It was one of the biggest problems of the 2019 Steelers during their 1-4 start. In each of their first five games, Steelers only had three third-down conversions in each contest. After a large boost in the number heading into their bye week, the Steelers maintained a slightly better percentage in their victories. But in two of their three losses, they have had three or less conversions.
In this weeks installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at various aspects of the Steelers third-down conversions and where they stand in the NFL and in franchise history.
The Steelers have seven games in 2019 where they’ve converted 3 third downs or less. This total has them tied with the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos in next to last position. The only NFL team with more games with three or less third-down conversions is the Washington Redskins with nine.
The most third-down conversions the Steelers have had in a game in 2019 is eight against the Los Angeles Chargers. It was also the only game all season in which the Steelers had a third down conversion percent over 50%. If the Steelers fail to reach eight third-down conversions in their final game of the season, it will be the first time since 2009 they only had one game with eight or more conversions.
On the season, the Steelers have converted 33.9% of their third downs. The Steelers have only converted 62 third downs out of 183 attempts. This conversion rate is the lowest since head coach Chuck Noll’s final season in 1991 when the Steelers converted only 31.5% of their third downs.
One reason the Steelers have had difficulties on third-down conversions is the number of third and long‘s they have faced. Yes, the Steelers have also had problems converting third and short, but their season average on third down attempts is 7.7 yards. This average has them ranked 25th in the NFL.
Ironically, the Steelers have a completion percentage of 60.4% of their passes attempted on third down. Mason Rudolph has completed 55.8% of his third down passes while Devlin Hodges has a completion rate of 68.8%. In his six quarters of play, Ben Roethlisberger’s third down completion percentage was 57.1% and 2019.
The reason there is such a discrepancy in the Steelers third down conversion rates and their third down completion rate is only 56.0% of the Steelers completions on third down have gone for first downs. In other words, the Steelers are constantly throwing short of the sticks when they need a conversion. When it comes to each quarterbacks conversion percentage per pass attempts, Mason Rudolph was the highest at 36.4% with Devlin Hodges not far behind at 33.3%. In his short time, Ben Roethlisberger only converted 21.4% of his pass attempts for first downs in 2019.
When it comes to running the ball on third down, the Steelers do not have a single player who has double digit rushing attempts on third down. Benny Snell Jr. has been the most effective runner on third down as he has converted seven times on his eight rushing attempts. Surprisingly, the other Steelers player with eight rushes on third down is quarterback Mason Rudolph who has converted four of his eight tries on the ground. Only one behind in rushing attempts is Devlin Hodges who has converted two of his seven attempts. James Conner and Kerrith Whyte Jr. are the only other two Steelers who have a third down conversion on the ground, each with one. In all, the Steelers have only rushed the ball on third down 35 times and have converted on 15 attempts for a 42.9% conversion rate.
While third-down conversions don’t tell the entire story, when the conversion rate is low it means the team is punting the ball too many times in a game. Ultimately, the goal would be to achieve a first down without even reaching third down in order to sustain a drive. But for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers, the first down conversion rates on other downs have been a concern as well, especially since they have the lowest first down percentage on first down in the NFL.
So are the Steelers third down conversion was just a reflection of their overall struggles on offense? Is it a result of execution or play calling? Or is it a problem with the Steelers production on first and second down which is just as much of a problem? Please leave your answers in the comments below!