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Washington Redskins failing on third-down conversions at historic rate

The Washington Post's panel of football insiders preview the upcoming Redskins game at Tennessee.

On average, the Redskins have needed 8.35 yards on second down in order to the move the chains, which ranks them No. 26 in the league. It means that on third down, the Redskins are usually looking to pass and, as a result, quarterback Donovan McNabb has been heavily pressured.

Many of McNabb's struggles come on third down. On first down, he is completing 64 percent of his passes (78 of 122) and averaging 8.84 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and five interceptions.

On third down, by comparison, McNabb is completing only 42 percent of his passes (36 of 85), and averaging 5.47 yards per attempt. Now in his 12th season, McNabb has never had a third-down completion rate lower than 50 percent.

This year, he has just one touchdown and four interceptions - including two Monday against the Eagles - on third downs.

"It's collective miscues, it's timing issues, whatever it may be, it's collectively," McNabb said. "I take part in the whole thing."

While the Redskins' receivers have been sharply criticized by some corners of the fan base, they have dropped only 10 passes in nine games, according to Stats, Inc. Only two teams have dropped fewer. According to Stats, Inc., only 60 percent of the Redskins' 315 pass attempts this year have been catchable, a lower percentage than all but two other teams.

Coaches aren't putting all the blame on McNabb - or any other player.

"It's definitely all of us," said Kyle Shanahan. "They have a part and so do we. When players don't execute it, we're the ones coaching them to do it. So it's on us, too."

Kyle Shanahan is the one charged with calling the plays on third down and after reviewing film, he says he is "comfortable" with his selection.

"I'd like to call some that would start working, but I'm definitely happy with those plays," he said. "We put a lot of time into it."

In Monday's embarrassing loss to the Eagles, the Redskins managed to put 28 points on the board without converting a single third down, an obscure feat that Mike Shanahan said was highly unusual. Players know that if they could manage to extend a few more drives, their offense would have more chances at the end zone.

"If we clean that up, it's a whole different ball game," McNabb said.

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