From 2007 through 2014, the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints were the only teams to finish in the top 10 in third-down conversions every season.
Then came last season, when the Packers’ offense crashed and burned.
Green Bay finished a woeful 28th with a third-down conversion rate of 33.7 percent. You don’t need any extra perspective on that number, but we’ll give it to, you anyway: The Packers moved the chains 36.5 percent of the time on third-and-10 (or longer) in 2014.
To state the obvious, for Green Bay to again field one of the best offenses in football, it must return to its third-down form.
The team’s deficiencies last season showed up in Aaron Rodgers’ stat line.
On third down, Rodgers completed 51.9 percent of his passes, averaged 6.80 yards per attempt and compiled a rating of 85.3. In 2014, when he won his second MVP, Rodgers completed 60.4 percent of his passes with a NFL-high rating of 121.7. Moreover, from 2009 through 2014, Rodgers’ third-down passer rating was 112.7 — 11.5 points better than Tom Brady’s second-ranked 101.2 — and averaged a league-high 9.15 yards per attempt.
Here’s how all of that showed up in third-down efficiency:
— On third-and-short (third-and-1 or third-and-2): Rodgers converted just four of his 17 passes into first downs — a success rate of 23.5 percent. That was the worst in the league, and it wasn’t even close. Peyton Manning was next-to-last at 33.3 percent.
— On third-and-medium (third-and-3 to third-and-7): Rodgers converted 23 of his 53 passes into first downs — a success rate of 43.4 percent that ranked 24th in the league.
— On third-and-long (third-and-8 or greater): Rodgers converted 17 of his 59 passes into first downs — a success rate of 28.8 percent that ranked 20th.
Like with everything on Green Bay’s offense, the loss of Jordy Nelson was acutely felt. In 2014, Nelson caught 28 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns on third down and sidekick randall Cobb caught 26 passes for 437 yards and six touchdowns. In 2015, without Nelson to dictate coverages, Cobb fell back to 16 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns on third down.
Really, the only good thing about the Packers’ third-down offense was Rodgers’ feet. He moved the chains on 11 of his 19 third-down runs, with that 57.9 percent success rate ranking 20th in the league. Eddie Lacy tied for 32nd, with his 6-of-12 equating to 50.0 percent. Lacy averaged 1.5 yards on those carries. In 2014, he averaged 2.9 yards per third-down carry.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.