Devin McCourty spoke to the media Wednesday and talked about the fact the defense will need to be better on third down in 2013. (USA TODAY Images)

One of the topics of discussion that came up on Wednesday during the team’s first press conferences of the 2014 training camp was about their issues on third down in 2013.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich tackled it first, acknowledging that it was a problem both in 2012 and 2013 for their defense. They allowed opponents to convert 42.2 percent of their third down attempts, ranking them 26th in the NFL. Looking at a lot of the situations they were in, it was alarming to see how they fared certain situations last season.

Here’s a quick run down of all their 3rd downs from 2012 and 2013:

2012
2013
Situation: Att: Conv: Pct: Att: Conv: Pct:
3rd and 10+ 38 7 18% 44 10 23%
3rd and 10 21 8 38% 25 6 24%
3rd and 9 6 2 33% 6 1 17%
3rd and 8 8 6 75% 12 5 42%
3rd and 7 17 8 50% 16 6 37.5%
3rd and 6 19 6 32% 18 10 56%
3rd and 5 16 4 25% 34 15 44%
3rd and 4 18 3 17% 17 10 59%
3rd and 3 19 11 58% 15 10 67%
3rd and 2 20 11 55% 21 12 57%
3rd and 1 23 16 69.5% 24 13 54%
*Taken From Our Stats Database

Going down the line, plays of between 3rd-and-6 and 3rd-and-8 were an issue in 2013, with opponents converting a combined 21-of-46 (46%).  From 3rd-and 10 and beyond teams went 16-of-69 (23%), essentially converting just under 1-in-4 attempts.

They did manage to improve from where they were in 2012, albeit marginally, after allowing a conversion rate of 25% in 2012 from that same distance.

“We’ve got to get off the field,” said Ninkovich.  “That’s huge. Some of the third-and-long situations, we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us last year, too, so specifically that play and the third-and-long situation as a whole, we’ve got to do a better job. Obviously, everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage all works together. That’s just one area that we definitely need to work on this year.”

Devin McCourty, who was immediately greeted by those same reporters with similar questions about their issues, revealed that it was something that appeared to be a focus for the team heading into this season. According to McCourty, giving up big plays on third down was something that was talked about during the spring and with the turnover personnel-wise, it’s something that was watched on film as they try to make sure some of the new guys understand what needs to be fixed as they now begin trying to correct it.  

“I think when you look back at last year a lot of the things just go to straight X’s and O’s,” explained McCourty during the team’s media sessions on day one Wednesday.  “You can’t focus so much on last year, because some of the people, when you’re watching film, aren’t even here this year.  It’s just trying to improve scheme things, what some of the guys did last year that are still on the team, how to view things, how to see it better, how to anticipate it better. ”

“For third down, it’s always a key in every game,” said McCourty.  “A lot of times it comes down to your season being on third down in a  key situation so we’ll definitely watch that and try and improve.  Like Rob [Ninkovich] was saying, with screens and different plays that happened to us.  You always want to look at those things and see how you can get better. That started in the spring, trying to develop those things and look at them, just so all the players can be aware of what hurt us last year and what we need to be ready for this year.”