Over the past two days, I've had posts up on Team Speed Kills, the SB Nation site covering all things SEC, looking at third down conversions. On Monday it was a look at offensive third down conversion percentages and yesterday was a post on defensive third down conversion percentages. My observations for across the conference are available there but I wanted to provide a look at Alabama's stats by themselves.
This chart shows Alabama's third down conversion percentages over the past five years. Obviously, the red line indicates the offense's ability to move the chains. The grey line shows the third down conversion percentage for Alabama's opponents, or more to our interest, the ability of the Crimson Tide defense to get off the field on third downs.
Source: CFB Stats
Now those two thin red lines I've drawn on the grid indicate the targets set by Coach Saban for the team. He want's the offense to convert 45% of the time and the defense to limit opponents conversions to 30%. As you can see, these are not easy standards to reach.
Last year the offense actually reached that target for the first time in Coach Saban's tenure. Alabama ranked fourth in the conference for offensive third down conversions, a mark only matched once prior in the last half-decade, in 2008. The defense though showed a notable drop-off of efficiency from the past two seasons, but was still better than every other team in the conference save one - Arkansas (and no, I got no answer for that either).
So, basically, aiming for the targets Coach Saban sets means the Crimson Tide is likely to end up in the elite level of the SEC in both these categories. And this graph shows pretty plainly that even if the offense isn't able to reach that level of efficiency, it's not necessarily a crisis as long as the defense can. But, conversely, even if the offense is stellar, a step back on the defense can be extremely costly.