Dallas Cowboys: The best way to convert third downs in LA

dallas cowboys (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
dallas cowboys (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Converting third downs are massively important and should play a key role in whether or not the Dallas Cowboys can score more points than the LA Rams on Saturday

The Dallas Cowboys are going to need to string together some long scoring drives if they hope to have success in Los Angeles this weekend and a big part of that is how they handle third downs.

Unless the Cowboys plan to pull some big plays out of thin air, they’re going to need to figure out how to get first downs on a consistent basis. That’s why today we’re going to look at getting first downs. What’s the best way to get them and what’s the best way of winning third downs.

The Dallas Cowboys approach

While it’s changed a little bit throughout the season, typically speaking, the Dallas Cowboys like a run-heavy approach on first and second down and then pray for a manageable third down situation for Dak Prescott to convert.

What’s a manageable situation? Depending on what sports statistics expert you speak to, a manageable situation is either 3rd and 2 or 3rd and 1. Greater distances represent poor decisions on 1st and 2nd down putting the offense in a position that’s less likely to score than where they were on 1st and 10.

Playoffs tighten

In the playoffs defenses tighten (playoff teams are naturally better and more focused than regular season teams) and converting third downs gets harder than ever. On Saturday, Dallas only went 4 for 11 on 3rd downs, good for a paltry 36.4 percent conversion rate. That’s a pretty low number considering we’ve seen the Cowboys need four 3rd down conversions on just one drive alone before. When you methodically move the ball, that’s often the case.

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To think they only had four 3rd down conversions in an entire game is rather frightening. But it’s not all that uncommon. Only two teams last weekend did better on third down conversions. The Philadelphia Eagles converted six for 46% and the Indianapolis Colts had nine for 64% success rate. When it’s playoff time, everything gets harder.

That’s why smart teams avoid these situations altogether.

Best way at converting?

The best way of winning on third down, is avoiding them altogether. Early on Saturday, Dallas achieved first downs on first and second downs. While Seattle ran the all-too-familiar run-run-pass strategy, Dallas went for bigger chunks on early downs. The result was Dallas moved the ball and Seattle had a lot of 3-and-outs.

Dallas’ strategy last week is one many of the top teams in the NFL have adopted. The Saints, Rams, Chiefs, and Chargers are all teams that go for bigger chunks early to avoid those pesky third down situations.

The question for Dallas is was the Wild Card game a sign of things to come or just a blip on the radar? If Dallas goes back to their run-run-pass ways of old, they’re likely to end up in too many unsavory 3rd down situations. If they build on what they started last week and increase their early down passing, they should have a chance.

Where to use the running game

Obviously using the running game is a must when the numbers inside the box dictate it, but forcing the run is a mistake. Even though last game was generally successful and Dallas scored more points than any other team in the Wild Card round, running plays failed more often than they succeeded.

Zeke was praised by Pro Football Focus for his great game, yet 14 of his rushing attempts were deemed “unsuccessful” since they netted three yards or less (in non-short yardage situations). Zeke’s a beast in short yardage situations and against boxes with seven or less defenders, but the numbers say passing on early downs and avoiding third downs all together is the best way to score points and move the ball.

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It would be a mistake to rely on third downs to keep drives alive. The best teams in the NFL avoid these unpredictable situations as much as possible and use early downs to gain larger chunks. Will the Dallas Cowboys continue their two-week trend of being more aggressive on early downs or will they fall back to the run-heavy approach that Seattle just tried? We’ll see…

  • Published on 01/09/2019 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 01/09/2019 at 12:59 PM