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

It’s time for part four in my little series on how the Titans fared in the red zone in 2011. I covered the running backs in part one, the quarterbacks in part two, and the wide receivers in part three. That means I’ve pretty much exhausted what I have to say about the offense, so it’s time to turn my attention to the defense. I’ll cover the run defense in this part four and finish the series up with a look at the pass defense in part five.

Before I talk about the run defense, I’ll repeat my exercise from part one and talk about how the defense as a whole performed in the red zone. The answer is, relatively well. While allowing a score on 85% of red zone possessions placed them a below-average 19th, teams in that range were tightly-packed and allowing only 40 scores instead of 41 on 48 red zone possessions would have moved them into a tie for 12th. More importantly, they finished 9th in points per possession at 4.46, because they finished 9th in the percentage of red zone possessions that ended in a touchdown.

Overall, the Titans faced 66 rushes in the red zone last year, and 28 of them were successful plays. That’s a success rate of 42%, which is better than the league-average I noted. Conveniently enough, they were split evenly between what I called the deep red zone, the 11-20, and the area of the field where a first-down results in a goal-to-go situation.

Those 33 carries in the deep red zone yielded a total of 107 yards, an average of 3.24 yards per carry, and no touchdowns. Ten of them resulted in first downs short of the end zone, though, and a total of 16 were successful (48% success rate). The only fourth-down run was a success (a conversion by the Bills’ Tashard Choice on fourth-and-one), but there were no particularly strong down tendencies-6/15 (40%) on first down, 6/11 (55%) on second, and 3/6 (50%) on third.

The Titans were especially effective on runs at or inside the 10, posting a success rate of 36%, better than the league-average of 47%. That above-average success was due to superior performance close to the goalline. Whatever else the new defensive line did and didn’t do, the Titans in 2011 were much-improved in Power situations, and you saw this clearly in the red zone. Only two of eleven (18%) opposing carries from the one and two yard lines resulted in a touchdown last year; the league as a whole scored a touchdown on 48% of such carries.

While the Titans were good in Power situations, success like that is probably a bit anomalous, and even if the Titans are as good overall in Power in 2012, they’ll very likely allow more touchdowns in that situation. They were less effective on carries from farther out, allowing a near-league-average success rate of 45%. Beyond the 1-2 and farther out divide, there were no particularly interesting splits, though both third down carries from outside the 2 did result in scores.

It’s also worth noting the Titans forced one fumble, by Michael Turner, which they recovered. The Titans were a bit lucky last year, recovering 12 of the 15 opponent fumbles they forced. Based their season-long forced fumble ratio, one on 66 attempts is pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

This series will conclude with part five, including a breakdown of the pass defense and more on how the two halves of the defense performed.