Continuing to take a top-down look at team production, we are going to be looking at red zone performance. If you have not caught the other post so far, you can find articles already posted on scoring efficiency per possession, touchdown dispersal between passing and rushing scores, the rate of converting yardage into touchdowns, and playcalling splits, volume, and scoreboard influence.
Leaguewide Red Zone Production Over the Past 10 Seasons
|Year||RZ/Drive||RZ TD%||NFL TD%|
*All Drives exclude possessions that end in kneel downs
Over the past decade, we have seen the league continue to get more efficient at moving the football down the field. Looking at the percentage of NFL possessions to reach the red zone, 2019 was an all-time high for the sample above. The three highest rates in drives to reach the red zone have come over the past four seasons, with the lone exception being the 2017 sinkhole, which we have been highlighting regularly in each post as being a year we would like to forget.
Touchdown rates per red zone possession did decline a touch a year ago from the 2018 season spike, but with the league converting 56.1% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns, that rate is the second-highest mark.
If wondering why the red zone is so important to us for fantasy football, you can see that that is where the magic happens. The birds and the bees of producing touchdowns. 72.8% of all offensive touchdowns over the past decade have come from inside of the red zone with 73.7% the past two seasons.
If you want to score touchdowns, you often need to get closer to the goal line and inside of the red zone is no exception.
While nearly three-fourths of all offensive touchdowns scored the past decade have come from inside of the red zone, 21.4% of those touchdowns are scored from the 1-yard line while 46.5% were scored from inside of the 5-yard line and 72.7% are scored from inside of the 10-yard line.
Not all plays are equal, including in the red zone. Touchdown rate per passing and rushing attempt continue to climb as you get closer to the goal line. Starting at the 10-yard line, pass attempts hit 20% touchdown success rates and are at 30% or higher from the 6-yard line and in. Rushing attempts start hitting double-digit success rates from the 8-yard line and in with over 20% rates from five yards and in.
Comparing the two, the only place where rushing attempts surpass throwing the ball for a touchdown per attempt is at the 1-yard line. This is why not all targets and rushing attempts in the red zone are not the same and something we will cover on an individual player basis coming up in another set of posts.
2019 Team Red Zone Play Splits
Knowing that all of those red zone plays are not equal, we can take a peek at the types of red zone plays teams had a year ago. For example, Atlanta was tied for seventh in the league in red zone plays run, but just 32% of those plays were run from inside of the 10-yard line and 12% from inside of the 5-yard line, both of which were dead last in the league in percentage of red zone plays. If you circle back to our touchdown dispersal post, Atlanta was a team we pegged to have rushing touchdown regression to the mean this season and you can see why they struggled to produce rushing scores a year ago.
If checking out that inside of the 5-yard line marker, the Titans actually ran the fewest amount of plays from inside of the five last season (16), but scored a touchdown on 12 of those plays. That 75% conversion rate kept their volume down. Only the 2015 Patriots had a higher conversion rate (80%) inside of the 5-yard line per play over the past decade.
Another standout here is Seattle. They ranked third in red zone plays, but 28th in percentage of those plays inside of the 10 and 27th inside of the five. These are two unique cases because Seattle was fifth in red zone touchdown rate per possession (64.6%), which means they were excellent at converting plays from 10-19 yards into touchdowns. Seattle led the NFL with 15 touchdowns from that area of the red zone and were third with a 15.5% touchdown rate per play when the league rate was 10.2%.
The Saints were sixth in red zone plays, but 23rd in rate of those plays inside 10 and 24th inside of the five. They were also a team that we highlighted in the touchdown dispersal rate article of operating extremely pass-heavy for touchdowns, which was not the recent norm for them.
Who Needed The Red Zone?
No team needed the red zone less than the Chiefs and they still were tied for seventh in overall offensive touchdowns, which is what makes them so dynamic. The paced the NFL with 21 touchdowns from outside of the red zone. Over the past two seasons, Patrick Mahomes has 30 touchdown passes from outside of the red zone and last year was the only quarterback who threw more touchdowns from outside of the red zone (15) than inside (11).
