A New Look at an Old Problem
One of the nagging issues with my Cafe Malzahn numbers historically are the red zone statistics I’ve been collecting—red zone scoring and red zone touchdowns. Ostensibly, I was trying to quantify the fact that good teams score touchdowns in the red zone. Unfortunately, what has crept into that accounting are teams who rarely enter the red zone, but when they do they happen to score touchdowns. Case in point, take a look at the final season numbers for red zone scoring in 2016
See the issue? Every single team was “ideal” in 2016 except for Florida. This is somewhat in contrast to other seasons and, therefore, doesn’t happen often. I could have conceivably and, up to this point,have treated this as an occasional anomaly, but in truth it merely illustrates that the numbers I chose for this aren’t correctly illustrating the important differences between the various teams, at least not in the manner that I would wish.
In looking at the issue again, I decided that illustrating scoring in the red zone is actually less important than I once thought. Overall, points scored are listed elsewhere in my analysis—in the points per game statistics. The same goes for the touchdown percentage. Those numbers are also part of the scoring per game. So what could I record to show the effectiveness of both defenses and offenses concerning the red zone?
That’s when I hit upon what I think is the key element, and a quick study of the matter over the last ten seasons verifies that I finally got the key indicator of success.
Red zone possessions per game
The deeper you go, the more Tiger you’ll find
Bear with me on this one. The other factors I illustrate—points per game, third down conversions and yards per play all show particular aspects of offensive and defensive prowess. The number of times a team can enter the red zone or prevent its opponent from doing so is a much better measurable attribute that illustrates the ability of an offense or defense to impose its will in a game. From inside the opposing 20-yard line a team is almost assured of scoring, even if only a field goal. The number of times that occurs in a game will generally be a key factor in determining which team is playing more efficiently.
How many times per game does this happen? For all SEC championship teams since 2008, the average was about 4.5 trips to the red zone per game. Consequently, the championship defenses have held their opponents to just under 2.5 trips. So by default, championship teams generally had about two more red zone possessions per game than their opponents.
But it gets even better. When I compared the difference of red zone possessions for each team in the SEC Championship since 2008, there were only two winning teams that did NOT have a better differentiation of offense and defense red zone instances then their counterpart from the other division—Auburn in 2013 (.7 – Mizzou had 1.3) and Alabama in 2009 (both the Tide and Florida had the exact same ratio—2.5). In every other case, the team with the better red zone possession differentiation (Offensive RZPG – Defensive RZPG) won the SEC Championship game.
In fact, two of the greatest point differences in the title game were when the red zone differentiations were also the greatest: Auburn’s 39-point win over South Carolina in 2010 and Alabama’s 38-point shellacking of Florida last year. That means I finally have the key statistic that I should be tracking for SEC teams in the red zone. Consequently, I’ve updated the Cafe Malzahn numbers to reflect this. Here is the newly modified table that I’ll be using in the remaining TigerEye Review articles for the rest of the year.
And here are all the RZPG numbers for offense and defense that I have for this year so far.
Teams showing the most promise? Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and MSU. Everyone else is mediocre to bad in this respect. While it might not guarantee victory, per se, it is a strong indicator of the relative strengths of the teams at the top.
So relax Tiger fans, it’s not time to Kiss the season goodbye just yet
P.S. I know I still owe you a TigerEye review. Still working on it.