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Healthy habits start on first down

The SB Nation Department of Football Epidemiology reminds you that what an offense does on first down can make or break the rest of the game, as this week's case studies in Baltimore and Tampa Bay illustrate.

Just as your morning routine sets the tone for the rest of the day, what you do on first down has a domino effect on the rest of your offense. Last year, for example, the Ravens and the Bucs had the worst running games on first down. Baltimore averaged 3.27 yards a carry, and Tampa averaged 3.22. Unsurprisingly, both teams were in the bottom third of the league in average yards to gain on second down.

This year, however, the Ravens have a greatly improved rushing attack on first down, averaging 4.94 yards per carry, which ranks third overall. That has helped bump Baltimore up to seventh in yards to gain on second down. Tampa Bay, however, remains woeful running the ball to start a set of downs; their average has actually dipped to 3.09 yards per run, third worst in the NFL this season. And the average second down for the Bucs has 9.02 yards to gain to move the chains, worst in the league.


After Week 4, the Titans and the Rams were both 1-3, and each had a glaring problem: defense for the Rams, and third down conversions for the Titans. St. Louis is still likely out of the playoffs, but they've at least played at a much higher level down the stretch.

Weeks 1-4 Weeks 11-14
TDs Allowed 8 3
Sacks 1 18
Opp. Yards/Play 6.38 4.89
Takeaways 3 11

The Titans, on the other hand...

True, Tennessee's still above its cumulative low-point on third down conversions, but not by much, and at no point since Week 2 have they been anywhere close to the leaguewide conversion rate.


Bruce Arians has not turned the Arizona Cardinals into a team that crushes the opposition; since the start of the 2013 season, Arizona has won a game by 17 points or more three times. But Arians has made the Cardinals one of the best at winning games that are close entering the fourth quarter. When the score is within eight points in either direction after three, the Arians Cardinals are 14-2. That's tied with the Broncos for best win percentage in that scenario and one ahead of the Patriots for total overall wins. The Cardinals are good when they're down one score (4-2 over the last two seasons). They're unstoppable when they're up one score, a perfect 10-0.


Patient A is an AFC offense that has scored 116 points, averaged a dismal 4.76 yards per play, and turned the ball over nine times. Patient B, also an AFC offense, has scored 162 points, gains 5.33 yards per play, and has given the ball away seven times.

This seems like an easy question, but which offense would you prefer? Unfortunately, it's a trick: they both belong to the Buffalo Bills. Patient A is the Buffalo offense in the first half of games this season, while Patient B is the second half version of the Bills.


- The Packers need 34 points in their final Lambeau game, Week 17 against the Lions, to set a team record for points scored at home in a season. If they can score 42, they'll break the all-time record for home points scored, currently held by the 2011 Saints (329 points).

- Last year, the Seahawks allowed 36 plays that gained 20 yards or more. That made Seattle the best defense in the NFL at limiting big plays. This season, they've allowed 32 plays of that distance, and while that's a slightly higher pace than they set in 2013, it's still best in the league.

- Rob Gronkowski's currently three yards away from his second 1000 yard receiving season. The only other tight ends in NFL history who've hit four digits in multiple years are Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Todd Christensen, Shannon Sharpe, Kellen WInslow, Antonio Gates, Ozzie Newsome, and Jimmy Graham.

- Before this season, the Steelers had never had more than five games with 300+ passing yards. They're already up to seven this year.


- The 49ers are on pace to finish with 41 total points in the fourth quarter this year. That would set a record for the lowest total in any 16 game season for San Francisco, and if you're looking to point a finger, start with Colin Kaepernick, who has zero fourth quarter touchdowns this year.

- From 2009-2013, the Saints lost by 17 points or more a total of three times. They've lost by that margin three times this season alone.

- The New York Jets team record for passing touchdowns allowed is 35, set in 1986. The 2014 Jets are roughly on pace to tie that record.

- This season, teams that win the turnover battle have won about three-fourths of the time. The Browns, however, are 3-3 when they force more turnovers than they yield. Only the Raiders, Bucs, and Jaguars have a worse winning percentage with that advantage this year.