Finding the Winning Factors - 3rd/4th Down Conversions

This week in the Finding the Winning Factors series, let's take a look at a very common stat:  3rd/4th Down Conversions.  I decided to combine both 3rd and 4th down as it gave better results than just 3rd Down Conversions, and 4th down by itself wasn't helpful at all.  Here's how I calculated it:

(3rd Down Conversions + 4th Down Conversions) / (3rd Down Attempts + 4th Down Attempts)

I also threw around the idea of weighting short/middle/long distance conversions, but thought I'd keep it simple for now, and look to improve it later.  If anyone wants to take on this challenge, let me know and I'll gather some data and send it off.  The other challenge is perfecting my data-gathering technique for distance conversions.  There's always room for improvement.

I went back to 2001 to see how teams do.  That means I'll be looking at 4,080 games over the past 8 years.  I did this calculation for every game, then found the overall average for a game.  I then went back and compared every game to this average, and found wins/losses based on being above or below average.

Let's get to the numbers:

  • The Overall Average Conversion Percentage over the past 8 years is 39.1%.  This is actually a little higher than I was expecting, which is a good sign.  Haven't said that often.
  • The Colts have taken back the throne of being #1 in this stat, converting at 47.7%.  This is a full 3.6% better than #2 (Patriots).  Whenever the stat is led by the Colts and Patriots, I think it's going to lead to a lot of wins.
  • Defensively, the Ravens have also taken back the #1 spot, holding opponents to 34.2%.  Nothing surprising with this list.  The Colts check in at #31, 42.9%.  Only the Lions are worse.  That's not good company to be in.
  • So how often do teams win when they are Above Average on Offense?  1230-734-2, which is 62.6%.  Anything over 60% here has been pretty good so far, so that's a good sign.  Having an Above Average defense produces a record of 1305-807-2, which is 61.8%, which is a little worse than the offense. Looking good.
  • When both the Offense and Defense are Above Average, their record is 745-247, or 75.1%.  This ranks 5th out of 9 stats so far, smack dab in the middle.  For now, it's a keeper.
  • The best game since 2001?  Week 16 in 2008, where the Saints converted at 91.7% (11/12) against the Lions.  I'm a little surprised there hasn't been a game with 100% conversion.  Something to shoot for I guess in 2009.  Best game for the Colts offense?  Week 13 in 2007 against the Jaguars, where they converted 10/13 (76.9%), good for 9th best game overall.  The Colts are responsible for 5 of the top 17 games, and no other team has more than 1 in the top 17.  Have I mentioned the Colts have been really, really good at this?
  • The worst game since 2001? Well, there were two that went 0/13:  Week 16 in 2002, where the Cowboys were awful against the Eagles, and Week 8 in 2005, where the Saints failed miserably against the Dolphins.  The Colts worst game not involving Sorgi?  One I attended in 2003, a 31-17 loss to Denver.  The Colts were an atrocious 2/10.  Yikes.
  • The Colts have played the most games when the defense is below average.  In other news, water is found to be wet, and Man has landed on the moon.  The Colts also have the best record when the defense is below average, so I guess it can't be all that bad, huh?  To contrast this, the Colts have played the most games where the offense was above average, with the 2nd best record. 
  • In KingRichard's 10 Things the Colts Must Do to Become Champs, he lists as #3:
    The biggest problem with the defense last season wasn't that they were being run all over or getting burnt deep against the pass.  It was the failure to stop teams on third down, no matter what the distance.
    As we see from these stats, he's absolutely right, and improvement can lead directly to wins.  Even just 2 more games of holding the other team below 39% (Colts average only 6 / season) should lead to 2 more wins.  The Colts have only lost 4 times when both the offense and defense show up in the same game.  More of these games would be fantastic, and almost automatic wins.  This is where I hope the new defensive staff improves the most.

So what did we learn today?  3rd and 4th down conversions are, in fact, very important to winning.  The Colts are far and away the best team in the league offensively, and have lots of room for improvement defensively.  Here's to that improvement coming in 2009.

After the jump you'll see the offensive and defensive numbers for each team, as well as Win/Loss records when going above/below the league average.  Click on the headers to sort.  Here's a link to the last 5 years worth of data.  There's not much of a difference, especially since it only took out 3 years worth of data.

Here are the Offensive and Defensive Numbers...

