05 Oct 2007
I'm working on a sidebar for ESPN The Magazine about how boom-and-bust running backs often leave their teams in third-and-long situations. So I went and did a sort on average yards to go on third down this season. Normally when I say "third down," I mean "third down and the occasional fourth down." This time I did just third down because most fourth down opportunities are short-yardage.
Here are the teams with the fewest yards to go on third down this year:
That makes sense. The Colts have a great running game. The Texans and Patriots love to throw short timing routes on first down to get a few yards. The Ravens love to throw those routes if they are in second-and-long.
Here are the teams with the most yards to go on third down this year:
OK, Miami and San Francisco have horrible offenses this year, Kansas City is getting nothing from Larry Johnson, so those make sense. What is Dallas doing here? How is that offense playing so well when they are constantly stuck in third-and-long?
If you have access to the DVOA Premium Database, you can sort 2007 stats by down, so you know the answer. Here are the top third/fourth down offensive DVOA ratings so far this year:
Wait. Here's passing only:
Wow. That is a serious, serious gap.
Now, I am not saying that Tony Romo is doing it with smoke-and-mirrors. I am not saying that Dallas won't win the NFC. I am not saying that Dallas won't still be one of the top three offenses in the league by the end of the season. I am not saying that Dallas will lose to New England in two weeks.
However, that third-down performance is totally and completely unsustainable, and when it comes back to earth, the Cowboys will not look as formidable as they do now. No team has ever put up a third-down passing DVOA over 100%. Only three teams have ever been over 75%: the 1999 Rams (76.4%), the 2004 Vikings (88.7%), and the 2006 Colts (93.1%).
Two more notes:
1) The Colts are 12th on third downs (22.2% DVOA). The "third-down rebound effect" does not exist during the season the same way it exists between seasons, but given the Colts' history, I think it is safe to say that they are going to be better than this on third downs when the season is over. Which means their offense is underperforming right now. Yikes.
2) Why are the Cowboys in third-and-long so much? Let's look at rushing on first downs:
Julius Jones: 30 carries, 104 yards
Marion Barber: 22 carries, 202 yards
Seriously, what will it take for the Cowboys to actually let Barber start?
63 comments, Last at 13 Oct 2007, 1:03am by thestar5
Critical games this weekend in the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC could go a long way in determining conference championships -- and maybe even playoff berths.