Cincinnati's issues on third down is absolutely crushing for this offense's rhythm; especially for a unit where confidence goes such a long way for one of the league's youngest offenses; which is going to be hard to come by. Not only has Cincinnati converted one of the league's worst third down conversion rates (23.7%), they've only managed to convert two of their previous 21 third down opportunities. And after the Bengals converted five of their first six third downs to start the season against the Cleveland Browns, they've only converted five of their next 32 third down opportunities. And that doesn't include two fourth downs against the Denver Broncos.
Additionally Andy Dalton on third down is emerging as a headline that hopefully dissolves into a "to done" checklist, while patiently watching this offense grow. Through three games this season, Dalton has only completed 10 of 24 passes for 46 yards on third down; that's completing only 41.7% of your passes, averaging 1.9 yards/pass for a passer rating of 63.2. There's plenty of room for improvement, provided that the Bengals offense find ways to lower the yardage needed to convert those third downs.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, the Bengals average yards to go on third down was 8.6 yards. Three times did the offense need three yards or less for a conversion and half needed ten yards or more. On a much wider scale, the Bengals are averaging 7.3 yards-to-go on third downs this year and 14 of 38 third downs required 10 yards or more to convert.
So while we track down the issues on third downs, we'd be remiss not to point out that often Cincinnati's third down issues are really the lack of production on first and second down.
+ With :14 seconds remaining against the San Francisco 49ers, the Bengals needed seven yards to convert for a first down. A.J. Green commits a false start and now the Bengals are stuck with 12 yards needed for a first down. The Bengals punt after a a five-yard dump off to Andre Caldwell. Over six minutes remaining in the same quarter, 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks fights off a Cedric Benson block to sack quarterback Andy Dalton for an eight-yard loss. With an incomplete pass on second down, it set up for the much more difficult third-and-18. Dalton picked up half of that on a short pass over the middle to Jermaine Gresham. Punt.
+ Now there's over eight minutes left in the third quarter when Andy Dalton throws consecutive incomplete passes that sets up a third-and-ten. This is an example on how incomplete passes puts the offense into a disadvantage for third and long; though pass protection forced Dalton to roll out, where he's less accurate. Only compounding the problem, Green is called for his second false start on the afternoon putting the Bengals into a third-and-15, which ended with a seven-yard completion that was basically a concession to end the drive.
+ As with most of the team's long third down situations, it was often the combination of poor execution and mistakes. With 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter against the 49ers, Cedric Benson exploded through the left side of the line on second and four. The play was negated on a Clint Boling offensive hold, pushing the Bengals into second-and-11, which ended Cincinnati's possession with consecutive incomplete passes from Dalton to pick up more yards than the 49ers were obviously willing to allow.
The Bengals are simply not good enough right not to convert long third downs, and that's largely because mistakes and the lack of execution during the running game and pass protection, breaking down Cincinnati's overall chances for third down success. So we can point at their third downs as reasons the offense struggled against the San Francisco 49ers, but really the issues are surfacing earlier putting the team off-schedule. Improve those and the probability to convert third downs with shorter distances will improve.
And before you say, well the Bengals failed to convert three straight third-and-ones against the Broncos, consider this. Of the eight third downs that needed two yards or less for a conversion, the Bengals converted five; those three were the only ones that weren't.