By Max Kaplan
League-wide, the conversion rate on 4th down is 50% but it jumps to 65% on 4th and 1. Ever wonder how likely it is to convert in a given situation? I ventured to find out, armed with the entire season’s worth of data from 2012.
The goal of 1st down is to create a manageable 2nd down. The goal of 2nd down is to create a manageable 3rd down. But you have to convert, eventually. What are the percentages of converting on a given down and distance?
Note: Bigger rectangles are ranges of situations – used when
there weren’t enough plays in a given down and distance.
Get 5 yards or more on 1st down
Some teams measure success on first down by a 4+ yard rush. As you can see, there is some credence to that goal. Second-down conversion rates drastically increase as the yards-to-go decreases, more so than on any other down. In fact, a team should aim for 5+ yards on 1st down because of the huge drop from 2nd and 5 (39%) to 2nd and 6 (32%). If highly-paid offensive coordinators like Bill Callahan are open to advice from $10 per hour summer interns, perhaps high-percentage, short passes are the way to go on 1st down?
3rd and 6 or bust
The odds of converting on 3rd down plummet beyond 3rd and 6, dropping from 44% to 36% as a team progresses to 3rd and 7. It is a bit surprising to find such a stark contrast with only a small 1 yard difference.
High conversion rate on 4th down
Teams convert on 4th and 10+ (35%) much better than 3rd and 10+ (22%). Why is that? Well, I have no idea – if I did, then I’d probably be calling the plays in Dallas.
It seems that teams – when facing a possible turnover on downs – take more risks and throw both more picks and 1st downs.
Only 2 teams went through a game without a 2nd and 10
This is more of a fun fact, but only Cincinnati in Week 3 and Cleveland in Week 12 never encountered a 2nd and 10. There were no incompletions on first down for either team: only completions, rushes, turnovers, and sacks. The Bengals unloaded for 206 passing yards on 1st down in their win against the playoff-bound Redskins, and Cleveland accomplished the feat while defeating the #1 ranked defense in Pittsburgh.
So what did you think of my fourth and short column. Did I convert? It doesn’t really matter. Jason Garrett and an intern happen to have something in common – we just won’t get fired for mediocre performance.
I’m in the preseason of my career… and, well, we all know how important the preseason is.