How the Titans fared in the red zone in 2011: pass defense

It’s time for the fifth and final piece in my little series on how the Titans fared in the red zone in 2011. I covered the offense in the first three parts, hitting the running backs in part one, the quarterbacks in part two, and the wide receivers in part three. I began the defense with a look at how Titans’ opponents did on the ground in part four, and now it’s time to conclude with a look at the pass defense.

As I noted in part four, the Titans were pretty good in the red zone, finishing ninth in points allowed per opposing red zone possession. The reason they finished ninth in points per possession was they finished ninth in percentage of touchdowns allowed. They were pretty stout in the run game near the goal-line, so they finished fifth in the league in percentage of red zone possessions that ended in a rushing touchdown. The flipside of that, though, was they were much more average (t-19th) in passing touchdown percentage.

Overall, Titans opponents completed 57 of 91 passes (once again, I’m excluded spikes), for 300 yards. They threw 16 touchdowns against one interception (by Blaine Gabbert, in the Titans’ Week 16 home win against the Jaguars). The Titans picked up four sacks on ninety-seven dropbacks (there were also two scrambles). That unadjusted sack rate of 4.1% was, unsurprisingly, worse than the leaguewide unadjusted red zone sack rate of 5.5%.

Looking at more precise details, we see the same split we saw in the running game breakdown: the Titans posted a below-average effectiveness in the 11-20 range, but as teams got closer to the goalline, they became more ineffective.

Take, for instance, the numbers in the deep red zone, the 11-20. While the Titans’ only red zone interception occurred in that area of the field, opposing quarterbacks completed 37 of 51 passes, good for 72.5%, and posted a success rate of 48% compared to a league average of 37%. Only six of those completions resulted in a touchdown, so the Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt figure was a respectable 5.19, but the success rate tells a truer figure.

In the ten yards closest to goal, though a different story. Half of the twenty red zone completions allowed by the Titans made it to the end zone, but only three of those short of the end zone were successful. Throw in a sack, and the Titans posted an above-average success rate of 32% compared to a league average of 37%. As a sign of how hard it is to complete passes in the red zone, though, the Titans’ 50% completion percentage allowed (20 of 40) was actually worse than the league average of 48%.

What the Titans were particularlly good at were stopping completions from reaching the end zone. Leaguewide, 73% of passes thrown from the ten yards closest to goal resulted in a touchdown, but as noted above only half of those against the Titans did. Yes, playing Curtis Painter certainly helped (that man simply WOULD NOT throw a ball into the end zone), but he only had three such short completions in the game he played. Maybe the Titans were just lucky (always possible with the small sample sizes in this series), but that’s likely a testament to some very good scheming by Jerry Gray.

For those interested in DVOA, the Titans finished 13th in the league in total red zone defense, including sixth in run defense and eighteenth in pass defense, and finished eleventh in goal-to-go situations.

Given the difficulty in writing about individual players, I’m not sure the defensive parts of this series were as interesting as the offensive ones, but if you have any questions about the defense, individual players, or anything else in the series I’ll be happy to answer them.

My tentative plan is to cover the draft picks in more detail this week, then kick off a new series next week on how the Titans sacked the opposing passer. Other topics that may be written about before training camp kicks off include how the Titans intercepted and were intercepted in 2011, an in-depth look at how Akeem Ayers performed last year, and more on Chris Palmer’s offense, expanding off of Andrew’s post.

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