But for the second week in a row, those struggles continued, with the unit converting only 3-of-13 times (23.1 percent) on Sunday against Miami, bringing the two-game total to 5-of-26 (19.2 percent). For the season Green Bay has been successful only 36.3 percent of the time on third down (25-of-69), a significant dip from the 2009 squad that ranked No. 3 in the league with a 47.0 conversion rate.
“You’ve got to sustain drives, you’ve got to get in the red zone, give yourself opportunities to score more points,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s just about finding a rhythm for us. When you’re not converting those third downs, there is no rhythm.”
The lack of rhythm on offense was evident on Sunday, especially in the first three quarters, when Green Bay’s average drive length on seven possessions was just 4.4 plays, compared to a fourth quarter that saw the offense put together a pair of 12-play drives, one that ended in a field goal and the other with a touchdown.
The average in the opening three quarters was skewed a bit because of a one-play drive that was comprised of an 86-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jennings late in the first quarter and a one-play series at the end of the half when the Packers took a knee to run out the clock, but the issues were evident on the other possessions.
Of the other five drives, one was a three-and-out, two were impacted heavily by sacks that put the offense in challenging down-and-distance situations, and one ended after five plays on a third-down interception. Rodgers was sacked a season-high five times on Sunday afternoon, and three penalties on the offensive line, false-start calls on guards Daryn Colledge and Josh Sitton in the second quarter and a holding penalty on tackle Bryan Bulaga in the fourth quarter, contributed to the long-yardage situations for the offense.
“We’re not putting ourselves in position to be successful on third down, which means we are not doing the things we need to do on first and second down,” wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “It’s collective. There is no one position, there is none of that. It’s everybody.
“We have got to sustain drives, get (the defense) fresh so they can do their job to their full potential. But if we are out there going three-and-out, three-and-out and a couple of plays here, make a play here and then turnover on downs, we are not helping our defense at all.”
What made the Packers’ struggles on third down even more puzzling was they actually converted at a better clip when they needed 10 yards or more, picking up first downs three of the seven times they needed 10 or more yards on third down. The flip side of that was that the offense failed to pick up a single first down on six opportunities where they needed to pick up 7 yards or fewer, including four where they needed to gain 4 yards or less. That had been the Packers’ pattern this season entering Sunday’s game, as it had converted on just 45 percent of third-down opportunities when they needed 4 yards or fewer (9-of-20) in the first five games.
“There will be someone doing one thing wrong on a play, and this is the one sport where you have to have everybody on the same page,” Sitton said. “You have to have all 11 on the same page, and we have just been inconsistent.”
“We had some manageable third downs throughout the whole game. Obviously there were some third-and-longs that you don’t really expect to get, but we had our opportunities on third-and-short, third-and-3, third-and-4, and we didn’t convert a few times. We have to convert those.”
One of the more crucial ones came early in the fourth quarter with the Packers trailing 13-10. Facing a third-and-3 at the Miami 8, Rodgers rolled out and missed on a pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson inside the 5-yard line, and Green Bay had to settle for a Mason Crosby 26-yard field goal instead of taking the lead.
“It was slightly outside of where I wanted it unfortunately,” Rodgers said. “We had a good play call. Drive (Donald Driver) kind of went inside and I kind of moved to my right a little bit. Jordy and I were on the same page. He got out of his route quickly and I might have missed my spot a little bit.
“I think unfortunately if we get seven (points) there it is a different game obviously.”
And with the Packers’ three losses this season all being close ones, each of them by three points, one more conversion on third down can be the difference in the final outcome.
“I thought we had a number of favorable third downs and we had opportunities where our defense was on the field, I thought they were hanging in there, bend do not break, keep them out of the end zone,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “And we had opportunities to get out in front of that game. And third down has been an issue two weeks in a row. So we need to do a better job on third down on offense.”