Peyton Manning By the Numbers Part II: First downs, 3rd down conversions, and the Redzone


Hello folks, once again here to bring some things to the fore-front. This is the 2nd part in a 3-4 part series about Broncos QB Peyton Manning....BTW the luster has not worn off, it is still cool to be able to say "Broncos QB Peyton Manning!" Colts fans....the best of Luck to you ;) Anyway my whole purpose of this series is to get better acquainted with what exactly having a QB like Peyton Manning does for your offense. As I've stated before, many of us know that he's a great quarterback, but what exactly does that mean? If you missed part I where I analyzed Colts offensive ranking and Manning's personal stats, check it out....

As we know, 3rd down and redzone situations are very important to the success of a team. If your offense can stay on the field by moving the chains on 3rd down, field position is gained and scoring opportunities become possible. Your defense also benefits because, well, they don't have to be on the field so much. When a team gets close i.e. the 'redzone,' are they making the most of those opportunities, or are they leaving points on the field?

Let's start off first by looking at the overall first down numbers for the Colts. For the sake of brevity and relevance, I chose to go back the last five seasons. I think that this production means more to us in regards of Peyton Manning than say the numbers at the beginning of his career.

Colts 1st down/3rd down numbers and ranks, 2006-2010

Year Total 1st Rush 1st Pass 1st Pen. 1st Rank 3DA 3DC 3D% Rank
2006 376 112 241 23 1st 187 105 56.2 1st
2007 357 119 212 26 2nd 203 100 49.3 1st
2008 321 80 220 21 7th 201 101 50.2 1st
2009 339 69 241 29 5th 193 95 49.2 1st
2010 366 87 253 26 1st 204 91 44.6 5th

1st downs:

The last five years under Peyton Manning, the Colts offense has ranked no lower than 7th in total first downs, three times ranking no lower than 2nd. Just looking at the numbers, it is easy to see that the amount of first downs gained passing far outnumbers the amount of first downs rushing by anywhere from a 2:1-3.5:1 ratio in any given year.

3rd Downs:

The Colts offense and Peyton Manning have ranked 1st in overall 3rd down conversion percentage four of the last five years, and have ranked in at least the top 5 every year. It is safe to say that the Colts have been the most efficient team on 3rd down in the entire league over that 5-year time span. I will break down these 3rd down numbers in more detail later on. For now, I want to give you some context, and since we are Broncos fans, what better way to do that than look at our own teams' numbers during that same 5 year period?

Broncos 1st down/3rd down numbers and ranks, 2006-2010

Year Total 1st Rush 1st Pass 1st Pen. 1st Rank 3DA 3DC 3D% Rank
2006 285 106 151 28 21st 211 78 37.0 20th
2007 305 96 187 22 15th 198 80 40.4 14th
2008 354 103 223 28 T2nd 200 95 47.5 3rd
2009 306 95 186 25 15th 215 78 36.3 T23rd
2010 309 204 81 24 14th 207 67 32.4 27th

1st downs:

In four out of five years during this time period, our Broncos have have been in the middle third of the league in total first downs. Only in 2008 did we manage to be an elite offense in the context of total first downs. As you can see, all other years fail to approach the number of first downs gained in 2008.

3rd downs:

Again only in 2008 were the Broncos able to attain an elite ranking in terms of 3rd down percentage. During that time they faced converting a third down 45 more times than the Colts, which averages to about 9 more per season. That doesn't tell me that we were more burdened team than the Colts on 3rd down. Three times in those five years, our Broncos were in the bottom 3rd of the league in terms of 3rd down conversion percentage.

Overall thoughts:

I would say these are two areas that can immediately be helped by Peyton Manning. In recent years, 3rd down conversion percentage has been a major weakness for our Broncos. Let's say next year the Broncos were to face a third down situation 200 times over the course of a season. An increase in percentage from 35% to 43% would mean the difference between 70 conversions and 86 conversions. That's about one more per game, so in essence, we would gain at least 3 more downs per game, or another 1:20 in possession time per game. Everything adds up and while this is just one small aspect of how our team can improve, if you can make enough small improvements in a variety of different categories, the end result will be much more conducive to success.


Here's where both the Colts (without Manning) and our Broncos ranked last year in these categories, in case you were wondering:

2011 Total 1st Rush 1st Pass 1st Pen. 1st Rank 3DA 3DC 3D% Rank
Broncos 286 129 130 27 T-20th 214 66 30.8 31st
Colts 258 69 170 19 31st 214 74 34.6 23rd

The Broncos were in the bottom 3rd of the league in overall 1st downs. They were 5th in rushing 1st downs and 31st in passing first downs (Jags were 32nd). Our percentage was also 2nd to last in front of the Jags. The Colts went from at worst a top 5 team to at best a piss-poor team (sorry I couldn't resist).

