How the Titans fared in the red zone in 2011: wide receivers

It’s time for the third installment in this little series on how the Titans fared in the red zone in 2011. I covered the run game and the running backs in part one and covered the quarterbacks in part two. It’s now time to continue my look at the passing game with an analysis of how the Titans’ wide receivers fared.

As I noted in the first two parts of this series, the Titans were pretty proficient when it came to scoring points on their red zone possessions in 2011. They finished tied for fourth in how often a red zone possession ended in a score and fifth in the league in points per red zone possession.

Before I move on to writing about the receivers, it’s worth taking a look at just what that meant to the Titans’ success last year. The Titans averaged 4.90 points per red zone possession last year. The average team average for the red zone was 4.54 points. Based on the Titans’ red zone possession, they scored roughly 14 more points than an average team would have last year. Plugging that into the Pythagorean wins formula, the Titans’ above average red zone performance on offense meant they won roughly half a game more than they would have last year.

Of course, that contribution didn’t come equally from both aspects of offense. As I chronicled in part one, the Titans’ run game was particularly ineffective for most of the red zone, so most all of the credit for the above-average red zone efficiency goes to the passing game. It’s hard to set a baseline for what the passing performance meant; would the Titans have been 20th in red zone scoring with an average passing game? 25th? It’s hard to say for sure. I’ll very roughly estimate the Titans would have scored 24 fewer red zone points with an average passing game in 2011. That’s about 0.8 wins more because of Matt Hasselbeck’s red zone performance last year.

What receivers were the most valuable and the most heavily-targeted, though?

Let’s take this by position group. I’ll look at the tight ends first. Chart? Chart.

Player Targets Rec TDs Success Rate
J.Cook 6 1 1 17%
D.Graham 1 1 1 100%
M.Otto 1 0 0 0%
C.Stevens 2 2 1 50%

Obviously, when you’re looking only at red zone plays, you have a very small sample size, so I’m going to try not to over-read these numbers. That’s not a lot of success when throwing to Jared Cook, though, who you’d think should be a very good target in the red zone. Four of his six targets came on throws when the Titans were at or inside the 5-yard line. Also, while he wasn’t thrown the ball on that play, I’d appreciate it if I don’t again have to see Craig Stevens flexed outside on a quick slant being the first read in a goal-to-go situation.

Wide receivers? Wide receivers.

Player Targets Rec TDs Success Rate
D.Avery 2 1 1 50%
K.Britt 6 4 2 67%
L.Hawkins 10 6 1 40%
M.Mariani 2 0 0 0%
N.Washington 13 8 4 46%
D.Williams 10 5 4 50%

Kenny Britt was apparently being a gamer, catching all four of the passes thrown his way on third downs and not catching either of the passes thrown his way on first down. Fun fact: Britt was the target for the only pass the Titans threw in the deep red zone before he was lost for the season. Overall, in the time he played, he was the target on 6 of the Titans’ 11 red zone throws.

DVOA liked Washington and Williams, while Hawkins graded out much less positively; not surprising, considering the value of touchdowns. That’s more or less Lavelle Hawkins’ role in the offense, though. Another fun fact: Damian Williams was the most-targeted receiver on throws from at or inside the 10, with 5 targets. Eight of Hawkins’ 10 targets and 9 of Washington’s 13 came from between the 11 and 20.

Now, former FO managing editor Bill Barnwell described individual running back receiving data as perhaps the least useful information on the Football Outsiders website. After all, running backs are frequently thrown the ball not as a primary target, but as a checkdown option and attempt to get something out of a play. The Titans probably did intentionally throw the ball to a running back a couple times in the red zone, but I’m not going to watch all the targets for this post to confirm that. So, take these running back numbers with an even bigger grain of salt than the tight end and wide receiver numbers.

Player Targets Rec TDs Success Rate
A.Hall 2 1 0 0%
C.Johnson 7 5 0 14%
J.Ringer 1 1 0 100% 

A high completion percentage, but a low success rate? Like I said, that’s a likely sign of a lot of dumpoffs. DVOA concurs these targets, save Ringer’s, were just as ineffective as you’d expect from the chart.

The most interesting data in this post is clearly the wide receiver distribution. With these sample sizes, though, there’s not a lot to really rely on. The Kenny Britt target data does, however, support my assumption that if he’s remotely healthy, he’s going to get thrown the ball a lot.

It’s now time for me to turn my attention to the defensive side of the ball. In parts four and five, I’ll write about how the Titans did against the run and the pass in the red zone to wrap up this series.