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Lions No. 1 in third-down defense

Posted by Mike Spofford on October 4, 2013 – 4:07 pm

Third down is always a key down in football, but it will take on added importance for the Packers on offense on Sunday.

The Lions are ranked No. 1 in the league in third-down defense through four weeks, and no one in the NFC is even close to them. Detroit has allowed just 10 conversions in 47 attempts, for 21 percent. The No. 2 team in the NFC is San Francisco, at 31 percent. No. 2 in the league is the AFC’s Kansas City, at 22 percent.

Looking a little deeper, six of the 10 third-down conversions the Lions have allowed came in one game, at Washington in Week 3. Aside from that game, when Washington was 6-of-13, Detroit’s opponents have gone 2-of-10 (Minnesota), 1-of-11 (Arizona) and 1-of-13 (Chicago). Last week, the Bears were 0-for-12 until converting a third down with a TD pass with just 43 seconds left in the game.

“It is a small sample size, but they’ve played four games, so you have to give them credit for that,” Packers QB Aaron Rodgers said. “I think they’ve got a good combination. They’ve got a real good pass rush, they’ve got a good scheme on defense and they’re making plays in the secondary.”

The Lions are making some of their biggest plays on defense on third down. Five of their nine sacks on the season have come on third down, as well as three of their eight interceptions. They also had a sack/fumble on third down against Arizona nullified by a penalty.

Thanks to offensive penalties and other negative-yardage plays by opposing offenses, the Lions also have benefited from several long third downs, which have allowed them to permit short pass completions but then come up and make the tackle shy of the marker.

On offense, the Packers are converting just 36 percent on third downs this season (12-of-33), which is right in the middle of the pack and slightly below the league average of 37.7 percent.

“We want to stay in favorable down-and-distances, which means no negative-yardage plays, and try to avoid sacks,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We haven’t done a good job this year of maintaining our drives. Third down is going to be a big component this week.”

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