News & Analysis

Every NFL defense's success against late down passing

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 08: Patrick Robinson #21 of the Philadelphia Eagles goes up for a catch against John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field on October 8, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Every team has at least reached the half-way point through their regular season which means the PFF database is just bursting with information. Getting straight to the point – because no one needs a long, elegant intro  – PFF's Billy Moy looked at how successful all 32 defenses have been at preventing first down pickups, and touchdowns, on third and fourth down when the opposing offense drops back to pass.

So here is what you are going to find below: First, all 32 NFL teams are ranked in order of most successful to least successful when it comes to stopping opposing quarterbacks on third and fourth down this season. The statistic we’re using here to determine that, we're calling “Late Down Conversion Rate,” which can be defined as the rate at which an opposing offense converts for a first down, or touchdown, on third and fourth down.

Taking it a step further, we then explain just how good (or not so good this season) each team is and look to the second half of the season, and who they may have trouble stopping or may have an easy time getting off the field against future opponents.

So without further ado, PFF's Billy Moy gives you the NFL defenses ranked by conversion rate at the midway point of the 2017 season:

1.

Conversion Rate: 30.8

Opposing QBs have dropped back against the Eagles 120 times so far this season on third or fourth down and they’ve allowed 35 first downs and just two touchdowns. They aren’t getting an overwhelming amount of pressure on late downs, at just a 40.8 percent rate they rank 20th in that department and their six sacks are tied for the fourth-fewest among all defenses. However, their defensive backs have been some of the best in football at making plays on late downs, as the Eagles rank fourth among the league with a 17.0 playmaker index (pass breakups and interceptions divided by the number of targeted passes) and they’re surrendering just 5.54 yards per attempt.

Looking ahead on their schedule, outside of the Rams – who rank third among NFL offenses, converting on late downs on 52.4 percent of their drop backs – the Eagles don’t face any other offense who ranks within the top-10 in terms of conversion rate. After Los Angeles, their next toughest quarterback on late downs will be Derek Carr, who ranks 14th among QBs with a 39.8 conversion rate.

2.

Conversion Rate: 32.4

Denver ranks fourth among defenses by allowing just 5.03 yards per attempt on late downs and they rank seventh with a pressure rate of 46.1 percent. They have two polar-opposites remaining on their schedule in the Patriots and Dolphins who are converting on third and fourth down at rates of 54.3 percent and 30.1 percent, respectively.

3.

Conversion Rate: 32.6

The Steelers defense is getting it done in a variety of ways when opposing quarterbacks are dropping back on third or fourth down: they rank fourth with a pressure rate of 47.8, their 19.4 playmaker index ranks second and they’re surrendering just 4.92 yards per attempt, the lowest-rate among all defenses.

Their success defensively on late downs should be especially daunting for their upcoming opponents, as four of their upcoming opponents really struggling to convert in the later downs. The league average conversion rate on third/fourth down passing plays this season is 39.1, Pittsburgh gets to go up against Jacoby Brissett (34.7), Tom Savage (28.6), Brett Hundley (22.9) and whomever Cleveland decides to throw out there in Week 17 still.

4.

Conversion Rate: 33.3

Jacksonville is one of just two teams to surrender only one touchdown to opposing quarterbacks on either a third or fourth down this season. They also rank fifth among defenses having allowed just 5.04 yards per attempt on late downs and of 12 of the 96 late down passing plays they’ve defended against have ended in a sack, the third-best rate in the league.

Drew Stanton – who’s dropped back on third or fourth down just 20 times this season – owns the highest late down conversion rate (40.0) of any of the upcoming QBs they’re slated to face.

5.

Conversion Rate: 33.7

Seattle joins Jacksonville as the only other defense to surrender just one touchdown on either a third or fourth down passing play this season and they’re holding opposing passers to just 4.99 yards per attempt, the third-lowest rate in the league. The Seahawks are the first defense on this list who have to face-off against three offenses (Philadelphia, LA Rams, Jacksonville) who are converting on late downs when the ball is in their QB's hands at a top-10 rate.

6.

Conversion Rate: 34.3

The Vikings have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 12.4 percent of their late down drop backs, the fourth-best rate among NFL defenses. While they do have some opponents remaining on their schedule who’ve been successful with the ball in their QB's hands on late downs (the Rams in particular) they also have dates lined up with both Brett Hundley and the Packers and Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears, both of whom are converting on late-downs at a rate below 30 percent.

