1st-Down Run Defense The Key To Containing Packers Passing Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 30, 2012 – 8:45 am

Containing Aaron Rodgers and the passing game is likely Task #1 for defenses when they prepare to face the Green Bay Packers. That’s the task at hand for the Vikings this week, as they are nearly set to make their annual visit to Lambeau Field to renew their rivalry with the Packers.

To do that, though, the key may actually be to perform better against the run. No, Green Bay does not typically unleash a pounding ground game against the adversary. But a deeper analysis of their offensive performance this year could lead one to conclude that their ability to run the ball on 1st down leads to more production from their passing game and success on the NFL’s most important down – 3rd down.

The Packers possess one of the NFL’s top passing attacks when they’re hitting on all cylinders, but they actually run more (52%) than they pass on 1st down. And they are fairly efficient at doing so. Green Bay averages 4.1 yards per carry on 1st down, which ranks just 21st. But because their passing offense can be so lethal, that per carry average leads to favorable conditions on 3rd down. The Packers are in 3rd-and-5 or less on 43.4% of their 3rd downs. Consequently, Green Bay ranks 8th in the NFL with a 42.1% 3rd-down conversion rate.

That’s a lot to digest, but the bottom line is Green Bay can be an efficient running team (on 1st down) and it’s part of the reason the passing attack is so successful. And here’s the good news: the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL in 1st-down rushing defense, surrendering an average of just 3.56 yards per rush. Leslie Frazier’s defense will need similar or better production in this area on Sunday if they are to hold off an explosive Packers passing attack.

Coming off last week’s loss in Chicago where the Vikings gave up a 1st down on 57.8% of 3rd downs, everyone will be watching to see if the Vikings defense improves in that area. A great way to begin improving the 3rd-down defense is to stop the run on 1st down.

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