Head coach Mike Smith ponders why the Falcons can't score touchdowns in the third quarter of games. (source: YardBarker)

Success in 3rd Quarter is Crucial

(source: YardBarker)

The NFL is a game of adjustments. How you react to what your opponent is doing is crucial to long-term success. Sure, Bill Walsh used to script his first 15 plays but after that it was about how to best exploit weaknesses and create positive matchups for his team.

The biggest adjustment, perhaps, comes in the third quarter of games. Both teams have had a half of football to understand what the other is doing. The third quarter is important to set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s also when the most adjustments are made since the time between quarters is short.

Using this as a basis I wanted to see how teams have done in the third quarter of games since 2007. My theory was this would be a good indicator of coaching. Teams that can’t adapt, can’t win. They’ll keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. This is the definition of insanity.

So how did my theory work out? Hit the jump to find out and to see why, as a Falcon fan, you hope this theory is not true.

I added up all the touchdowns scored in the third quarter by every team and then compared that against their win totals. Regular season and playoffs are included. The chart below uses data from 2007-2009.

Ouch. I did not expect this. The Falcons have scored fewer third quarter touchdowns since 2007 than all but one team – the St. Louis Rams.

Is this a reflection of coaching? Does Mike Mularkey struggle to adjust in the second half? Before we blame the low ranking on 2007 and Hue Jackson (only one third quarter touchdown all season), the Falcons have still performed below average the past two seasons.

The top of this list reads like a who’s-who of the NFL’s elite and while it’s painful to see the Saints at the top of the list, it’s good to know that if the Falcons improve their third quarter production, good things could follow.

The 14 teams above the league average in third quarter touchdowns have averaged 10.3 victories per season. The 18 below the league average have averaged only 6.8. That says it all.

Only two teams (Titans and Eagles) were in the bottom half of third quarters touchdowns and still managed to average 10+ wins but it was close. They just missed the league average by 0.2.

The point is this: starting strong in the third quarter is a HUGE indicator of how successful team will/can be. The Falcons have struggled to do so yet still managed to average 8 wins a season. Imagine if their offense starts clicking and they begin to take over games in the second half the way the Saints, Cardinals, Patriots and Chargers have been doing?

On a side note, this is the last time I ever want to see the Falcons associated with the Rams on any list.

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  • Ed

    Hello Troy,

    Interesting stats there. I would say the first five, maybe six teams are pass first. Did you ever expect an onside kick in the superbowl. I think teams like to throw in some surprises in the third quarter to get the edge then try and hold on in the fourth. Not to get off topic but that was prety sad what happened to Sergio Kindle. I don’t think he would have been a big impact player his first year considering the depth at linebacker and defensive line. The people on FanNation really think it a big joke with all their comments. Nice story. Maybe the Falcons can jump above the Lions this year.

    • http://bloggingdirty.com/ Troy Heinzman

      Hey Ed – Glad you enjoyed the article. It’s an interesting point about the pass-first teams. I didn’t realize that at first. The third quarter is an ideal time to really change the momentum of a game and perhaps that’s why the teams at the top of this list are consistent winners. The Kindle news is tough. You never want to see a rookie start his career like that. I haven’t followed it closely, but hopefully, long-term, he’ll be okay. And yes, being behind the Lions on this list is painful. Thanks for reminding me.

  • TomQ


    Good read, man, and good perspective. I’ve always felt we struggled in the 3rd, and now I can see the evidence to prove it. A couple of thoughts: I’d like to see this for the past two years, instead of three because of our new regime. Also, while we struggle in the 3rd quarter, I wonder how we stack up in the other quarters, especially the first. I think we’ve started out strong for the past couple of years, which may be why we have a good overall record despite low scoring in the third.

    • http://bloggingdirty.com/ Troy Heinzman

      Hey Tom – in answer to your questions.

      A couple of thoughts: I’d like to see this for the past two years, instead of three because of our new regime.

      The Falcons go from 31st in 3rd quarter TDs using 2007-2009 to 25th using only the last two seasons. The league average is 16.7 – the Falcons have scored 11.

      I wonder how we stack up in the other quarters, especially the first.

      The Falcons are 9th in first quarter TDs with 21. The league average is 16.3.
      2nd quarters TDs: Falcons 13th (29) – League Average: 25.1.
      4th quarters TDs: Falcons 7th (29) – League Average: 23.4.

      As a team, the Falcons are 12th in the league in total touchdowns scored since 2008. They’ve scored 90 with the league average at 81.7.

      The Best? Saints (134), Cardinals (120), Chargers (110).
      The Worst? Rams (37), Raiders (44), Browns (45).

      • TomQ

        Excellent – thanks for running those figures. Looks like we start and finish especially well when it comes to scoring. I’d be interested to see points allowed by quarter.

        • http://bloggingdirty.com/ Troy Heinzman

          No problem. I don’t have the numbers for defensive scores but I’ll try to dig them up.

  • fila33lee

    Sadly I have to agree, this stat sheet is a rough one to look at. I agree with Tom in how it does seem like we jump out of the gate quick and then kind of fizzle out the rest of the game, the one that sticks out the most to me last year was that Cowboy game, we looked great in the first.

    • http://bloggingdirty.com/ Troy Heinzman

      Looking at the numbers it’s the norm for a team to score more touchdowns in the 2nd and 4th quarters than the 1st and 3rd. It’s just them getting a feel for the defense combined with the sense of urgency the half and end of the game provides. Only 1 NFL team has scored more TDs in the 1st quarter than the 2nd quarter since 2008: Denver. Only 3 teams have scored more TDs in the 3rd than they did in the 4th: Arizona, New England and Chicago.

  • fila33lee

    Nice research, much respect for the stat’s you pulled out!

    • http://bloggingdirty.com/ Troy Heinzman