I covered the run game yesterday, and now it's time to turn my attention to how the Titans threw the ball in the red zone in 2012.
After 2011's strong red zone performance, the Titans struggled there in 2012. They finished 27th in passing DVOA and 28th in overall offensive DVOA. They scored a touchdown on half their red zone possession, tied for 22nd in the league, after getting one on nearly 60% of their red zone possessions last year.
Last year, I split my look at the red zone passing offense into two parts, one dealing with the quarterbacks and one with the wide receivers. Since Matt Hasselbeck won't be around in 2013, I won't cover what he did in any detail. While Hasselbeck was the man under center for half the Titans' red zone touchdown passes (5 of 10), Jake Locker was the quarterback for the majority of red zone pass plays (34 of 61, 56%) and will be the starting quarterback this year.
You might assume that Locker taking the majority of the red zone snaps and the Titans struggling in the red zone as a team meant that Locker struggled badly in the red zone. That assumption is absolutely correct. He completed only 12 of 31 red zone passes (39%). Not so good.
Locker especially struggled in the deep red zone, between the 11 and the 20 yard lines, where he completed only 9 of 24 passes (38%), after Matt Hasselbeck completed 23 of 35 (63%) in that same area last year. To put his numbers in broader context, the league posted a passing success rate of about 37% in the deep red zone. Locker's was 23%. DVOA supports the idea that Locker was pretty bad, as his in the red zone was -46.8%. That's really not so good.
If Locker was reasonably successful in his first half of the season, I'd be sympathetic to the idea that the last five weeks were such a disaster we shouldn't pay much attention to those numbers. Unfortunately, Locker was actually worse in the red zone the first half of the season, completing only 6 of 20 passes (30%), and two of those ended up short of the sticks on third down.
The good news, such as it is, is that red zone performance tends to be more inconsistent from year to year. It's not uncommon even for very good quarterbacks to have down red zone performances. Matt Hasselbeck provides a good example of this-he wasn't great in the red zone in Seattle in 2010, was pretty good in the red zone in 2011, and then was about average in the red zone in 2012. The bad news is, to the extent there are repeatable skills that account for red zone performance, I don't think Locker has demonstrated them, in the red zone or otherwise.
Before I move on the receivers, a note on Locker's mobility. That tends to make other quarterbacks more effective in the red zone. Even when VY was a pretty lousy overall QB, he was very effective in the red zone. Locker, no such luck. He scrambled once, successfully, against the Colts, and scored on the sweep against the Jets (one of two designed runs he had in the red zone last year). The Titans have said they want to do more with his mobility this season, and I think if he stays healthy the red zone in particular will be a place where they look to use his running ability a lot more.
As to the people who caught the ball, from Locker or Hasselbeck, I'll begin with the obligatory chart.
Yes, Hasselbeck and Locker combined to throw seven passes to Damian Williams in the red zone last year, and not one of them worked. Both of Locker's third down completions that resulted in a fourth down were to him, and his other catch was a 1-yard gain on first-and-10.
There are a couple things I did not expect to see in that table. The first was how ineffective Kenny Britt was. Three TDs is all well and good, but only a 33% completion percentage is not, especially considering how effective he was when healthy last year. We saw in the Pittsburgh game, for example, how badly he struggled at times adjusting to and catching the ball, and this is just more evidence. I would expect improvement here, and that could really help Locker out.
Second, only one target for CJ and no catches? He had 7 targets and 5 catches in the red zone in 2011. Granted, they weren't particularly successful targets, but you would have expected him to get at least a couple dumpoffs thrown his way. Didn't happen. Figuring out exactly why would be a different post.
Third, Jared Cook actually did some things. Positive things, even. I knew he had two red zone touchdown catches, one of them even from the 10, but he did more than that. Of course, his breakdown came just how you'd expect-from the 10 and farther out, he caught 5 of 6 passes. Inside the 10, 3 targets, 0 completions. At an APY of $7 million a year, I would like my tight end to be at least a decent close red zone player. Have fun with that, Rams fans.
Since Cook will be gone, I took a look at Delanie Walker's red zone targets. He had 7, including 3 catches and touchdowns from 12 and 18 yards out. Two of his four incompletions were drops. He was targeted twice inside the five, which resulted in one drop and one fumble. Well, that still might make him an upgrade on Cook.
I'll turn my attention to how the Titans fared on defense in the red zone tomorrow, starting with the run defense.