Team Offense Defense
3rd Conv 3rd Att 4th Conv 4th Att Pct 3rd Conv 3rd Att 4th Conv 4th Att Pct
Vikings 680 1680 65 126 41.3% 648 1648 51 112 39.7%
Falcons 664 1722 53 122 38.9% 638 1648 61 126 39.4%
Broncos 649 1658 62 124 39.9% 623 1670 59 119 38.1%
Giants 637 1694 41 119 37.4% 666 1750 60 133 38.6%
Chargers 669 1665 53 92 41.1% 657 1712 75 152 39.3%
Chiefs 663 1652 60 117 40.9% 648 1658 53 121 39.4%
Eagles 649 1719 41 87 38.2% 614 1795 58 136 34.8%
Jaguars 666 1712 88 163 40.2% 658 1696 52 124 39.0%
49ers 645 1724 57 115 38.2% 708 1738 69 116 41.9%
Seahawks 640 1673 47 98 38.8% 739 1809 56 112 41.4%
Packers 712 1724 51 105 41.7% 605 1695 66 140 36.6%
Rams 668 1697 78 137 40.7% 616 1616 51 105 38.8%
Jets 662 1661 52 117 40.2% 691 1694 80 137 42.1%
Redskins 654 1763 57 118 37.8% 639 1740 53 107 37.5%
Steelers 732 1754 63 127 42.3% 636 1718 53 128 37.3%
Raiders 615 1697 69 142 37.2% 679 1723 62 122 40.2%
Cowboys 656 1726 54 115 38.6% 640 1734 59 107 38.0%
Dolphins 631 1720 61 116 37.7% 652 1734 54 115 38.2%
Titans 661 1733 52 142 38.0% 600 1661 69 124 37.5%
Ravens 692 1844 58 114 38.3% 601 1779 51 125 34.2%
Saints 740 1749 63 143 42.4% 652 1673 54 105 39.7%
Bills 592 1654 68 143 36.7% 671 1692 68 127 40.6%
Bengals 704 1754 48 121 40.1% 682 1668 57 119 41.4%
Panthers 611 1726 32 89 35.4% 694 1795 55 115 39.2%
Lions 556 1685 64 150 33.8% 735 1712 54 94 43.7%
Colts 745 1591 58 92 47.7% 687 1627 74 145 42.9%
Patriots 739 1734 88 142 44.1% 658 1700 53 127 38.9%
Texans 524 1451 69 117 37.8% 581 1441 53 92 41.4%
Buccaneers 651 1754 52 101 37.9% 628 1740 48 111 36.5%
Browns 586 1665 52 118 35.8% 705 1764 64 136 40.5%
Bears 584 1789 70 143 33.9% 620 1819 57 132 34.7%
Cardinals 655 1741 64 128 38.5% 661 1662 61 119 40.5%
Total 20932 54511 1890 3883 39.1% 20932 54511 1890 3883 39.1%

Here are the Win/Loss records of teams when they go above/below average:

