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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Better Way to Measure Red Zone Effectiveness - Red Zone Average (RZA)

A pet peeve of mine has always been Red Zone % as a way of commentators of gauging a team's effectiveness in the Red Zone.  The problem with Red Zone % is that it places equal value on scoring either a TD or a FG.  Now I could be wrong, but the last time I checked, TDs were worth more than FGs.  Red Zone Average (RZA) is a better metric because it places the appropriate value on what the offense did (TD = 7 pts, FG = 3 pts, no score = 0 points) and it is computed by taking the total points scored in the Red Zone divided by the number of trips to the Red Zone.

Red Zone Average (RZA)  =  Total Points in Red Zone
                                                     # of Chances in Red Zone

Let's look at a simple example below:

Team
Chances
TDs
FGs
Total Points
RZA
Scores
Chances
Red Zone %
Team 1
10
7
0
49
4.90
7
10
70.0
Team 2
10
0
9
27
2.70
9
10
90.0

The TV announcers will tell you that Team 2 is leading the league in Red Zone %, but that is misleading as to their effectiveness in this critical area.  Both teams had the same number of Red Zone trips so it is easy to compare and see that Team 1 scored nearly twice as many points as Team 2.  Red Zone Average (RZA) accurately represents the reality that Team 1 is much more effective in the Red Zone since they average 2.2 points more per Red Zone trip than Team 2. 

Below are the Pac-10 Red Zone stats from 2007 and 2008.  Sonny Dykes was the OC at Arizona during this time.  He said that they were only 9th in the Pac-10 in the 2007 season using Red Zone %.  Actually, if you look at Red Zone Average, they were actually dead last.  The next year Coach Dykes produced an amazing turnaround and went from worst to first in Red Zone Average (not to mention improving 3rd Down % from 8th to 1st as well)!  The Arizona numbers are even more remarkable if you consider that they took a knee at the end of the game three times in the Red Zone that year (excluding those three possessions would have bumped their RZA up to 6.05).  Not shown in the table are other stats showing the specific number of run and pass TDs and the reason for not scoring: missed FG, Ints, Fumbles, Loss of Downs, or Other.

2007 RZA (Red Zone Average) for Pac-10 Conference
Team
Chances
TDs
FGs
Total Points
RZA
RZA Rank
Scores
Chances
Red Zone %
Red Zone % Rank
USC
66
44
13
347
5.26
1
57
66
86.4
3
Oregon
59
38
13
305
5.17
2
51
59
86.4
2
Arizona St.
53
31
16
265
5.00
3
47
53
88.7
1
Washington
47
29
10
233
4.96
4
39
47
83.0
4
Cal
51
32
8
248
4.86
5
40
51
78.4
6
Oregon St.
58
33
12
267
4.60
6
45
58
77.6
7
Washington St.
47
27
9
216
4.60
6
36
47
76.6
8
UCLA
42
18
16
174
4.14
8
34
42
81.0
5
Stanford
37
18
9
153
4.14
8
27
37
73.0
10
Arizona
42
18
13
165
3.93
10
31
42
73.8
9
2008 RZA (Red Zone Average) for Pac-10 Conference
Team
Chances
TDs
FGs
Total Points
RZA
RZA Rank
Scores
Chances
Red Zone %
Red Zone % Rank
Arizona
60
45
10
345
5.75
1
55
60
91.7
1
Stanford
43
31
8
241
5.60
2
39
43
90.7
2
USC
63
45
8
339
5.38
3
53
63
84.1
4
Oregon
68
42
14
336
4.94
4
56
68
82.4
6
Oregon St.
61
37
13
298
4.89
5
50
61
82.0
8
Cal
51
30
12
246
4.82
6
42
51
82.4
7
Washington St.
31
16
8
136
4.39
7
24
31
77.4
9
UCLA
41
19
15
178
4.34
8
34
41
82.9
5
Arizona St.
41
17
18
173
4.22
9
35
41
85.4
3
Washington St.
31
16
6
130
4.19
10
22
31
71.0
10

It has been said that there are three kind of lies: lies, d--- lies, and statistics.  A good example of the deceptiveness of poor statistics like Red Zone % is with the 2008 Arizona St. team that finished 3rd in traditional Red Zone %.  They finished second to last using Red Zone Average, with the main reason being that they were the only team in the Pac-10 to score less TDs than FGs.

Coach Dykes remarked that Arizona lost a lot of close games in 2007, with Red Zone Average (along with 3rd Down %) being the two main reasons.  These kind of numbers are good to look at this time of year to help determine what the focus of your off-season studies should be.  Dykes saw the problem and he was able to fix it by focusing on getting the ball to his one or two best players, allowing the QB to check to the best play (or calling a run-pass option), and by using window-dressing to run their best plays out of different formations.  He also followed the rule of thumb that says "you get what you emphasize," and having a Red Zone period every day (with an extra long period on Thursday).