Rich Hribar

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Red Zone Notebook

Thursday, July 13, 2017

After looking at play splits from micro and macro levels in 2016 as well as scoring and per drive output and the spillover each could have on the 2017 campaign, the next area of focus for this series is the red zone.


The red zone is a tricky subject for fantasy because we’re taking the final fifth of the football field and arbitrarily cutting it off as the premier scoring area where points are generated for real and fake football. It’s really no secret that the closer you get to the goal line, the higher your scoring odds increase. That’s no different once we reach the end zone. All red zone opportunities are far from created equal, but they often treated the same.


Plays, Splits and TD Output from each Yard Line in the Red Zone Over the Past 5 Years



Inherently, we know that a play from the 18-yard line isn’t as valuable as one from the 5-yard line, but they get lumped together in analysis all the time. When looking at what areas of the red zone see the most play calls, it’s not a huge shock to see the 1-yard line lead in terms of overall play volume given the automatic spot for defensive infractions in the end zone, but to see such a wide gap in volume is staggering. 7.6 percent of all red zone plays occur at the one, with a 383-play gap over the next closest yard line.


As far as pass and run rates, passing still rules offensive play calling for nearly the entirety of red zone plays, with rushing taking precedence on only the 1- and 2-yard lines with a major shift toward the run on all those red zone plays that come from the one. 



As far as where touchdowns are generated, it bears out that the closer you are, the better odds you have to score. Over the past five years, 68.4 percent of all passing touchdowns in the red zone have occurred from the 10-yard line and in with 59.7 percent of those touchdowns coming from the 5-yard line and in. Rushing scores are shrunk down even further, with 71.7 percent of rushing touchdowns over that span coming from the 5-yard line and in and 50.2 percent of all rushing touchdowns in the red zone coming from two yards or closer.


The rate of rushing touchdowns per opportunity doesn’t hit 25 percent until we get inside of the 5-yard line and then catch up to passing attempts once you’re knocking on the door of the goal line. Passing touchdown rates cross the 25 percent mark inside of the 10-yard line and double up those attempts from 15 yards and further out. Once inside of the 5-yard line, they hit 40 percent while reaching 52 percent at the 1-yard line even though they are significantly dwarfed by rushing opportunity there in terms of play calling. When talking about the red zone, we should really be emphasizing inside of the 10-yard line for the passing game and inside of the 5-yard line for rushing and passing as the big-money zones. All in all, encompassing both the play volume and touchdown success rates highlighted so far, we can see how running backs were able to have a revival in terms of fantasy output in the 2016 season.


Plays Run Inside of the 5-Yard Over the Past Decade

2016 1032 452 580 272 61.40% 185 23.54%
2015 865 382 483 201 55.07% 172 20.43%
2014 901 418 483 210 55.26% 187 23.17%
2013 985 440 545 238 58.05% 178 22.14%
2012 895 382 513 224 55.86% 167 22.06%
2011 955 398 557 230 57.50% 157 21.07%
2010 915 362 553 220 55.14% 157 20.91%
2009 932 356 575 242 56.41% 145 20.42%
2008 914 327 587 277 58.19% 145 22.45%
2007 886 384 502 195 50.52% 171 23.75%



Before 2016, rushing touchdowns dropped in six of the previous 10 seasons and went all the way down to just 365 in 2015, the lowest in a season since 1999. Last year, rushing touchdowns went all the way back up 443, the 5th most ever in an NFL season. When you look at opportunities from inside of the money areas that we just emphasized, the league ran 167 more plays from inside the 5-yard line in 2016 than in 2015 and the most ever in an NFL season. There were 272 rushing scores from that close range, which accounted for 61.4 percent of the league’s rushing scores for the season, the highest over the past decade while the previous 9-year average was 55.8 percent. We had a major influx of short yardage opportunities and scores on those opportunities which were reliant on offenses setting up shop in a specific area of the field. That could be the beginning of a trend, but also very fragile in a vacuum if rolling over 2016 touchdown output into 2017 projections.


Now that we’ve established that red zone production can be misleading in a singular context to varying degrees, let’s look at how teams performed in that area in the 2016 season and begin to offer some team and player analysis.


2016 Team Red Zone Performance


Pat Yourself on the Goal Line Back

The last time that the New England Patriots finished outside of the top four teams in red zone volume was 2005. Although Tom Brady and the passing game get a lot of fantasy attention, what often goes overlooked when looking at the Patriots is how much scoring opportunity they consistently create for their running backs and how much they are willing to run near the paint. It’s one of the reasons that put us onto LeGarrette Blount heavily last season when he led the NFL with 18 rushing scores.


New England Rushing Opportunity from Inside the 5-Yard Line

2016 32 1 12 5
2015 20 4 9 6
2014 27 2 12 1
2013 21 4 10 5
2012 40 1 18 1
2011 35 1 15 1
2010 21 7 9 7
2009 28 3 14 2
2008 22 7 14 1
2007 25 3 11 3


The Pats once again led the league in this category a year ago as Blount had a league-high 24 carries inside the 5-yard line, with 12 of his rushing touchdowns coming from that area. Blount has since left via free agency, but the Patriots brought in Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to join James White and Dion Lewis.  The Patriots' backs are seemingly always shrouded in mystery, but the back that can most benefit from this offense in terms of stacking touchdown opportunities is Gillislee. He converted all six of his carries inside of the 5-yard line for scores a year ago, making that six out of seven for his career while White (1/4), Lewis (0/2) and Burkhead (0/3) have all combined to convert just one of nine such attempts for scores over their careers. All four players have small samples in the opportunity department, but when compartmentalizing this backfield in relation to short yardage opportunity, the best bet remains Gillislee.


Rodgers Printing Green in the Red Zone

We talked a bit about the Green Bay Packers' game script and unique offensive circumstances given their personnel a year ago, and those splits rolled right over into the red zone. Aaron Rodgers set career highs in red zone pass attempts (105) and attempts inside the 10 (47). His 24 touchdown passes inside of the 10-yard line matched Tom Brady's 2007 season and were one behind Peyton Manning’s 2013 season, the two individual seasons with the most passing touchdowns in NFL history.  


Aaron Rodgers’ Red Zone Career 

YearRZ AttRZ TDIn. 10 AttIn. 10 TDIn. 5 AttIn. 5 TD
2016 105 31 47 24 21 12
2015 91 20 41 15 18 8
2014 96 24 47 17 23 12
2013 46 12 22 6 6 2
2012 66 24 28 17 10 7
2011 84 29 43 22 20 11
2010 71 19 39 13 10 5
2009 87 17 35 11 12 4
2008 55 19 31 17 10 8


The Packers have consistently kept the ball in their best player’s hands near the end zone, as Rodgers is their de facto goal line back. Since Rodgers took over in 2008, the Packers have thrown 52.8 percent of the time inside of the 5-yard line, trailing only the Colts (53.6 percent) over that span while the league average passing rate has been 41.9 percent. Only Drew Brees (75) has more passing touchdowns inside of the five than Rodgers’ nice total of 69 over that span. Rodgers being so good with the ball in his hands has played a role in why most of his backs carry such capped touchdown output on the ground. Just four times over those nine seasons has an individual Green Bay running back had more than four rushing touchdowns in a season, and just three times have the Packers cleared 12 rushing touchdowns as a team. This threatens Ty Montgomery’s ceiling a bit now that he’s moving to a more touchdown-reliant position for fantasy purposes. Expecting a large opportunity for him in the scoring department solely based on offensive attachment isn’t as underlyingly pronounced as you’d assume. 


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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