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Need to Know: Why did the Redskins struggle on third down in 2014?

Jul 2, 2015, 5:09 AM EDT


Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, July 2, 28 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.


Historically bad

When the Redskins do something poorly, they don’t mess around.

In 2013 when they had some bad special teams play, they were historically bad. Football Outsiders has been tracking special teams data since 1989. Of all the teams since then only one, the 2000 Buffalo Bills had worse special teams play than the 2013 Redskins.

Last year’s team improved the special teams from awful to merely bad but they did reach historic depths in a different important category. The folks at FO tell us that only three teams since 1990 have been as bad as the 2014 Redskins were on third downs. One of those teams was the 2002 expansion Texans so they should get a pass. For the record, the other two were the 2004 Bears and the 1992 Seahawks.

FO takes more into account here than the simple conversion percentage, which was 31.5 percent, 30th in the NFL in 2014. Although the post doesn’t specify, FO metrics generally take into account the quality of the opponent, success rate compared to the rest of the league, and other such factors.

When Jay Gruden and company were asked about third down problems the usual response was that they had too far to go on third down, that they needed to be in third and shorter yardage more often. But on the average third down Washington had 7.5 yards to go; the league average was 7.3 to go. That’s a difference of about seven inches, not enough to say that the Redskins were considerably worse off. The Bucs had 8.6 yards to go on their average third down and they managed to convert 38.4 percent of the time, a conversion rate nearly 25 percent better than Washington’s.

In this post, Mike Tanier looks at some of the issues with the Redskins offense in general, including the third-down problem. He breaks down the failed third down attempts. I won’t go into all of them here (the post is well worth your time to read) but one that caught my eye was 35 pass completions that did not gain enough to make a first down. Fans of all teams get frustrated when their team throws short of the sticks (the average NFL team had 27 third-down completions that didn’t result in a first) but the problem seemed to be particularly acute with the Redskins. Passes like Colt McCoy’s one-yard completion to Jordan Reed on third and two in the fourth quarter in Dallas are plays you just don’t see many other teams make.

So while it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a shorter distance to go on third down, giving yourself a chance to convert by being just a touch more aggressive would help as well. As Tanier wrote in the article, “If you don’t have a seven-yard pass in your playbook for 3rd-and-medium, then frankly, you don’t have an NFL offense.”

It seems likely that the Redskins will improve on third down this year if only because, as was the case with special teams after the 2013 debacle, there is nowhere to go but up.


—It’s been 186 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 73 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 28; Preseason opener @ Browns 42; final cuts 65

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In case you missed it

  1. colorofmyskinz - Jul 2, 2015 at 6:11 AM

    So many reasons for this issue you can hardly list them all.
    -poor Oline protection
    -poor passers
    -poor play calling
    -poor RB threat
    -poor RB ability to catch and pass protect
    -poor TE performance to either block or pass protect
    -poor defensive ball position
    -poor kicking by Kai F on kickoffs
    -poor everything

    Out of all of these, TE is one position that was not addressed to fix this. Passer is yet to be determined if developed. And I am unsure if this team is serious with Ty Long vs Kai. I sure hope they consider getting a real kicker. Kai only has consistency between 30-40. Beyond 44 stretches him where most all other kickers have 44-50 in the bag.

    Hope these 3 get addressed as well.

    • ET - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      You’re right, there are at least a half-dozen variables involved in reaching that historically low “milestone.” The question becomes which variables have been truly addressed and which haven’t? We presume, for example, that the OL will be improved—but we need to see them in action. Ditto for QB, 3rd down running back play, and play selection / execution.

      With some other problem areas (kick offs, overall TE play), we have to ask A) are there better options?, and B) what are they? Every issue is not fixable in a single season.

  2. colorofmyskinz - Jul 2, 2015 at 6:18 AM

    Kai actually said in an interview when asked about changing the extra point distance, “I kick every field goal as if it is a 50 yarder.”

    Kai I have news for you, your coach never tried you beyond 49 last year because he knows your limitations. The one 49er you were trusted with you missed.

    So Kai, you might want to change that statement to, ” I kick every field goal like it is 44.” Beyond that you are not automatic, you are nonexistent.

    • shermanp79 - Jul 2, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      agree with you on both the kicking distance issues and our need for a true #1 TE. I wrote yesterday responding to Reed article, I don’t understand why they haven’t brought better competition into camp. I like Paul but there were some guys in FA who could help. We have poor blocking and no go-to big target for 3rd down or the RZ. It is one reason I wanted White at 5, this team needs that type of guy.I believe you take difference makers when you have a pick near the top. Look at the Rams, took Gurley then addressed OL later. Other than LT, NFL starting OL average out as 4th round picks. Plus I believe to gain max benefit out of Scherrf he should play LG long term. I think he will be a good OL but lets see how Long or the other OL do taken later. It will be interesting to see how it plays out with a few guys we passed on. With the kicking, we need a guy who can hit beyond 50, the good teams have a guy who hits them regularly. It can make a difference of punting or getting points.I would make a change now so when we are ready to compete, we don’t have a K trying to learn how to make pressure kicks.

  3. Dalontae - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    Because coach Jay said they would target Reed more on third downs so every D just keyed on him…

  4. bangkokben - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    Great post Rich. Thanks for including the Tanier link. He has some hopeful solutions. Archives

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