Early this season Cincinnati's offense went through a string of converting only two of 21 third down opportunities against the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers. Stalled drives were often the result of untimely penalties that put the young offense behind schedule, dropped passes on third down (looking at you Andre Caldwell) and often the case, lack of successful first downs failing to post 4-5 yards.
That's all changed in the month of October.
It's no surprise that the Bengals put together a two-game winning streak in which they scored 53 points (most this year during a two-game stretch), largely because they've began converting third downs. During Cincinnati's 23-20 upset win over the Buffalo Bills, the offense converted five of 12 third downs and during the following week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they converted a season-high 42.1%.
|Third Downs During Wins||20||48||41.7%|
|Third Downs During Losses||2||21||9.5%|
Much of the improvement is two-fold. Younger players are gaining experience (and confidence) while Jay Gruden's offense has another week of being fully implemented. When asked about the problems the team faced earlier this year, Gruden said, "It's not just Andy (Dalton). It's everybody. And they are third-and-makeables, too. It's getting better."
Cincinnati's third down conversion-rate will be put to the test on Sunday, facing two of the league's best pass rushers in Dwight Freeney (6.5 sacks in five career games against the Bengals) and Robert Mathis (4.5 sacks in four career games against the Bengals).