Now, I promised to break down these third down stats further so let's take a look at those numbers. Above, what we have is one number to look at, overall 3rd downs. But just exactly how did Manning's Colts fare in specific situations? How successful were they in 3rd down and short, medium, and long? Further, how often did they attack the defense in those situations through rushing the football and passing the football? The tables below gives you each of those situations, broke down by rushing and passing numbers, with the amount of times they were successful and unsuccessful in those situations. At the very end are the cumulative totals for all those situations over five years.

3rd and Short (1-3 yards)

2006 Run Pass 2007 Run Pass 2008 Run Pass 2009 Run Pass 2010 Run Pass
Made 17 25 Made 23 24 Made 24 20 Made 18 20 Made 17 23
Missed 7 13 Missed 12 13 Missed 10 13 Missed 9 16 Missed 9 12
Total 24 38 Total 35 37 Total 34 33 Total 27 36 Total 26 35
% 70.8% 65.7% % 65.7% 64.8% % 70.5% 60.6% % 66.7% 55.5% % 65.3% 65.7%

Play calling:

Relatively even. There were three years (2006, 2009, 2010) where one side of the ball was emphasized a bit more. In these years, the Colts offense favored a slightly more pass-oriented attack on 3rd down. Otherwise, a running play/passing play was called at a near even split.


The running game held a slight edge in overall effectiveness on 3rd and short. But overall, both sides of the offense were effective. One possible reason for this that I saw while going through the game logs, was that there were a decent amount of times where 3rd and short, and short yardage situations in general, were used as opportunities to take chances down the field. Sometimes they resulted in big plays, sometimes they were incomplete. I think it is important to remember that both the running game and passing game were an equal threat in these positions. Add to that the threat that you can hit a big play down the field, and a defense cannot peg your tendencies, huge advantage to the offense.

3rd and Medium (4-7 yards)

2006 Run Pass 2007 Run Pass 2008 Run Pass 2009 Run Pass 2010 Run Pass
Made 1 31 Made 2 29 Made 1 29 Made 0 35 Made 4 26
Missed 3 23 Missed 4 26 Missed 4 28 Missed 3 26 Missed 4 35
Total 4 54 Total 6 55 Total 5 57 Total 3 61 Total 8 61
% 25% 57.4% % 33.3% 52.7% % 20% 50.8% % 0% 55.5% % 50% 42.6%

Play calling:

Not even close my friends. You can see that each year when faced with a 3rd and 4-7 yard situation, that the Colts only ran the ball a handful of times. To be fair you have to remember that only 3rd and 4 is an acceptable situation to run the ball...and even that is pushing it. How can I say this? Well, what running back or running game do you know that has consistently averaged 5 yards per carry? How about 6-7 yards? As you get further and further away from that, the probability of converting a 3rd down by running the ball becomes less and less. If you take an approach of running the ball in these situations, you better be doing so to gain a few yards for a FG attempt, or you better look at the drive in terms of 3rd and 4th down to convert.


Any football coach, D-coordinator can see what I see. I see a team that will pass the ball over 90% of the time in these situations. So we all know what's coming, yet Manning was able to convert these about half the time. The passing game was very effective overall in both short yardage and medium yardage situations. This speaks for Peyton Manning's high football IQ. The defense knows what's coming, they put their players in situations to stop it, and Manning counters.

3rd and long (8 or more yards)

2006 Run Pass 2007 Run Pass 2008 Run Pass 2009 Run Pass 2010 Run Pass
Made 1 30 Made 1 21 Made 0 27 Made 0 20 Made 0 21
Missed 3 33 Missed 7 41 Missed 4 41 Missed 6 40 Missed 7 46
Total 4 63 Total 8 62 Total 4 68 Total 6 60 Total 7 67
% 25% 47.6% % 33.3% 52.7% % 0% 39.7% % 0% 33.3% % 0% 31.3%


Playcalling? PLAYCALLING? Okay remember how I said it was a losing proposition to attempt to run the ball on 3rd and 5 or more to convert? Well here are the reasons you run on 3rd and long: 1) You have a mile to go due to penalties or other reasons and are trying to take the turnover out of play by not forcing the ball down the field. 2) Victory formation, you take a knee on third down to waste the clock, which unfortunately and stupidly still counts against your overall 3rd down percentage. Remember all those draw plays we saw last year on 3rd and long that people were upset at McCoy for calling? Well it's the smart play and every team does it.


