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Third Downs Tell Frustrating Tale

It’s called the "money down" for a reason, and third downs on both sides told a frustrating yet meaningful tale on Sunday. - More Packers-Bengals Game Center


Bengals RB Cedric Benson rushed for 141 yards on Sunday.

It's called the "money down" for a reason, and third downs on both sides told a frustrating yet meaningful tale on Sunday.

For the second week in a row, the Packers' offense found itself in far too many long-yardage situations on third down, and the result was a conversion rate under 50 percent for the second straight week.

Meanwhile on the other side, other than a couple of instances Cincinnati had far more manageable third downs and ultimately converted 9-of-14, more than twice as many as Chicago (4-of-15) a week ago.

"As a whole, the consistency, we weren't there," running back Ryan Grant said.

The inability to get Grant going (14 carries, 46 yards) contributed to the tough distances on third downs for the offense. Discounting two third downs picked up via defensive penalty (which aren't included in the final third-down conversion stats), the Packers needed eight yards or more on eight of 13 third downs, including seven of nine times over the final three quarters.

On four of those, the yardage needed was 15 or more, mostly due to penalties and sacks. The Packers didn't convert any of those four, and only converted 1-of-8 third downs overall from the second through fourth quarters until a 22-yard pass to Jermichael Finley on the final desperation drive. For the game, the Packers were 6-of-13 (46 percent).

"I think today, just like last week, we stopped ourselves," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked six times. "We didn't move the ball as effectively as we should have, and left our defense on the field for a long time."

That defense struggled to get off the field in its own right, but it didn't have the yardage sticks in its favor much either.

On Cincinnati's 14 third downs, the Bengals needed 3 yards or less to convert six times, and they picked up the first down on four of those, nearly half of their nine conversions in the game. Running back Cedric Benson, who rushed for 141 yards, had a lot to do with that.

Linebacker Aaron Kampman said the down-and-distance situations prevented the defense from dialing up a lot of the creative blitz packages the 3-4 scheme is known for.

"We weren't able to do as much of the things we usually do, and we played more base calls," Kampman said. "That was probably the key to their success.

"That's the big down. You have to find a way to get off the field. But with those third-and-2's and less, it makes it much more manageable for the offense. So we have to do a better job on first and second down."

Even when the Bengals faced a tough third down, they were difficult to stop. A turning point in the game came in the second quarter when a sack and two penalties gave Cincinnati a third-and-34 at its own 7-yard line.

{sportsad300}But the Bengals converted, using a screen pass to tight end Daniel Coats. After picking up 23 yards, Coats had the ball knocked out from behind by Cullen Jenkins, only to have Cincinnati's Laveranues Coles recover at the 45-yard line for a 38-yard gain in all and a first down.

"That brought back fourth-and-26 memories," Kampman said, referring to the ill-fated playoff game in Philadelphia six years ago. "It's difficult, obviously, but that's kind of the way the day was going."

The Bengals followed that key conversion with a flea-flicker trick play for a big gain, and eventually scored the game-tying touchdown.

The Bengals actually scored three of their touchdowns on third downs - a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Carson Palmer, a 5-yard pass on third-and-goal to Chris Henry, and a 13-yard pass on third-and-11 to Chad Ochocinco. Cincinnati was converting at 75 percent (9-of-12) until coming up short on its final two tries of the day.

"We were kind of up and down a lot, and the mark of a great defense is consistency," Kampman said. "Today we weren't very consistent."

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