October 17, 2018

Geek Speak: Why Red Zone Scoring is Crucial


I offer the statistics below knowing that I risk being labeled Captain Obvious. But within the numbers below there are some interesting discoveries.

I don’t think anyone is surprised at the high correlation between points scored on red zone possessions and total points scored for both offense and defense. The majority of points are scored on possessions that reach the red zone.

The interesting part for me is that for both red zone points to total points and red zone points to wins the offensive numbers have higher correlations than the defensive numbers.

Red Zone Correlations
As I expected, each is a strong correlation, but the offensive numbers are far above the defensive numbers, suggesting that it is more important to score offensively when in the red zone than it is to stop the other team from scoring when they are in your red zone.

The other interesting number is found in the data below. The % of offensive points scored and defensive points given up on red zone possessions are very close on average for FBS teams and Clemson’s offensive average is right in that range.

Sometimes we get lost in the circus catches, bombs and explosiveness and forget that 63% of the Tigers points came on drives that made it to the opponents red zone.

However, if you look at the defensive numbers you’ll see Clemson averaged giving up significantly less points (as a percentage) on red zone possessions, confirming the “big play” issues that have been the bane of the Clemson defense.

The 58.9% mark meant Clemson was 101st (of 120 teams) in this statistic. Only 19 teams gave up a higher percentage of points on non-red zone possessions.

Red Zone Averages
For reference sake, the two teams that played for the national title, Alabama and Notre Dame, were 4th and 5th respectively in this stat. They simply did not give up big plays.

Red Zone Improvement Fuels 11-2 Season

One of the areas that led to Clemson’s 11-2 record last season was improved efficiency in the red zone offensively.

For all the glitz and glamour of the initial edition of the Chad Morris offense of 2011, Clemson was tied for 75th among Division I teams in points per possession in the red zone. Ouch.

Long plays were a staple of that 2011 offense, but the Tigers struggled inside the opponents 20, just as they had under Billy Napier.

That changed last season as the Tigers rocketed to 5th in the nation with 5.69 points per red zone possession. A remarkable year over year improvement.

While .99 points per red zone possession doesn’t seem like a lot on the surface, the Tigers had 59 red zone possessions on the year, meaning this improvement equates to an additional 58 points scored for the season and over a 13 game season that averages out to an additional 4.46 points per game.

I have to admit that the defensive numbers above surprised me. With a sometimes porous defense the Tigers still were below the national average in both seasons.

This confirms what every Clemson fan from here to Walhalla knows – long plays were a huge component of the defenses struggles and cutting down on the long plays should be priority one. No surprise there.

The bigger question is how to accomplish that with a secondary that’s a huge question mark coming into the 2013 season.

Red Zone – Offense and Defense

If I told you Clemson was in the top 6 in points per possession (PPP) in red zone offense you probably wouldn’t be surprised. If I told you the much maligned Clemson defense is in the top 25 in least points given up per red zone possession, now that might surprise you, but it’s true.

RZO G10.1 –  

There’s no doubt been improvement in the Tiger D, but it’s amazing what you can do when facing the offenses of Wake Forest and Maryland in the course of three weeks.

N.C. State presents different problems on defense, namely a passing quarterback with a strong arm, so I expect the defense to be challenged on Saturday, at least more than they have been in recent weeks. On the other hand, the problem with the Clemson defense has been the big play that typically originates outside of the red zone, not the grind it out type drive.

What this all means, of course, is up to interpretation and debate, but theoretically if the Tigers can limit the big play they have a good chance of being succesful in the red zone if history tells us anything.

RZD G10.1

Red Zone Offense On Fire

Clemson scored three touchdowns in 3 trips against Duke last Saturday and now is up to 5th nationally in points per possession in the red zone of the offensive side.


The defense dropped a tad, but nothing major and showed improvement in the most general sense in my opinion. Problems? Yeah, the defense has plenty of them, but considering where they were 3 weeks ago you have to be at least encouraged.


Red Zone Comparison

The Clemson defense has performed admirably in the red zone in 2012, ranking in the top 25 in least points given up per possession. Duke’s defense has done even better per possession, and in fact leads the ACC in points per red zone possession, but has faced more possessions per game on average than Clemson.

The real advantage for Clemson is that their offense is light years ahead of Duke’s in the red zone.

Points Per Drive for Offenses


So, what we have is two good red zone defenses (Duke has a slight advantage statistically), one elite red zone offense (Clemson) and one team that averages more red zone possessions per game (Clemson). Overall advantage: Clemson. Points

Per Drive Defenses RZD G8

I’m not splitting the atom here, but if the Tigers can avoid turnovers (more on that tomorrow) and score touchdowns in the red zone there are very few ways that Duke can win this game.

Red Zone Improvement on Both Sides of the Ball

It’s entirely possible that my Coke-bottle glasses are orange tinted this week. First there was Tuesday’s post which extolled the success the Tigers have had on 3rd and 4th down this year. Now comes the revelations below – Clemson has improved in red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball through 6 games of 2012.