Here's where I lament my own shortcomings. You see, I looked and searched for these numbers in lots of different places and couldn't find them the way I wanted to break it down. So I painstakingly dug through Colt game logs and play-by-plays, game after game, season after season, to be able to present them here, which is 1) a pain in the ass 2) time consuming. So while I would LOVE to be able to put these numbers in a better context by comparing them to the other 32 teams in the league, I'm not going to go through the same process for every team . If Topher or anyone else would like to help out in the comments and has some sources or information I couldn't find, I would love to see it!

For now I'll say this. There were times wading through this stuff where I saw 3rd and 15, 3rd and 18, even 3rd and 24 being converted for big plays. This is a low percentage play because it significantly reduces the options for the offense and therefore creates a situation where the defense can call blitz and coverage combinations that will take advantage of the time needed for longer routes to develop. My final take and completely un-scientific thoughts about Peyton Manning being able to convert on average a third of these (2006/2007 are absolutely amazing) is awesome! Also, there were also many drives where it didn't even make it to 3rd down because the Colts offense was so efficient.

2006-2010, short, medium, long, altogether:

2006-2010 Run Pass Run Pass Run Pass
Made 99 112 8 150 2 119
Missed 47 67 18 138 27 201
Totals 146 179 26 188 29 320
Percentage 67.8% 62.5% 30.7% 52.1% 6.8% 37.1%

Here's where I think a better balance can help:

You see the amount of 3rd and longs? About 350 of them or 70 per season? We already know that for the most part, the Colts running game was in the bottom 3rd of the league the majority of the time while Manning was there (see part I). Even with a high completion percentage of about 65% or more, let's say that on 1st down once every three times, a pass will be incomplete and you move to 2nd and 10. Maybe you decide to run the ball to make 3rd down more manageable, but since your running game sucks, you gain a yard or two. Switch it, let's say you get a few on 1st by running, throw an incompletion on 2nd, Boom 3rd and 8. Keep following lets say you have 12 drives per game, so 3-4 times every game or about 50-60 times per year you have a 3rd down and 8 or more. You convert those 33% of the time so you'll keep a drive going 17/50 or 20/60 times. But you convert a 3rd and medium 50% of the time.

If you are more balanced in playcalling, with a more effective running game, let's say you throw the ball incomplete on first, no worries, your running game is solid and on 2nd down, you gain 3-5 yards. Now you have 3rd and 5,6,7 which you convert 50% of the time. So instead of having 40 of these situations per year you have them 55-60 times a year. You now have 7-10 more first downs per season just by being more balanced. Remember, little things add up in a big way.

The Redzone

I realize this post is a bit long already, but please stay with me, we're almost to the goal line;) Again, I wanted to see the Colts offense and its' effectiveness in converting scoring opportunities. When you make it to the redzone, you better come away with points, and you better be scoring TD's the majority of the time otherwise you're working hard with reduced payout. This is simple, times in the redzone, TD's, FG's, scoring % and TD %:

Year Opportunities TD FG Scoring % TD %
2006 62 42 15 91.9 67.7
2007 69 39 23 89.8 56.5
2008 45 32 10 93.3 71.1
2009 52 35 13 92.3 67.3
2010 57 38 17 96.4 66.7
Totals 285 186 78 92.6% 65.2%

If you were curious, here were the misses:

2006: fumble 1 yd line, INT 10 yd line, missed 37 yd fg, INT 4 yd line, turnover on downs

2007: missed 36 yd fg, INT on 14 yd line, missed 29 yd fg, missed 38 yd fg, INT on 19 yd line, INT on 11 yd line

2008: INT on 6 yd line, turnover on downs, missed 30 yd fg

2009: missed 32 yd fg, INT on 4 yd line, turnover on downs, fumble on 10 yd line

2010: missed 38 yd fg, turnover on downs

The Breakdown:

Remember when I said that when you get there you better score? Check, 9 out of every 10 trips resulted in points.

Remember when I said that the majority of those scores better be TD's? Check, 2 out of every 3 scores resulted in a TD.

Again I don't have this in the context I would like, but if we remember that the colts were a top three scoring offense in 9/14 Manning seasons, and a top ten scoring offense in 11/14 Manning seasons, we could safely guess that the redzone numbers over the years is probably at the least in the top 3rd of the league.

Final thoughts:

This has been a lot of info, but I hope everyone comes away with the fact that a Manning offense and a Manning passing game has the potential to bring the Broncos to new heights in terms of scoring, first downs, 3rd down conversions, redzone efficiency, and overall scariness. Is that even a word? Who cares I'm tired, looking forward to part III where I'll take a look at Manning's playoff performance, and possibly part IV Manning's combacks and other stuff if I feel like it :D

Until then Go Broncos!

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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