If you listen to a football coach speak long enough, you're bound to hear him say that the keys to winning are running the football, stopping the run, winning the turnover battle, and converting on third down.
The Green Bay Packers have been successful in these areas over the past two weeks, and in what is not a mysterious coincidence, have posted back-to-back impressive wins to improve their record to 3-4, with a chance to pull even at .500 going into their bye week.
One of the biggest of these key factors that jumps off the stat sheet is the Packers' knack for turning third down into 1st and 10. Through seven weeks of the season, the Pack's offense is converting on an amazing 51.6% of their third down opportunities.
Not only do the Packers lead the league in third down conversion percentage, they are on pace to set a record for the best rate in team history, besting their 1995 mark of 49.1%. By comparison, the third down conversion percentage across the NFL for 2004 is 37.4%.
Over the last two weeks, the Packers' offense has been firing on all cylinders, converting an astonishing 17 out of 27 third downs, a 63% success rate. On Sunday against Dallas, they were especially impressive, going 9-for-13, good for 69.2%.
Each coach on the Packers' staff is assigned one specific duty outside of his usual position coaching detail. The man whose focus is geared toward third downs is quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell.
Bevell, himself a former standout quarterback at the University of Wisconsin, is in his fifth year on the Packers' coaching staff, but this is his first season in charge of preparing the third down game plan.
Quarterback Brett Favre thinks that his position coach has been a big part of the team's success in the crucial situation.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Darrell Bevell," Favre said after Sunday's win. "Our third downs this year have been by far the best since I've been here. And it's long yardage as well as shorter yardage. It starts with the type of plays that you design and from there obviously it's execution."
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman concurred with his quarterback that Bevell has played a big role in keeping drives alive and getting a fresh set of downs.
"Darrell has done a nice job," Sherman said. "What he does, he does the preliminary work on third down for us. When we come together - myself, he and (offensive coordinator) Tom (Rossley) - when we meet on Thursday for third down, Darrell has laid out what the opponents do, how they do certain things and gives me and Tom a scouting report of what's happening."
Bevell explained his role in putting together the offensive game plans.
"I'm the lead coach in the third down area," he said. "What that is is that's my main focus, to really focus on the team's third downs and what they're running and come up with the tendencies of what they do. Then I go in with Coach Rossley and Coach Sherman and have a set of plays that I want to suggest and then we talk it out and end up coming up with the game plan."
Bevell refused to take the credit for the team's success, saying that it's the players on the field who make the difference, no matter what the play call is.
"I tell the guys every week that the main focus of third down is winning first and second down, but then on third down, somebody has to make a play," he continued. "We have to protect, Brett has to make a throw and somebody has to make a catch. Most of the time it's going to be a man-to-man situation and you have to win your one-on-one match-up. Right now the guys are doing that."
Perhaps the fact that Bevell is a former quarterback contributes to the fact that he knows which plays will work best for Favre and the offense. He concluded that his relationship with the rifle-armed signal-caller is a positive in the team's high conversion rate.
"I think it helps that I know some of the plays that Brett likes. It's easy to suggest those to Coach and say 'I know that he likes these plays.' Any time your team, and especially your quarterback are comfortable with those plays, you have a greater chance of being effective with them."
Whatever it is, the system seems to be working. If Bevell, Sherman, Rossley and Favre keep up their current pace, the offensive success story will continue.