Team Offense Defense
Above Average Below Average Above Average Below Average
Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct
Patriots 70 14 0 0.833 27 17 0 0.614 54 7 0 0.885 43 24 0 0.642
Steelers 63 13 1 0.825 22 29 0 0.431 55 22 0 0.714 30 20 1 0.598
Colts 71 19 0 0.789 20 18 0 0.526 38 8 0 0.826 53 29 0 0.646
Chargers 43 22 0 0.662 28 35 0 0.444 43 19 0 0.694 28 38 0 0.424
Packers 45 26 0 0.634 30 27 0 0.526 50 23 0 0.685 25 30 0 0.455
Cowboys 41 18 0 0.695 25 44 0 0.362 41 32 0 0.562 25 30 0 0.455
Eagles 44 12 0 0.786 37 34 1 0.521 63 20 1 0.756 18 26 0 0.409
Ravens 36 21 0 0.632 35 36 0 0.493 53 30 0 0.639 18 27 0 0.400
Seahawks 38 18 0 0.679 33 39 0 0.458 48 11 0 0.814 23 46 0 0.333
Jets 38 25 0 0.603 24 41 0 0.369 34 16 0 0.680 28 50 0 0.359
Broncos 45 24 0 0.652 29 30 0 0.492 45 22 0 0.672 29 32 0 0.475
Rams 40 26 0 0.606 20 42 0 0.323 37 29 0 0.561 23 39 0 0.371
Dolphins 37 19 0 0.661 24 48 0 0.333 37 30 0 0.552 24 37 0 0.393
Panthers 34 14 0 0.708 30 50 0 0.375 37 26 0 0.587 27 38 0 0.415
Bears 24 12 0 0.667 45 47 0 0.489 50 30 0 0.625 20 28 0 0.417
Giants 36 18 0 0.667 32 42 0 0.432 44 25 0 0.638 24 35 0 0.407
Titans 33 22 0 0.600 37 36 0 0.507 45 25 0 0.643 25 33 0 0.431
Falcons 39 20 1 0.658 23 45 0 0.338 33 34 0 0.493 29 31 1 0.484
Buccaneers 42 19 0 0.689 24 43 0 0.358 48 34 0 0.585 18 28 0 0.391
Saints 39 38 0 0.506 21 30 0 0.412 42 25 0 0.627 18 43 0 0.295
Chiefs 42 26 0 0.618 17 43 0 0.283 41 26 0 0.612 18 43 0 0.295
Vikings 37 35 0 0.514 24 32 0 0.429 38 30 0 0.559 23 37 0 0.383
Bills 27 31 0 0.466 25 45 0 0.357 36 31 0 0.537 16 45 0 0.262
Jaguars 37 30 0 0.552 25 36 0 0.410 40 22 0 0.645 22 44 0 0.333
Browns 27 22 0 0.551 22 57 0 0.278 33 26 0 0.559 16 53 0 0.232
49ers 30 27 0 0.526 23 48 0 0.324 33 22 0 0.600 21 52 0 0.288
Bengals 36 33 0 0.522 18 40 1 0.314 34 25 1 0.575 20 48 0 0.294
Redskins 40 17 0 0.702 18 53 0 0.254 42 30 0 0.583 16 40 0 0.286
Cardinals 30 32 0 0.484 19 47 0 0.288 36 33 0 0.522 13 46 0 0.220
Raiders 31 26 0 0.544 14 57 0 0.197 33 35 0 0.485 12 48 0 0.200
Texans 22 29 0 0.431 18 43 0 0.295 26 26 0 0.500 14 46 0 0.233
Lions 13 26 0 0.333 18 71 0 0.202 16 33 0 0.327 15 64 0 0.190
Total 1230 734 2 0.626 807 1305 2 0.382 1305 807 2 0.618 734 1230 2 0.374

And finally, Win/Loss records when the offense is above average, and the defense holds the other team below average

Team Above Average Below Average
Win Loss Tie Pct Win Loss Tie Pct
Patriots 35 2 0 0.946 8 12 0 0.400
Steelers 44 4 0 0.917 11 11 0 0.500
Jets 18 4 0 0.818 8 29 0 0.216
Packers 31 14 0 0.689 11 18 0 0.379
Falcons 17 10 0 0.630 7 21 0 0.250
Chargers 25 6 0 0.806 10 22 0 0.313
Giants 18 7 0 0.720 6 24 0 0.200
Ravens 26 7 0 0.788 8 13 0 0.381
Seahawks 22 2 0 0.917 7 30 0 0.189
Rams 24 9 0 0.727 7 22 0 0.241
Eagles 33 4 0 0.892 7 18 0 0.280
Jaguars 23 7 0 0.767 8 21 0 0.276
Bears 18 6 0 0.750 13 23 0 0.361
Broncos 27 6 0 0.818 11 14 0 0.440
Cowboys 23 7 0 0.767 7 19 0 0.269
Panthers 17 3 0 0.850 10 27 0 0.270
Colts 26 4 0 0.867 8 14 0 0.364
Buccaneers 31 6 0 0.838 7 15 0 0.318
Dolphins 21 9 0 0.700 8 27 0 0.229
49ers 19 9 0 0.679 9 35 0 0.205
Chiefs 27 8 0 0.771 3 25 0 0.107
Saints 28 12 0 0.700 7 17 0 0.292
Titans 21 9 0 0.700 13 20 0 0.394
Raiders 23 10 0 0.697 4 32 0 0.111
Cardinals 23 12 0 0.657 6 26 0 0.188
Vikings 22 14 0 0.611 8 16 0 0.333
Bengals 22 12 0 0.647 6 27 0 0.182
Browns 17 8 0 0.680 6 39 0 0.133
Bills 20 11 0 0.645 9 25 0 0.265
Redskins 27 7 0 0.794 3 30 0 0.091
Texans 12 10 0 0.545 4 27 0 0.129
Lions 5 8 0 0.385 7 46 0 0.132
Total 745 247 0 0.751 247 745 0 0.249
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