How the Titans fared in the red zone in 2012: Run offense

Red zone performance is something that can have a big effect on how often teams win and lose. As I chronicled last offseason, the Titans had mixed results in the red zone in 2011. The passing game was pretty good. The rushing offense, well, it was very good close to the goalline and pretty miserable between the 5 and 20. Overall, the Titans were very good at converting red zone opportunities into scores. Could they improve the run game and sustain the good play in the passing game?

In a word, no. By Football Outsiders' DVOA metric (perma-disclaimer: I write for FO), they ranked 27th in passing offense in the red zone. They ranked 27th in rushing offense in the red zone. Put the two together and they ranked 28th in overall red zone offense. They were even worse closer to the goalline, ranking 29th by DVOA in goal-to-go situations. Conventional statistics view them slightly more favorably, but only slightly. Of their red zone possession, precisely half ended in scores. That was good enough for a 22nd-place ranking. Like 2011, they got to the red zone hardly at all, edging out only the Jaguars.

I'll cover the run offense in this post, then follow up with a combined look at the passing offense, followed by looks at the passing defense and the rushing defense. As with last year's series, these will be stat-based looks rather than tape-based.

Overall, the Titans called 36 designed runs in the red zone, precisely the same number they called last year. Those 36 carries gained 70 yards, 10 more than last year, and resulted in 7 touchdowns, one more than last year. Improvement, and closer to league standards.

Now let's look at how each individual ball-carrier did.

Player Carries Yards YPC Success Rate
J.Harper 6 -4 -0.67 50%
C.Johnson 27 66 2.44 44%
J.Locker 2 8 4.00 50%
D.Reynaud 1 0 0.00 0%

In addition to the conventional statistics, I included Success Rate. I've covered it before, but it measures whether a play progressed a sufficient amount toward a conversion (or the goalline), with baseline values of 40% on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down. I like it generally as a measure of consistency and like it more close to the goalline because it recognizes a 2 yard gain on first-and-goal from the 3 is a good play. League-average success rate at the goalline is 48% and the Titans were at 44%, so they were again below average.

There's an interesting split based on field position, and it's the opposite of last year's. Last year the Titans were so bad between the 5 and the 20 that I wrote they were doing their opponents a favor any time they ran the ball. This year, though, two of CJ's three red zone scores came on runs between the 11 and the 20 and he posted a 50% success rate. It was when he got closer to the goalline that he struggled more.

Precisely the opposite was true of Jamie Harper. He had three chances at the 1-yard-line, and scored on all of them. He also had three carries in the deep red zone (between the 11 and the 20) and lost yardage on all of them, in case you're wondering why his yardage total in the chart is negative and he's no longer on the team. Those three conversions in as many attempts helped the Titans finish 11th in Power situations, Football Outsiders' metric for how well offenses convert with one or two yards to go in high leverage situations. That's not as good as 2011's third-place ranking, but is probably better than you guessed it was.

Given that Harper, for instance, is no longer here and the Titans will likely be starting two or three new offensive linemen, how much do these numbers mean? Probably not much. Offensive linemen are the most important players on the field when it comes to converting in short yardage, at least if the back is at all helpful in that regard. Whatever else Shonn Green is, he's pretty good at running forward when he's supposed to run forward. Close to the goalline, being good at running forward when you're supposed to run forward is a pretty valuable skill. I think Green gets most of the goalline work, and he's capable of performing well in short yardage situations, though be warned he was a below-average goalline back in 2012. That tends to be a small sample size thing subject to skew, though, and was on a different team. Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, please fix this situation.

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