Goska: 3-and-out test awaits Packers' defense

Eric Goska
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Three-and-out — like knocked out, wiped out or burned out — is one of those 'out’ terms that often carries a negative connotation.

Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (86) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NFL Football game between Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 30, 2016.

There is no team in football more averse to the idea of running three plays and punting than Washington.

Green Bay visits FedExField on Sunday night. The Packers' defense will be hard pressed to get off the field in a timely manner.

Washington has produced a league-low nine three-and-out drives. The Falcons (14), Saints (15) and Cowboys (16) are next in line.

Washington is on pace to put up the fewest three-and-outs in a season (16) since at least 1998. Since that time, only the 2008 Colts (19) and 2010 Jaguars (18) have made it through a season with fewer than 20.

Washington has embarked on 97 drives. Just 9.3 percent have resulted in three-and-outs.

Teams that keep their percentage below 15 tend to be successful. Eleven clubs did so over the past six years and seven had winning records including the 2011 Packers (14.9) and 2014 Packers (13.6).

One of the reasons Washington’s count isn’t lower is distance. On average, Washington faced third-and-10.7 the nine times it had to punt after just three plays.

Washington is one of three teams (Jets, Giants) not to have had a three-and-out in its opener. Washington didn’t encounter one until its 13th possession of the season.

That’s a welcome delay. Seven clubs ran up against one on their very first drive of the season, a deflating start for any offense.

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Washington has not registered more than two three-and-outs in any game this season. It has yet to follow up a three-and-out with another three-and-out.

Six of these short drives occurred in the third or fourth quarters. Only three cropped up before halftime.

Washington did nothing special in this regard in its previous two seasons under coach Jay Gruden.  In 2014 it had 47 three-and-outs and last season it had 39.

Because Washington tends to extend its time on the field, it possesses the highest percentage of drives that contain one or two first downs. Only when longer drives are considered — those featuring three or more first downs — does the team’s ranking fall from the top.

So Washington excels in limiting three-and-outs. That might look good on a resume, but does it carry any real benefits?

For Washington, it appears to matter. The evidence is circumstantial, but this drop in punting after three downs has impacted other statistical measures.

Washington is one of six teams with a third-down conversion rate greater than 45 percent. Washington has moved the chains on 52 of 115 third downs (45.2 percent).

That’s an increase over the 31.5 and 43.5 of Gruden’s first two seasons. It’s also better than any number posted by the team since the 1991 club (50.5) brought home an NFL championship

Washington has been at or above 50 percent four times this season. In those games it beat Cleveland, Philadelphia and Minnesota and lost a heart-breaker to the Lions.

Fewer punts after three downs and an increased third-down percentage rate have led to more first downs. By averaging 23.2 per game, Washington -- along with the Saints (24.7), Cowboys (24.3) and Cardinals (23.1) -- is one of four teams averaging better than 23 per game.

Washington never has averaged that many in a season before. The franchise best was 22.1 in 1983 when Joe Theismann piloted the team to a 14-2 record and a berth in Super Bowl XVIII.

This increase in first downs has coincided with an increase in yards. Washington (407.8) is one of five teams averaging better than 400 yards per game along with the Saints (427.7), Falcons (416.6), Cowboys (412.7), and Raiders (401.1).

This, too, is franchise-record territory. Washington never has averaged 400 yards over the course of a season, its high being 390.8 in 1989.

Churning out yards and first downs with such vigor leaves little time for punting. Washington (25) is one of four teams – Dallas (27), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (28) – to have punted fewer than 30 times this season.

Punting, or the lack thereof, could be an indicator as to who is getting the better of Sunday's Packers game at Washington. If punter Tress Way begins to resemble the Maytag repairman, it’s a good bet Washington is on its way to improving to 6-3-1.

nflgsis.com, pro-football-reference.com and sportingcharts.com were used as references for this article.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 18-13-1

At FedExField: series tied 1-1

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (84-44 overall; 1-1 vs. Washington)

Washington: Kirk Cousins (16-17-1; 0-0 vs. Green Bay)

Four and more

Through Week 10, teams with the smallest percentage of three-and-out drives.

Pct.      Team (3s-total drives)

9.28     Washington (9-97)

12.73   Falcons (14-110)

14.71   Saints (15-102)

16.19   Panthers (17-105)

16.24   Chargers (19-117)

17.39   Cowboys (16-92)

17.82   Seahawks (18-101)

18.18   Packers (18-99)

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