Fixing the Cowboys’ Red Zone Offense, Part I
At Dallas News, I started a (four?)-part series on fixing the Cowboys’ historic red zone issues. The first suggestion was to run the ball more often on first down when near the goal line.
So how can the ‘Boys improve inside the opponent’s 20-yard line? First, it’s important to understand where the “real” red zone begins. In terms of past efficiency, teams have often been best when running the ball inside of the opponent’s 10-yard line, particularly on first down. Check out this graph from Advanced NFL Stats:
The reason that running is more advantageous than passing on first down when inside the opponent’s 10-yard line is because the field shrinks. There are a bunch of defenders in a small area, and they don’t need to respect anything deep. You can’t stretch out a defense when there’s fewer than 20 yards of available real estate, so the value of rushing increases.
Outside of the 10-yard line, however, passing is still the superior option. Whereas most teams drastically alter their offensive approach once they enter the red zone, they shouldn’t really change much until they cross the 10-yard line.
In 2012, the Cowboys passed the ball 67.5 percent of the time in the red zone—the second-highest mark in the NFL. Despite that, they totaled just 2.49 yards per play in the red zone, ranking them 26th. On first down, the ‘Boys did a good job of continuing to run their normal offense when in the red zone but outside of the 10-yard line, passing on 62.5 percent of their first downs.