The Rams were in the opposite direction, needing 90.5% of the offensive scores to come from inside of the red zone, ranking tied for last with Chicago and Indianapolis with just four touchdowns scored outside of the red zone.
Baltimore went from dead last in touchdowns from outside of the red zone in 2018 (five) to score 15 times from outside of the red zone a year ago.
The Giants and 49ers were tied for second with 18 touchdowns from outside of the red zone. Half of Daniel Jones’s 24 passing scores came from outside of the red zone, a rate that was below only Mahomes.
Year-Over-Year Correlation For Team Red Zone Output
|Team Red Zone Plays||0.1005|
|Team Inside 10 Plays||0.0471|
|Team Inside 5 Plays||0.0199|
We always want to explore how much rollover there is cooked into these stats and in similar fashion as has been the case so far with a lot of these team stats, there is a ton of variance yearly. The stickiest team stat for red zone production is the rate of drives that reach the red zone, followed by total red zone opportunities, red zone touchdowns, and red zone plays, which all tie together. Touchdown rate per red zone possession year-over-year has almost no carryover as well as plays run inside of the 5-yard line.
2019 Team Red Zone Rates
Bringing this home, these are team rates in percentage of drives to reach the red zone and the conversion rate for red zone possessions into touchdowns. Even with there not being a lot of yearly rollover, there are still some notes to pull out.
The Titans ran some kind of hot last season. From Weeks 7-17 with Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback, the Titans scored a touchdown on 26 of 30 of their possessions (86.7%) over that span that ended inside of the red zone. They were held to just one field goal on those red zone possessions to go with three turnovers. The league rates over that span were at 59.1% of red zone possessions ending in a touchdown and 30.8% ending in a field goal try.
For the season, the Titans scored a touchdown on 75.6% of their red zone opportunities, the highest rate in the league for a season in the 2000s. This is while ranking 25th in percentage of drives to reach the red zone at 25.6% while that mark was still just 26.5% with Tannehill under center.
Over the previous 10 seasons, there have been seven teams to score on 70% of their red zone possessions. In the following season, those teams averaged a 53.5% touchdown rate in the red zone. All of those teams scored fewer touchdowns the following season with an average loss of 12 touchdowns scored among those teams.
Of the 77 teams that converted over 60% of their red zone possessions for scores, 59 (76.7%) had a decreased rate the following season with an average decline of -8.9%. The Ravens, Eagles, Packers, Buccaneers, Rams, Colts, Texans, Seahawks, and Vikings join the Titans in this bucket from a year ago.
At the other end, the Steelers were a complete nightmare. They ranked 31st in rate of drives to get to the red zone and were dead last in converting those opportunities into touchdowns at 35.9%. They were just the 11th team over the past decade to average fewer than one offensive touchdown per game and had the eighth-lowest red zone conversion rate over that span. The positive news is that it is extremely hard to be that poor again the following season. Of the 12 other teams to score on fewer than 40% of their red zone possessions, 11 converted at a higher rate the following season with an average increase of 17.1% 1.1 red zone touchdowns per game.
Expanding that out to teams that converted fewer than 50% of their red zone possessions (remember league rates have been over 50% every year over the past decade) and we get an 88-team sample. 74 of those teams (84.1%) converted a higher rate of red zone opportunities for touchdowns the next season with an average increase of 11.4% among those teams 0.7 red zone touchdowns per game. Keeping the Steelers company in that regard from a year ago are the Jaguars, Bengals, Cardinals, Broncos, and Washington.
A couple of quick hits on the way out…
Atlanta was second in the league in rate of drives to reach the red zone, but 25th in touchdown conversion rate based on not sustaining possessions to those money yard lines we discussed earlier.
The Ravens reached the red zone on 43% of their drives, the fifth-highest rate since 2000. They were the 13th team to eclipse the 40% mark in that category. All 12 of the other teams had a decrease in rate of drives to the red zone the following season.
The Jets had a league-low 19.3% of their drives reach the red zone. Of the 30 other teams to reach the red zone on fewer than 20% of their drives over the past decade, 29 of those teams increased that rate the following season with an average increase of 8.1%.