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, and the rate of converting yardage into touchdowns.
League-wide Red Zone Production Over the Past 10 Seasons
|Year||RZ/Drive||RZ TD%||NFL TD%|
*All Drives exclude possessions that end in kneel downs
We have spent a portion in each of these league-wide posts to note that the 2020 season was the highest-scoring season in league history. There were unique circumstances that played a role in the overall scoring efficiency, but as you can see here, things were already on an upward trend even without the impact of the COVID influence and lack of offensive penalties called.
NFL offenses have been sustaining drives on nearly 30% of all true possessions (ones that do not end in kneel downs) in four of the past five seasons and have hit the 30% mark in each of the past two.
Not only sustaining more drives deeper into enemy territory, but teams have also been better in converting those red zone possessions into touchdowns as the league-wide red zone touchdown rate took a significant spike up to 62% last season. The only time it has cleared the 60% mark over the past decade.
If you are wondering why the red zone is so important to us for fantasy football, you can see that that is where the touchdowns are actually scored. 74.1% of all offensive touchdowns scored over the past decade have come from inside of the red zone with 75.9% of the offensive touchdowns from that area in 2020.
Taking that line of logic a step further, if you want to score touchdowns then you often need to get closer to the goal line and even inside of the red zone that is no exception.
We have already established that nearly three-fourths of all offensive touchdowns come from inside of the red zone, but you can easily see that not all yard lines inside of the red zone are equal. This is where red zone stats can get miscounted from their actual true scoring opportunity, something we will dive into further on a player level in future posts.
While roughly 75% of all offensive scores come from inside of the red zone, 73.4% of those touchdowns come from inside of the 10-yard line with the 7-yard line and in occupying over a 5% share each of the scores. Touchdowns scored inside of the 5-yard line account for 47.1% of all red zone touchdowns while touchdowns scored from point-blank range at the 1-yard line account for 21.6%, the only yard line over 10%.
Over the past 10 seasons, touchdowns scored from the 1-yard line have accounted for 15.8% of all offensive touchdowns scored regardless of in the red zone or not, while rushing touchdowns from the 1-yard line have accounted for 33.8% of all league-wide rushing scores over the past 10 seasons.
In terms of success rate per play in the red zone resulting in touchdowns, you see the gap created as offenses get closer to knocking on the door of the goal line.
A rushing attempt from the 19-yard line has had just a 3% touchdown rate over the past 10 seasons. A carry anywhere from 10-19 yards out has combined for a 5.2% touchdown rate. Despite those odds, you will consistently still see red zone carries referenced as something actually tangible. Touchdown success on the ground does not hit 10% until we reach the 8-yard line and then explodes from five yards and in as you get closer to the end zone for over 20% per yard line with the three (33.3%), two (41.4%), and one (55.9%) all having rates over 30%.
The 1-yard line is also the only yard line that has a higher touchdown rate in rushing success than passing, although both are over 50%.
The red zone has accounted for 66.3% of all league-wide passing touchdowns. Throwing the ball in for scores is no different the closer you get, although more successful than rushing attempts until teams are just a yard out. The passing touchdown rate per play is over the 10% threshold from 11-19 yards out before climbing over 20% at the 10-yard line (22.4%) and making a steady climb upwards the closer we get. Believe it or not, 28.1% of all NFL passing touchdowns over the past decade have come from five yards or closer with 46.5% from 10 yards and in.
2020 Team Red Zone Play Splits
Knowing that all of those red zone plays are not equal, we can take a look at the types of red zone plays teams had a year ago and their play calling splits in each area of the field.
For example, the Falcons were sixth in the NFL in total red zone plays (166), but just 38.6% of those red zone plays came from inside of the 10-yard line. That split ranked 30th in the league while Atlanta was 25th in plays run from inside of the 10. If you were a gamer who rostered Younghoe Koo last season, you reaped the rewards as Atlanta kicked a field goal on 22.9% of their possessions, the third-highest mark of the 2000s.
The same thing also happened to the Colts, who were fifth in the NFL in red zone plays, but 20th in plays inside of the 10-yard line and 18th in plays run inside of the 5-yard line.
On the other end, the Vikings were sensational on taking drives to the limit. They led the league with 59.4% of their red zone plays coming from inside of the 10-yard line and 33.3% coming from inside of the 5-yard line. The Dolphins were another team that provided the most bang for their red zone buck as they were second in plays run inside of the 10 and inside of the five.
PLAY SPLITS NOTES
Teams also call different games than others in each section of the field, something that is important during the season from a DFS stance. There are also a few areas where we should see a significant switch in 2021.
The Rams are a team that we could see have a completely different approach transitioning from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. Last season, the Rams wanted no part of putting the ball in the hands of Goff when they were in the money zone. This past season, the Rams ran the ball 60.5% of the time in the red zone (fourth) and kept the ball on the ground 72.3% of the time inside of the 10-yard line, which was behind only the Patriots. Inside of the 10-yard line, the Rams called 60 run plays to just 23 passing plays. Inside of the 5-yard line, the Rams called 32 run plays to just 14 passes.
I mentioned New England and they are another team that stands out. After acquiring Cam Newton (arguably the best goal line player since he entered the league), the Patriots played into his strengths when they approached the paint. New England was dead last in the league in passing rate in the red zone (31.7%), inside of the 10 (23.2%), and inside of the five (16.1%). Inside of the 10-yard line, the Patriots called just 16 total passes compared to 53 runs with a 26-to-5 edge in carries to passes inside of the 5-yard line. This is how you only throw for a combined 12 touchdown passes in a modern NFL season.
