12 Oct 2012
If you read Andy Benoit's Film Room column this week, you may have skipped right past a particularly strange statistic.
The 49ers are averaging 6.8 yards per play on first down, second-best in the NFL, behind Carolina.
Wait, did you just say "behind Carolina?" 1-4 Carolina, which currently ranks 18th in offensive DVOA and 20th in total offensive yards?
Yes, indeed. The Carolina Panthers this year have an absolutely insane offensive split by down. The Panthers are one of the league's best offenses on first down, and horrible on second and third down.
This is not because of two or three fluky plays. The Panthers have three plays over 35 yards (66, 51, and 40) but they also have two losses of -12 yards and -9 yards. They have made 45 percent of needed yardage on 48 percent of first downs, which is third in the NFL behind San Francisco and New England. Cam Newton is completing 71 percent of his passes on first down, 56 percent on second down, and 41 percent on third or fourth down.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the Panthers have forgotten that they employ running backs on third down. Panthers running backs have only three carries on third down all season -- two on third-and-1, and one on third-and-2. They have thrown only four passes to running backs on third down (NFL average is seven, and that includes the six teams with one fewer game played.)
14 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2012, 9:40am by sswoods
"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.