Jason Witten’s 2010 Red Zone Performance
A couple days ago I posted a study detailing one of the reasons the Cowboys were successful in their 2010 red zone performance. I argued that Jason Garrett’s first down play-calling more appropriately fit with advanced red zone statistics, namely that teams should run the ball more on first down only when inside their opponent’s 10-yard line. The analysis was the result of a look back at a 2009 article in which I stated three ways by which the Cowboys could improve their red zone performance in the upcoming season.
In addition to first down play-calling, I also argued that the team needed to find Jason Witten more often while in the red zone. Witten’s two touchdowns in 2009 were surpassed by a remarkable 21 tight ends that year. Even though touchdowns can be a fluky stat, there is no reason a player with the talent and size of Witten should ever have just a pair of touchdowns in a season.
At first glance of Witten’s 2010 statistics, you might conclude the ‘Boys did a better job of finding him in the red zone. Witten caught a career-high nine touchdowns, eight of which came in the red zone (the other one was 22 yards). On closer inspection, however, we see that Garrett targeted Witten only a bit more in the red zone in 2010 than in 2009, and not more at all as compared to the rest of the field.
Although Witten was out in a route on 77.5% of 2010 red zone plays (up from 69.4% in 2009), that rate is barely higher than the 76.2% of overall passing plays in 2010. The ‘Boys were slightly more effective in the red zone when Witten was in a route, averaging almost a yard more per play and scoring on 27.2% of dropbacks.
Despite the success, Witten was actually targeted just 14 times in the red zone all season. That equates to just 19.7% of all red zone dropbacks–lower than the 20.9% overall rate at which Witten was targeted. Witten’s low red zone target numbers means a ridiculous 57.1% of his red zone targets resulted in touchdowns. Incredible efficiency, but not nearly enough looks. Expect that to change in 2011.