It was well known that one of the things that the Redskins had to fix this year was their dismal inability to convert on third downs. The NFL said that their 31.5 percent conversion rate was the third worst in the league. The guys at Football Outsiders went further, saying that all things considered they were one of the worst third down teams since they have been tracking such numbers.
It’s only two games into the new season but the Redskins are off to a good start in fixing such issues. Through two games they have converted 46.7 percent of their third downs, good for ninth in the NFL. The secret to their modest success really is no secret. They are running the ball early, often, and well and that is helping them on third down.
Against the Rams yesterday, the Redskins converted eight of 16 (50%) third down situations. The NFL average for the full season last year was around 40 percent so anything better than that is pretty good.
All eight of their conversions were in situations where they had eight yards or fewer to go. And they start off six of those eight sets of downs with a running play.
They did a pretty good job of staying ahead of the chains all day. Only three of their 16 third down situations yesterday were from more than eight yards to go. Last week against the Dolphins they had six such situations.
The third down conversions weren’t mere window dressing stats. They mattered. The Redskins had two touchdown drives that covered 12 plays, one in the second quarter and one in the fourth. Two conversions came during the first one, including the touchdown on a third and goal pass from Kirk Cousins to Pierre Garçon from the four. That put the Redskins up 17-0 at halftime.
The other TD drive came in the fourth quarter after the Rams had closed it to 17-10. The Redskins converted three third downs in this drive. Cousins threw to Chris Thompson for the only time all day to get 10 yards on third and eight. Then on third and five Cousins found Jordan Reed down the middle for 29 yards. Perhaps the most impressive conversion came a few plays later when Cousins just handed it to Matt Jones on third and eight and watched the rookie rumble for nine. Two plays later Jones was in the end zone and the competitive phase of the game was over.