Offense Short-Circuiting on Third-and-Short

The well-oiled Packers offensive machine is struggling in one critical phase: third-and-short. We have the statistical analysis we guarantee you won't find anywhere else, including the incredibly one-sided play-calling.

With two explosive performances in a row, the Green Bay Packers' offense appears to have regained its vintage form.

Still, third down continues to be a cause for concern — specifically, third-and-short situations.

Given the inconsistency with the run game as a whole, it's probably no surprise the Packers haven't been effective on third-and-short runs. According to a down-and-distance breakdown on the NFL's media site, the Packers rank 14th in the league by converting 4-of-6 (66.7 percent) on third-and-1 and third-and-2.

Given the accuracy of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and that he's the NFL's top-rated third-down quarterback, it probably is a surprise that he has been a middle-of-the-pack passer on third-and-short. Rodgers has converted 7-of-13. That 53.8 percent move-the-chains rate ranks just 17th.

Added together, Green Bay is 11-of-19 on third-and-1 and third-and-2. It's not bad but it's not great.

"On third-and-shorter-yardage situations, you'd like to convert a higher percentage," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Thursday. "We work on it each week and we're working to get better."

Beyond the numbers, coach Mike McCarthy's play-calling is interesting and remarkably but predictably one-sided.

— Overall, the Packers have run the ball on 31.6 percent of third-and-short plays. Only nine teams in the league have run it more than they've thrown it, and only Philadelphia (29.4 percent) is more pass-heavy in short-yardage situations. (See breakout at the end of this story for more.)

— All of the Packers' third-and-short running plays have come on third-and-1. In that category, the Packers rank 19th with six running plays and first with nine passing attempts.

— On third-and-2, McCarthy has not called a running play and Rodgers has converted 2-of-4 through the air.

— In the two games since Alex Green replaced Cedric Benson as the featured back, the Packers have faced six third-and-short opportunities. Against St. Louis, Rodgers threw incomplete to James Jones on third-and-1, hit Jones for 17 yards on third-and-1 and connected with Jones for 6 yards on third-and-2. Against Houston, Rodgers gained 2 yards on a third-and-1 sneak, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for 10 yards on third-and-2 and Rodgers found Tom Crabtree for a 48-yard touchdown off play-action on third-and-1.

"Alex is a powerful guy so he can certainly get the job done in that area," Clements insisted.

On third-and-short, Rodgers is 3-of-3, John Kuhn 1-of-2 and Benson 0-for-1.

"We're going to run it and we're going to get first downs," Clements said. "I don't know that we have to show anybody. That's our mind-set. When we choose to run on third-and-short, our expectation is that we're going to get it."

A final note on Rodgers: He's been better on third-and-4 and third-and-5 than on third-and-short. On third-and-4, he's converted 8-of-12 (66.7 percent). On third-and-5, he's converted 5-of-7 (71.4 percent).

On all third downs, Rodgers has league-leading figures of 117.8 rating, 633 yards and 9.59 yards per attempt. He's completed 46-of-66 passes (68.2 percent) with five touchdowns and one interception. He finished second with a 113.3 rating last season, and his 133.5 in 2009 was the highest in the NFL since Kurt Warner's 137.3 in 1999. In that light, it's little wonder why McCarthy would rather have the ball in Rodgers' hands than any of the backs.

Third-down run percentage

Philadelphia: 29.4.

Green Bay: 31.6.

Cleveland: 33.3.

New Orleans: 33.3.

Minnesota: 36.4.

Arizona: 38.9.

Detroit: 40.0.

Tennessee: 41.7.

St. Louis: 47.1.

Indianapolis: 50.0.

N.Y. Giants: 52.0.

N.Y. Jets: 52.4.

Pittsburgh: 56.3.

Baltimore: 57.9.

Dallas: 58.3.

Atlanta: 61.5.

Cincinnati: 63.0.

Tampa Bay: 63.6.

Chicago: 66.7.

Houston: 66.7.

Jacksonville: 66.7.

New England: 68.0.

Miami: 68.2.

Denver: 68.4.

San Diego: 70.0.

Oakland: 70.0.

San Francisco: 75.0.

Buffalo: 76.5.

Kansas City: 78.6.

Seattle: 80.0.

Washington: 80.0

Carolina: 100.0


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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