I said BOTH sides of the ball. The improvement is larger on the offensive side and that’s a good thing, because the defense is still an ugly duckling.

RZ Comparison

One of the areas I harped on last year was not only settling for field goals in the red zone, but relying on the big play early which meant that red zone possessions were limited. Limited possessions and settling for too many field goals lead to average production in the red zone for a top flight offensive unit.

In 2012, three games without Sammy Watkins and a couple without Martavis Bryant means Clemson, despite the year Nuk Hopkins is having, has had to rely on driving the ball more than last year. The result is 4.83 red zone trips per game, up from 4.00 last season.

RZ Offense 7

While Clemson still kicks too many field goals (27.59% of red zone trips have ended with field goals) the extra trips into the red zone mean more points – not to mention the fact that Chandler Catanzaro is perfect on the season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson has given up slightly more red zone possessions on average, but has reduced the average points allowed per possession by .79 points.

RZ Defense 7

Of course, there are all manner of other defensive stats that set off alarm bells and no one is going to confuse this group with the defense of the ’81 team. However, a team that is improved in the red zone and gets off the field on third down can’t be all bad.

Now if they could just improve on 1st and 2nd down.

Early Red Zone Stats

It’s only two games into the 2012 season, but this is where the season long trends begin.

On the offensive side of the ball Clemson is much improved in the red zone, averaging 5.80 points per possession in the red zone, compared to 4.70 last year.


A little over a point per possession doesn’t sound like much, but considering the max is typically 7, a single point is a huge improvement and considering Clemson had 56 red zone possessions last year this would theoretically add 60 points to Clemson’s total during the season.

On the defensive side the improvement has been almost as good, dropping from 4.75 points per possession to 3.67.

While the Tigers have been scored on each of the 5 times an opponent has entered the red zone, Clemson has given up on 1 touchdown in red zone possessions, holding opponents to field goals instead of touchdowns 80% of the time.


Metric Analysis for Game 13

The domination we saw Saturday is detailed below.  There’s really not much to complain about here, other than getting in the red zone only 3 times and settling for a field goal on one those possessions.

The Tigers were particularly effective on first down, which of course means better opportunities to convert on 2nd and 3rd down plays.

Metric Target Actual Met?
RZPPG 25 17 No
RZTD% 60 66.67
RZFG% Below 20 33.33 No
1st Down Efficiency% (Rushing) 45 61.90
1st Down Efficiency% (Passing) 60 69.23
3rd & Short% 75 66.67
3rd & Medium% 45 50.00
3rd & Long% 20 20.00
Turnovers = or + +3
Rush Yards 200 217
Yards Per Play 6.21 6.09 No
Explosive Plays +2 +6

Metric Analysis for Game 12

Just like last week, there’s not a whole lot to say about the chart below, especially if you saw the game Saturday. Last week I said the N.C. State game was by far the worst performance of the year by the Clemson offense.  Well that game now has competition.  A little success on first down, pretty good on third and short and not much else.

After going 0-8 on third down and long against N.C. State, Clemson was 2-12 in those situations against South Carolina.

Three trips into the red zone netted 13 points; 70 yards rushing; 6 for 17 on third down conversions; 5 sacks and 2.55 yards per play.  Ugly stuff, Part II.

Metric Target Actual Met?
RZPPG 25 13 No
RZTD% 60 33.33 No
RZFG% Below 20 66.67 No
1st Down Efficiency% (Rushing) 45 46.15
1st Down Efficiency% (Passing) 60 22.22 No
3rd & Short% 75 66.67
3rd & Medium% 45 100.00
3rd & Long% 20 16.67 No
Turnovers = or + -1 No
Rush Yards 200 70 No
Yards Per Play 6.21 2.55 No
Explosive Plays +2 -7 No

Metric Analysis for Game 11

There’s not a whole lot to say about the chart below, especially if you saw the game Saturday. By far the worst performance of the year by the Clemson offense. A little success on first down, not much else.

The third and long situations that the Tigers had been good at converting this year finally caught up to Clemson as the Tigers were 0-8 on third down and long against N.C. State.  As a matter of fact Clemson didn’t convert a third down after Andre Ellington gained 2 yards on a third and one with about 9 minutes to go in the second quarter.  Incredible.

Five trips into the red zone netted 13 points; 34 yards rushing; 2 for 14 on third down conversions; 4.88 yards per play and 4 turnovers.  Ugly stuff.

Metric Target Actual Met?
RZPPG 25 13 No
RZTD% 60 20.00 No
RZFG% Below 20 40.00 No
1st Down Efficiency% (Rushing) 45 58.33
1st Down Efficiency% (Passing) 60 66.67
3rd & Short% 75 50.00 No
3rd & Medium% 45 25.00 No
3rd & Long% 20 0.00 No
Turnovers = or + -4 No
Rush Yards 200 34 No
Yards Per Play 6.21 4.88 No
Explosive Plays +2 -1 No