7.

Conversion Rate: 35.4

Baltimore is tied with the Eagles for the NFL lead with six late down interceptions this season and they’ve forced 12 throw aways, a number that leads the league by a fairly wide margin (Denver has forced the second-most with eight).

8.

Conversion Rate: 35.5

Among the Panthers final seven opponents, three rank within the top-10 in terms of late down conversion rate (Jets, Saints, Vikings), three rank within the bottom-10 (Dolphins, Buccaneers, Falcons) and the seventh is the Packers, who have fallen off a cliff on late downs since Brett Hundley took the reigns.

9.

Conversion Rate: 35.6

Houston is one of seven defenses to have converted at least 25 percent of their pressures on late downs into sacks.

10.

Conversion Rate: 36.5

The Lions will have a tough test on late downs in Week 12 against the Vikings but five of their eight remaining games are against the Browns, Bears (x2), Buccaneers and Packers, tough to not envision them ending up even higher on this list come seasons end.

11.

Conversion Rate: 38.0

With Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa on the team, it should come as no surprise that the Chargers have earned a sack on 15 percent of the late down passing plays their defense has faced, the best rate in the league.

12.

Conversion Rate: 38.3

Washington’s defense has created pressure on 46.8 percent of their opponent's late down passing plays this season, the fifth-best rate in the league. They’re next two matchups will be a big test for their late down passing defense as Minnesota and New Orleans’ passing offenses rank fifth and fourth, respectively in late down conversion rate.

13.

Conversion Rate: 38.8

Much of Chicago’s success on late downs can be attributed to their pass-rush: The Bears rank 10th among defenses with a late down pressure rate of 44.9 percent and they’ve converted 31.8 percent of those pressures into sacks.

14.

Conversion Rate: 40.0

The league average for conversion rate among NFL quarterbacks on late downs is 39.1 percent, the Jets defense is surrendering conversions to opposing QBs on 40 percent of late downs, so we’ve hit that point in the list. If the Jets are still vying for a playoff spot come Week 15, their defense is really going to have to take it up a notch on late downs, as they get a Saints passing attack that’s currently ranked fourth in late down conversion rate and in Week 17 they get the Patriots who presently sit in second.

15.

Conversion Rate: 40.2

The Cowboys have been the definition of average (or if you want to narrow it down, very ever so slightly below average) when it comes to preventing conversions from opposing QBs on late downs, ranking right around the 10-20 range in nearly every metric I’ve got in front of me.

Watch out for Week 11 and Week 17 when they have to square off against Carson Wentz, who’s leading the league with a 55.1 conversion rate on third and fourth down.

16.

Conversion Rate: 40.6

The Falcons are one of just two teams who are yet to intercept a pass on either third or fourth down, however they are tied for fourth with 11 pass breakups. Atlanta has converted just 13.3 percent of their late down pressures into sacks, the sixth-lowest rate in the league.

17.

Conversion Rate: 40.6

The Chiefs are struggling to get pressure on late downs, their 32.7 late down pressure rate ranks 31st as they entered Week 10. Regardless of the lack of pressure though, opposing quarterbacks have just a 46.6 completion percentage against Kansas City on late downs, the second-best rate for all defenses.

They’ll only have to face two passing attacks for the rest of the season who currently own a late down conversion rate of at least 40 percent, the Bills in Week 12 followed by the Jets in Week 13.

18.

Conversion Rate: 41.1

The Rams defense just trails Kansas City in terms of conversion rate but the way they’ve both gotten to this point are quite different from each other. Los Angeles ranks sixth among defenses with a late down pressure rate of 46.4 and their 13 combined sacks and throwaways nearly doubles Kansas City’s total of seven. However, opposing quarterbacks have completed 60 percent of their late down throws against the Rams, the ninth-highest rate allowed by any defense.

They get the Texans next week but then three of their next four matchups come against the Vikings, Saints and Eagles, three of the most successful passing offenses at converting on late downs.

19.

