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.
Not that it changes anything dramatically but Williams was targeted on the first drive of the season when he was 100% interfered with by McCourty's brother in the endzone. That looked like a solid pass to me, especially seems how McCourty's only play was to tackle Williams.
To many what if's in regards to Lockers lack of success to properly gauge his SECOND year as a starter. VY sucked in a lot of important catagories passing wise but managed to win games, thanks to a great running game and a solid D. I think the Titans roster was horrible, just remember this is the first time a QB will enter consecutive seasons as a starter since about 2009 (VY, Collins, Hassellback, Locker). It takes time to get chemistry which this will be his first full training camp as the starter. Most importantly look at the roster. Of the guys we either didn't resign or cut who broke the bank deservedly? You covered Cook but Marks was supposed to be a hot commodity yet earned a 1 yr deal after almost 20 days without even a VISIT. haha Levitre, Warmack, Blidi, Pollard, George Wilson, Walker all will be getting lots of playing time. That says a lot about how bad the team was. I think it's fair to say TN's roster is better equipped to get better field position which greatly increases a QB's chances of success. The D should be able to get off the field earlier and more often this year and Reynaud will hopefully not bring the ball out of the endzone EVERY time! That said this team should at least be better across the board and Im all in on Locker. People have been beyond critical of a 10 game starter. Amazingly Rivers and Sanchez have 99 turnovers in the last 2 years combined but Locker somehow is the headline across football america!?!
Interesting read. I am getting optimistic, as i do every year as the season approaches, but I still think Jake Locker is the piece that is going to hold the Titans back. He has a very good set of players on offense around him. Perhaps it was the system, but I feel my optimism should be tempered due to his overall ineffectiveness as a quarterback. I hope you do a post in the future on what you expect from Locker this year, maybe after you get a feel on how he has developed after a couple of preseason games.