure we had some success with the QB draw but the move away from called runs to our QB may have influenced by our reluctance to ask RG3 to make every play on his own and risk taking a hit.

Oct 7, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss (89) outruns Atlanta Falcons linebacker Robert James (51) en route to a 77 yard touchdown reception during the second half at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Of the six third down passes, four were medium to long distance passes with designed routes beyond the first down marker. Three were incomplete while the one that was caught went for a TD. Two passes were dump off passes in front of the first down marker where the receiver was tackled short.

So what does this tell us – does it help at all? Well, not really as the sample is too small to be overly significant. Against the Falcons we did well on first and second downs meaning we only had nine third down opportunities in 12 drives (10 if you discount the final two drives ended early by interceptions). The small sample does suggest that maybe we need to mix it up more, some play action on third and short for example.

We have some tough games coming up, including a number of division games. To improve our record and to have a chance of a playoff place, Coaches Shanahan need to select or design some third down plays that will keep the offense on the field.