Conversion Rate: 41.6

No team has gotten their hands on the football more often on late downs than the Bills, who lead the league with a 21.6 playmaker index on third and fourth down. Where Buffalo has struggled though is the pass-rush and even more so, converting that pressure into a sack when they do get it. Buffalo is one of just three defenses who have converted fewer than 10 percent of their late down pressures into sacks as we enter Week 10.

With two matchups against the Patriots following a Week 10 game against the Saints, the toughest late down passing attacks they’ll have to face this year still lie ahead.

20.

Conversion Rate: 41.9

Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 8.4 yards per attempt against New England on late downs this season, the second-worst rate among all defenses. With matchups against the Steelers, Jets and Bills (x2) remaining on the schedule, they’re slated to face four more passing attacks that rank within the top-11 in terms of late down conversion rate.

21.

Conversion Rate: 42.7

The Packers have allowed a 65.4 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks on late downs this year, the fifth-highest surrendered by any defense through the first nine weeks.

22.

Conversion Rate: 43.9

Opposing quarterbacks have averaged just 4.95 yards per attempt against the Titans on late downs, the second-lowest rate allowed by any defense through Week 9.

23.

Conversion Rate: 44.8

The Cardinals defense has landed pressure on just 34.5 percent of their late down snaps so far this season, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. They’ve also struggled to make plays on the ball, as their 6.9 playmaker index ranks 31st among defenses; they’ve either broken up or intercepted seven late down passes this season, 24 teams have at least seven pass breakups alone.

24.

Conversion Rate: 44.9

The Saints rank second among all defenses with a 49.0 pressure rate on late downs but they’ve also let opposing QBs rack up 7.05 yards per attempt on third and fourth down, making them one of nine teams surrendering 7.0 yards or more per throw.

The Saints will be tested on third down by opposing QBs in the upcoming weeks with Buffalo (11th), Washington (10th) and the Rams (third) all coming up, all of whom currently rank within the top-11 among passing offenses at converting on late downs.

25.

Conversion Rate: 45.2

The Giants have gotten pressure on just 33.7 percent of their late down snaps and sacks especially have been tough for them to come by, they’re 1-of-7 teams who’ve ended fewer than 6.0 percent of their late down snaps with a sack.

26.

Conversion Rate: 45.8

Opposing QBs have completed 69.9 percent of their late down passes against the Dolphins this season, the second-highest rate surrendered by any defense.

27.

Conversion Rate: 45.8

Cincinnati is getting it done up front – they lead the league with a 52.3 late down pressure rate, but they’re struggling to get their hands on the football on third and fourth down. Cincinnati has just four late down pass breakups through the first nine weeks, tied for the fewest among defenses, and their 7.7 playmaker index ranks 29th.

28.

Conversion Rate: 46.1

Cleveland has struggled mightily to get pressure on late downs, their 32.6 pressure rate ranks last among all defenses.

29.

Conversion Rate: 46.2

The Colts lead all of football with 15 pass breakups on third and fourth down. When they aren’t getting their hands on the ball though there’s a decent chance they’re giving up a chunk play as opposing quarterbacks are averaging 7.71 yards per attempt against the Colts on late downs, the fourth-highest average allowed by a defense.

30.

Conversion Rate: 46.3

San Francisco would fare better on late downs if they could convert a higher percentage of their pressure into sacks. They rank third among all defenses with a pressure rate of 48.1, but despite tallying a pressure on nearly half of their snaps against opposing passing attacks on late downs, they’ve brought the quarterback down for a sack just five times, the second-lowest total among defenses. San Francisco is one of just three defenses who have converted fewer than 10 percent of their pressures into sacks on late downs so far this season.

31.

Conversion Rate: 52.5

Tampa has been awful when it comes to stopping opposing QBs on late downs this year. They’re one of three teams who’ve allowed opposing QBs to earn at least 8.0 yards per attempt on third and fourth down (8.1) and they’ve been the worst team in the league when it comes to getting a late down sack. Tampa has turned just 7.7 percent of their pressures on third/fourth down into a sack, 26 defenses currently have a rate that’s at least double that.

32.

Conversion Rate: 53.6

The Raiders are allowing opposing QBs to rack up 9.6 yards per attempt on late downs so far this season and their 4.3 playmaker index is worst among defenses by a fairly wide margin – they’ve broken up just four passes on third and fourth down and they’re yet to come down with an interception (on the entire season, not just late downs).

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