In the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I was asked about the Steelers distance to go on various downs for the 2022 season. In order to understand how the Steelers stacked up, it was first necessary to look at the entire NFL as a whole.
Here are the average distance to go per down in the NFL for 2022. Plays that were negated due to penalty were not included.
1st down: 10.0 yards
2nd down: 7.8 yards
3rd down: 6.9 yards
4th down: 7.6 yards
A number that may be surprising to some is how much the number jumps back up higher on fourth down compared to third down. At first it might appear that teams lose yardage on third down more often than they gain. This is sometimes the case, but the biggest thing to consider is that shorter distances on third down are more often converted than the longer distances, therefore when a team reaches forth down the number is typically higher.
To better explain, if a team gains 5 yards on third down and they were facing a 3rd & 3, they converted to a first down and never reached fourth down. If a team is facing 3rd & 13 and they gain 5 yards, they are faced with a 4th & 8 and are likely going to punt or kick a field goal if they are in range.
Now that we’ve looked at the numbers for the NFL, let’s look at the statistics specifically for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season:
1st down: 10.0 yards
2nd down: 7.7 yards
3rd down: 6.5 yards
4th down: 7.4 yards
It’s plain to see on second through fourth down, the Steelers come in just under the league average. But how did the Steelers perform on these downs? The following is the average yards gained by the Steelers per down in 2022 and their conversion rate of a first down. In both cases, the Steelers league rank will be included.
1st down: 4.7 yards gained (30th), 17.8% conversion (23rd)
2nd down: 5.0 yards gained (26th), 31.4% conversion (21st)
3rd down: 5.2 yards gained (16th), 44.7% conversion (7th)
4th down: 0.4 yards gained (24th), 8.8% conversion (18th)
The most obvious statistic that stands out here is the Steelers ability to convert third downs. This conversion rate was fairly average for the first half of the season but over the last nine games the Steelers led the NFL in third-down conversion as they were over 50%.
Another thing I thought would be interesting to look at would be how both the NFL and the Steelers performed on fourth down when they were not kicking a field goal or punting the ball. Both of the Steelers and the NFL average of yards to go on fourth down when attempting to convert was 3.9 yards for 2022. The Steelers gained an average of 3.7 yards per fourth-down attempt which was 16th in the NFL. But what was impressive is it the Steelers converted 73.3% of their fourth-down conversion attempts which rank third in the NFL in 2022. The only teams who had a higher conversion were the Los Angeles Rams at 78.9% and the Kansas City Chiefs at 75.5%. It is also interesting tat these two teams are the last two Super Bowl Champions.
To put this impressive fourth-down conversion rate into more perspective, there was only one team, the Philadelphia Eagles, whose conversion rate was in the 60s. So there was a significant drop off in fourth-down conversion percentage in the NFL even to get to the fifth ranked position.
Exactly what these numbers mean going forward for 2023 is completely open to interpretation. But knowing the data sometimes is half the battle even if it’s doesn’t give any kind of prediction towards the future.
To listen to the entire Steelers Stat Geek podcast, it is available in the player below: