Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Nov 2005

Steelers Failing on 3rd Downs

The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense only converts 29% of their third downs, while their defense allows opponents to convert third downs at a 44% clip, should slow up the faction of fans voicing their displeasure with the FOX rankings. Still, the Steelers have been very good at keeping opponents out of the end zone, but like Dick LeBeau is fond of saying: "Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you."

If things don't change in Pittsburgh, we could have a whole other "The Edge" situation on our hands.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 09 Nov 2005

12 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2005, 4:32pm by Countertorque


by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 6:38pm

3rd down? How quaint. Here in New England we've had to change that term to "Pre-first Down" as it applies to the defense.

by Adam (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 8:04pm

This has nothing to do with third downs and everything to do with the Steelers. But the Steelers today fired one of Kevin Colberts assistants because she had been giving out draft information to the Buffalo Bills.


Remember last year the Bills desperately tried to trade up in front of the Steelers to take the one we simply refer to as "Ben." But luckily neither Jacksonville or Houston bit on the offers. Thanks fellas.

I just wanted to say that.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 8:34pm

So here's a question I was going to toss into the mailbag, but it seems topical
here, if Andrew or anybody cares to discuss it.

We know that third down efficiency is an indicator that a team should improve/get
worse. The Steelers, at 6-2, probably don't have far to improve. How does DVOA
interpret 3rd down numbers, in figuring out its total value for a team? I know that
3rd down "success" is defined as 100% of the yards for a first down, but is there
anything done beyond that to handle the 'luck' factor of 3rd down? Are the Steelers
near the bottom of the barrell using FO stats for 3rd down, or just on old-school
efficiency standards (considering what defined 3rd down success, one would think
there'd be a high correlation, but maybe not)? Are they significantly above their
overall DVOA on 1st and 2nd downs? If 3rd down is treated the same as 1st and 2nd
(outside of what defines success), should we expect the Steelers to improve on 3rd
downs the rest of the season, while getting worse on 1st and 2nd (regression to the
mean, or, if you're Bill James, the "plexiglass principle)? If this is the case,
were the Steelers just lucky in amassing a 6-2 record while doing poorly on 3rd

I expect each of these questions to be answered... in order ;)

by Luz (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 8:37pm


where did you get that info on the scout firing?

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 9:30pm

I think the Steelers present an interesting case as far as 3rd down effeciency evening out with 1st and 2nd down efficiency. Because they are a running offense they typically will run on first and second down but will attempt the 3rd down conversion with a passing play.

Of course if you assume they get 45% of yards on 1st down (2nd and 5) and get 60% of yards on 2nd down (3rd and 2). Maybe they don't need to convert with a pass on third, and the numbers will even out.

But then again if you get first down on 1st and 2nd down a couple of times (let's say they succeeded on 6 straight plays without ever getting a third down) and then they minimally succeed on 1st (2nd and 5) and lose a yard on 2nd (3rd and 6). Then they need to pass, but every successful play they've had so far on the drive has been a run. Is the chance of success going to be based on their total offensive efficiency, or their total passing offense efficiency? I say passing offense, so maybe they don't get better on third downs.

by Adam (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 9:35pm

4. I heard on WDVE radio here in Pittsburgh.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 1:20am

Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the league at preventing 3rd down conversions, but 15th in the league in total first downs allowed.

Doesn't this suggest that part of the reason PITT allows more conversions is that they are forcing a lot of third-and-shorts where other teams are allowing a first down on either first or second down? The fact that PITT is 4th in yards allowed per play would seem to confirm this notion.

Also note that while PITT is mid-pack in first downs allowed, the team is eighth in total yardage allowed and fifth in points allowed. This indicates that the Steelers allow very few big plays. The opponents have to move the chains, and when they do it frequently seems to come in third-and-a-couple situations.

If teams have to regularly get 6-7 first downs to score on the Steelers, I'll take it.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 1:39am

As long as I'm making excuses for the Steelers, here's one for the other side of the ball:

In the two games in which Roethlisberger didn't play, the Steelers were an amazing 1-20 on third down. One. For. Twenty. 1-12 with Maddox against Jacksonville. 0-8 with Batch in Green Bay.

Take that out of the season total and the Steelers are roughly 35% on third down with Ben. A little below league average but not too scary.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 2:10am

The GB third down conversions last week were of 2, 1, 12, 5, 7, 10, 9, and 1 yards.

Their failures were 1, 12 (fumble for TD), 3, 4, 9, 6, 5, 4, 6 and there were about five penalties that preceded some of those failed conversions.

The big problem was that in mid-game they had a string where they converted 7 of 8, which on one hand represented lots of drive but few points, but which has to be demoralizing for the Steelers in real time. Certainly to the fans.

And the final five were when the Packers were trying to catch up at the end of the came and Favre threw many incompletions and one interceptions on plays everyone knew would be passes.

by calig23 (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 1:20pm

There was something on the news last night about the fired Steelers' employee filing a complaint for wrongful termination or something.

I have yet to see anything on the internet about this, though.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 2:03pm

The only place I saw it was on one of the threads here. Tunch and Wolf didn't mention it on their three hour morning show.

by Countertorque (not verified) :: Thu, 11/10/2005 - 4:32pm

The drive stats show that the Steelers D are 15th in yards surrendered per drive. They are 8th in points surrendered per drive, 8th in turnovers forced per drive and 28th in punts forced per drive.

So, I think it's clear that they are stopping people by getting turnovers and not by forcing punts. My question is does this mean the D is lucky or good? I'm sure there's some skill involved in getting all those turnovers. I just worry (as a fan) that the team will become complacent about their 3rd down issues assuming that they'll always get the turnover when they need it.