The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: How to Succeed in the Red Zone in 2012

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Jonathan Bales

One of the biggest problems for the Cowboys in recent years has been red zone efficiency. The team has been mediocre in terms of red zone touchdown percentage, and they’ve even been bad in regards to red zone attempts. Over at DallasCowboys.com, I took a look at four ways to improve red zone performance in 2012. Here’s one of them:

Maximize Opportunities

The easiest way to increase red zone success is simply to get there more often. Last year, the New England Patriots recorded the most red zone trips per game with 4.6. The St. Louis Rams reached the red zone fewer times than any other team, getting there only 1.9 times per contest.

Red zone appearances are rather consistent; the same dominant offenses tend to get there the most each year. Red zone conversion rates, however, are fluky. Sub-par offenses like the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, for example, all ranked in the top 10 in red zone scoring percentage in 2012.

Thus, red zone conversion rates tend to level out over the long run. The best way to score a lot of red zone touchdowns is simply to focus on getting there frequently. However, the Cowboys have ranked 16th or worse in red zone appearances each year since 2009.

Chances are you’ll see this offense improve dramatically in 2012 if they can increase their red zone appearances from 3.2 to around 4.0 per game–a mark only the Patriots, Saints, Eagles and Packers reached last season.

When I say getting to the red zone often will increase productivity, I mean it in the obvious way and a not-so-obvious way. The latter is that acquiring a large sample size of red zone appearances will allow the Cowboys to regress toward the mean in terms of efficiency once in the red zone.

The ‘Boys have been really poor at converting red zone appearances into touchdowns over the years. Part of that is because of a poor short-yardage rushing attack, but most of it, I think, is just bad luck. Over really large sample sizes, teams don’t perform much differently in the red zone than they do on other portions of the field. Simply crossing the opponent’s 20-yard line often and generating even an average touchdown rate will allow the Cowboys to improve in 2012.

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2 Responses to Running the Numbers: How to Succeed in the Red Zone in 2012

  1. Greg says:

    Your last sentence is a tough one to see as an algorithm. Jason Garrett has added previously unforeseen variables and quantum logic to the Dallas. For one, it would seem that having such talent, height, speed and strength at TE and WR over the last few years that Romo could either, just loft the ball to a variety of targets, OR, draw so much attention to that possibility, that the rushing lanes would have less congestion. Watching Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and even Matt Moore understand the mismatch play design which allows their receivers to be put in atmospheric isolation, just boggles me when Bennett, Miles, Witten, Sam Hurd, Dez, TO, etc are/were perfect specimen for such plays.

    Not so much.

    Also, another logical solecism is that just having part, some or most of the offensive line inthe Pro Bowl would make a difference. So having three Pro Bowl O-linemen in 2008 and 2009, two in 2010, and one in 2011 should account for something; it kind of points to the talent and ability being somewhat in place even before the snap.

    Not so much.

    Because, (and here is where Garrett is a statistical oddity), if a defense has a good idea of the running play that is coming based on Garrett’s tendencies or the threadbare nature of a scheme that can be manipulated by the position of the defense, then it does not matter how talented the line is. Everyone can converge on the player most likely to get the ball.

    Dallas having a QB who is mobile does not mean that he will stand in the pocket until a sack, a discard throw or an interception ends the play, when the goal line is but a determined lunge away.

    Not so much.

    How about having a smart or brilliant offensive coordinator who was in charge of scoring points and when his offense did not produce points or red zone successes, the head coach was fired and the OC who failed to produce the points to win games was made head coach?

    The problem is not the players. Brett Favre said that he watches Romo give instructions to his own players seconds before the snap and Romo has to often makensomething out of nothing; which means something is wrong with the teaching, learning, coaching or design. It is not one player that Romo does this to during games, it is several.

    The real red zone problem that has plagued the Cowboys since the 2008-2009 season is the crimson cranium of Jason Garrett.

  2. Greg–This is an awesome comment–one of the best I’ve seen here, and that’s saying something. Really well-argued. You know I have problems with JG. I see progress though. Actually I see a lot of progress as compared to some of the things he did in 2008 and 2009, particularly with predictability (although that still remains). I’d like to see more innovation out of him (or any, really), but I still think he’s capable of taking the team where it needs to be.

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