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The Lions are dying on third down in 2012. They are not converting first downs and moving the chains to keep drives alive, and they are not helping their defense by putting them back on the field with too many unconverted third downs.
According to espn.com, Stafford is 36-of-68 for 341 yards on third downs this year. Stafford has completed 52.9 percent of his third-down passes with two touchdowns and an interception. On third down, he has a passer rating of 70.8.
In 2011, Stafford was 90-of-174 for 1117 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions on third down. He threw for a 51.7 percent completion percentage and a rating of 76.7.
The numbers look similar with the exception of the touchdowns. He threw 10 third down touchdowns in 2011 and has only two through six games in 2012. All in all, the numbers look similar but watching the inability to convert on third down is glaring.
Let’s look a little deeper at the third-down numbers to get a better look at the real problem.
In 2012, Stafford is completing 13-of-21 passes for a completion percentage of 61.9 percent on third downs longer than nine yards. He has thrown two touchdowns and zero interceptions to go with a 123.7 quarterback rating on 3rd-and-9 or longer.
In 2011, he hit on 47.4 percent of these throws, going 37-of-76 for 471 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating on 3rd-and-9 or longer in 2011 was 76.7. Stafford is better in 2012 than he was on 3rd-and-long on 2011.
This year, Stafford is completing 19-of-41 passes for a completion percentage of 46.3 percent on third downs where they need three to eight yards to complete a first down. He has thrown zero touchdowns and two interceptions to go with a 36.6 quarterback rating on third down where they need three to eight yards.
In 2011, he hit on 53.8 percent of these throws, going 42-of-78 for 476 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating in this area in 2011 was 83.1.
Stafford is far worse in 2012 than he was in 2011 in this area, and the offense is stalling far too often because of Stafford’s struggles on third and short. This is the primary weakness in Stafford’s game right now.
The Lions need to get Stafford cleaned up and more accurate on shorter third-down throws as they need to keep drives going. This is the most critical area that Stafford needs to improve upon.