If and when Mac Jones gets under center, we should see some added diversity to playcalling near the end zone while the additions of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry should raise the passing rate regardless of who is under center. Given Newton’s success near the end zone, we also could even see him be used in a Taysom Hill-esque fashion in the red zone even if he is not the starter.
Washington is another team with a quarterback change that could allow them to be more aggressive near the end zone. Last season, only Alvin Kamara (36.2%) scored a higher rate of his team touchdowns than Antonio Gibson (32.4%), and Gibson did not even have a receiving score. That is because Washington operated conservatively the closer they got to the end zone. Washington was mid-pack in red zone passing rate (50%), but were 27th inside of the 10-yard line (38.1%) and 30th inside of the five (24.2%). Inside of the 5-yard line, Washington called 25 runs to just eight passes.
One last potential quarterback shakeup that plays a role this season is what happens in New Orleans. In the four games that Drew Brees missed last season, the Saints were still solid, but scored 24 or fewer points in three of those four games as opposed to scoring more than 24 points in 11 of the 13 games Brees did start. In the games Brees missed, the Saints averaged 9.8 red zone plays per game as opposed to 12.3 per game with him active. While we still have the summer to see how any quarterback decision between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill could play out, this is the one area where we would prefer to see Winston over Hill. When the Saints reached the red zone last season in Hill’s four starts, they threw the ball on just 35.8% of their plays, which was 28th in the NFL over that span. Prior to Brees’s injury, that rate was 47.8%. That was still below league rate and 19th, but a significant change. As mentioned with Newton and the Patriots, Hill has that same kind of impact on playcalling near the end zone whereas Winston would offer more play-calling diversity.
WHO NEEDED THE RED ZONE?
No team relied on needing to reach the red zone for offensive touchdowns than the Dolphins, who scored 87.2% of the touchdowns from that area of the field. Miami had a league-low five offensive touchdowns come from outside of the red zone. This is a major area where the impact of adding Will Fuller and drafting Jaylen Waddle can alter how the Dolphins are forced to score in 2021.
This is also another area where we surely will see Matthew Stafford change how the Rams play as well. The Rams were right behind the Dolphins in red zone dependency for touchdowns last season (84.6%). Scoring through the air outside of the red zone has been a struggle for Los Angeles. The Rams have just nine passing touchdowns from outside of the red zone over the past two seasons, which is tied for the fewest in the league. Stafford himself has 17 touchdown passes from outside of the red zone the past two seasons. In 2020, the Rams had just five touchdown strikes through the air from outside of the red zone, ahead of only the Giants (four) and Bengals (three).
On the end of teams not needing the red zone so much, Houston scored a league-low 62.8% of the touchdowns inside of the red zone. The loss of Fuller via free agency and the unknown status of Deshaun Watson put a major hit on their ability to generate longer scores in 2021. Watson led the NFL with 16 touchdown passes from outside of the red zone last season, with Fuller catching five of them.
It is no surprise to see the Chiefs in that area and they were once again at the top of the league with 17 touchdowns scored from outside of the red zone. Patrick Mahomes was right behind Watson with 15 passing scores from outside of the red zone. Over the past three seasons, Mahomes has 45 such passing touchdowns while the next closest passer (Tom Brady) has 34.
A big component of that is Tyreek Hill. Hill once again led the NFL with nine touchdown grabs from outside of the red zone while the next closest player (Nelson Agholor) had six. Since Hill entered the league in 2016, he has scored a league-leading 40 touchdowns of 20 yards or longer while the next closest player (Antonio Brown) has 30. After Brown, the next closest players over that span have 19 touchdowns from outside of the red zone.
2020 TEAM RED ZONE RATES
Bringing things home, these are team rates in the percentage of drives to reach the red zone and the conversion rate for red zone possessions into touchdowns.
No team reached the red zone on a higher percentage of their drives than the Bills last season at 42.6%. That was the 10th-highest rate of the 2000s and they were just the 15th team to reach the red zone on 40% or more of their possessions. The Packers joined them at 40.8% last season.
Of the 13 previous teams to hit that arbitrary 40% red zone rate of drives, not one reached the red zone at a higher rate the following season with an average loss of 6.8% of their following season drives reaching the red zone.
The Packers have come up in every team post we have had so far and not only did they reach the red zone at an extremely high rate, but they also cashed those trips in for touchdowns at a bonkers rate. Their 76.8% red zone conversion rate led the league and was the second-best mark in red zone efficiency of the 2000s behind the 2019 Titans.
The Titans themselves were once again among the most efficient red zone teams in 2020, scoring a touchdown on 74.2% of their red zone possessions. With that, they were the first team in the modern era to convert over 70% of the red zone possessions into touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.
We already established that 2020 was the most efficient season ever in converting red zone possessions. For context, prior to last season, just eight teams converted 70% of their red zone drives for touchdowns over the previous 10 seasons prior. Last season, six teams did.
If there is regression to be had at the high levels, over the past 10 years, there have been 83 teams to score a touchdown on 60% or more of their red zone possessions. 65 (78.3%) of those teams had a decrease in red zone touchdown rate the following season with an average loss of 11.5%. among those teams. Those teams averaged over 0.5 red zone touchdowns per game in those following seasons.
At the bottom of the barrel looking for a dead cat bounce, of the 82 teams to score on fewer than 50% of their red zone possessions over the previous decade, 68 (82.9%) of them increased their rate the following season with an average spike of 12.4% among those teams with an average of 0.6 red zone touchdowns per game. Only two teams fall into that bucket from a year ago, with both New York teams struggling to score touchdowns in an all-time historic touchdown-filled season.