The Redskins have many reasons to look back on the 2013 season and see it as an abject failure. There was the 3-13 overall record. There was the 0-8 finish following a 3-5 start. There was the franchise quarterback who underwent total reconstructive knee surgery in the offseason and then covertly sniped about the coach before the season began. There was the coach who seemingly packed it in and allegedly leaked out team-damaging rumors the last few games. There was the defense that gave up yards and points like they were allergic to them. There was also the special teams coverage that parted like the Red Sea for opposing returners. There were a boundless number of reasons that the team was awful, and the team's statistics, particularly first downs, third down percentages, and fourth down percentages, reflect that.
As I studied this particular set of data and compared the 2012 team to the 2013 team, a few things came to light. In 2012, the Robert Griffin III led offense ranked seventh in the league and tied with the Texans and Packers for first downs, averaging 21.3 per game. In 2013, they fell to eleventh in the league, tied with the Bengals, Cardinals, and Falcons, with 20.6.
In third town efficiency, the 2012 Redskins (68-190 35.8% - 23rd in the league) actually ranked behind the 2013 squad, which converted 40.4% (95-235) of the time and ranked 11th in the league.
On fourth downs, the 2012 Redskins converted 12-17 for an astounding 70.6% of the time (good for third in the league). The 2013 team was a poor 6-20 (30%) which placed them at 28th in the league.
One of the reasons the Redskins fell apart in the second half of the 2013 season was that the offense became more inept at getting first downs and converting on third downs. As someone who watched every snap of every game last year, I found the season turned for the worst shortly after halftime of the Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Early in the third quarter, Washington scored a field goal, was up 27-14 and seemed unstoppable on offense. I remember thinking at the time that I really loved games where I could relax and watch the team win easily. Then, it happened. The Vikings scored twenty unanswered points and won the game 34-27. The Redskins' offense, which had dominated in the game after playing well for several games leading up to that point, could suddenly do nothing right. For the rest of the season, they never really recovered.
Here's how the numbers break down:
In their three wins in 2013, they averaged 23.3 first downs per game, averaged 52% (24-46) on third down conversions, and attempted no fourth down conversions. In their thirteen losses, they averaged 19.9 first downs, converted 38% (70-186) on third downs and 30% (6-20) on fourth downs.
Furthermore (and to really show how the season deteriorated), in games 1-9, including the Vikings game in which the collapse began, the Redskins had a 3-6 record, averaged 23.7 first downs per game, went 58-126 for a 46% conversion rate on third downs, and 3-8 for a 38% conversion rate on fourth downs. In games 10-16, the Redskins went 0-7, averaged 16.4 first downs per game, went 37-109 for a 34% conversion rate on third downs, and 3-12 for a 25% conversion rate on fourth downs.
As you can see, they became less efficient in each category during the last seven games and the results were evident.
From a league perspective, of the teams that ranked the best in the NFL in first downs per game, seven of the top eight made the playoffs. The Denver Broncos were the leader in the clubhouse with 27.2. Of the league leaders in third down efficiency, four out of the top five and seven out of the top ten made the playoffs, with the San Diego Chargers leading the pack with 49%. Finally, in regards to fourth down conversions, the top five teams all made the playoffs. The Broncos were again the best with 88.9%
As we approach the 2014 offseason for the Redskins, there are several items that new coach Jay Gruden will have to address in order to have a successful 2014 campaign. Staying near the top of the league in first downs and third and fourth down efficiency will be part of that challenge.
Needless to say, he has his work cut out for him.