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.
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.
I think Shonn Green will surprise some people this year. He's no elite back, and he's certainly no CJ, AP, or Steven Jackson. But he is a consistent runner who gets what is asked of him. I think people like to look at his measly 1000 yard seasons (since when have 1000 seasons become measly when the league has edged farther and farther toward a passing league) and say that he wasn't that productive, but it's important to note that he also played behind a NYJ O Line while defenses knew that the Jets' passing game was weak because of inconsistent passing and a lack of receiving threats. With a solid O Line and as a burst off the bench in relief and goal line situations, I think Shonn Green will have a season that won't win MVP but will certainly be crucial to the overall success of the team. I think he can put up 400 yards and 8 TDs if they use him properly while CJ puts up around 1400 and another 8 TDs.
@wjames1204 I think people are forgetting Greene is esentially assuming the LenDale White role of 2008. I think White had around 775 yards and 15 TD's while CJ had roughly the same yardage he did last year. Loggains will likely use a similar offense to that teams, Heimerdinger was just brought back to run the offense in 08' and this will be Loggains first season with "his" playbook. Looks like he's following a similar blueprint which isn't a bad idea seems how we haven't made the playoffs since then.
@BrianFlanagan @wjames1204I totally agree. And I think that is why I've heard people who don't agree with what the Titans paid Greene: why pay that much for a RB coming off the bench. My personal opinion: they couldn't afford to let players they wanted slip away, and not that Greene was the most sought after prize of the FA period but he certainly could have garnered interest and used that to his advantage. The Titans basically said "We want you, plain and simple, and you can make us a better team." He can prove me wrong, but I think adding Shonn Greene was one of the better moves they made in FA (besides Levitre obviously). And in the end, they had the cap space and made the moves they wanted without any difficulty of remaining cap. Not a bad pickup and really not a terrible price if he produces.
There is one thing, though, that will lower Greene's stats when compared to LenDale White's of 08: the passing game. Locker is better equipped with receivers than VY/KC were and he's definitely a better passer than either of those QBs. With such depth with Britt, Wright, and Washington it would surpass what they had, but throw in potential impact from Hunter, Walter, Walker, and the quietly interesting D.Williams and T.Thompson and Locker has no excuses for not making plays other than himself. I think our passing attack is going to be up there this year, despite our insistence in returning to the run. I think Locker will produce, especially because I think Britt is going to return to monster (first three games of 2011) form. That's going to take some yardage away from CJ and likewise from Greene, but on the goal line Greene will get us some TDs, and that will be enough. I stand by my numbers above with the presumption that Locker will take the next step and his receivers will hit potential as well. It's just hard to see Greene getting close to 500 yards even with the type of receivers we're fielding this year.
@BrianFlanagan @wjames1204 Agreed about VY. He found ways to win games and was really an exciting player to watch when he was on the field. When he was off the field, or even on the sidelines, his character issues definitely lowered him in my eyes, so much so that I was ok losing him. Unfortunately, I thought it would be a "Fisher or VY" departure, not both, and that set us back a bit. Still, we have been able to rebuild after losing them both and have one of the most exciting teams we've had in years. Even our 13-3 season with Collins at the helm wasn't really that exciting, because it just didn't feel like we had a team that could push all the way to a Super Bowl, kind of like the Texans' seasons of late- they just don't seem like Super Bowl contenders, just regular season beasts that fizzle out at the end and into the playoffs. In the end, I think CJ's injury in the Baltimore game killed us in our last playoff appearance (along with that 43 second playclock for the Ravens that wasn't called Delay of Game).
And the biggest difference between Greene and White: White tended to run with the ball exposed a bit and tended to fumble frequently if he got tangled up. Greene has a decent handling and carries the ball better than White. Also, I use to joke that White would get the ball and fall forward for 3 yards every run. Nothing more, nothing less.
Pumped for the season.
I'm with you about the passing game, I can't see us throwing and running similar to that of the Seahawks. We need to grind clock but at the same time it's hard to move the chains when you are always running, plus CJ and Greene have their share of 0-3 yard runs so we would be in to many 3rd and 4 or 3rd and 6 situations which puts more pressure on Locker. I strongly expect more 1st down throws.
As for my White comparison, don't get me wrong I'm actually more looking at a bruising back to complement CJ's quickness. But no way the carries are 200 for Greene and 250 for CJ like in 2008 (with White). So naturally between short yardage and goalline work I actually think 300 -400 is the max for Greene, no way he gets 150 carries even. He simply won't get enough carries in non short yardage situations to do it. The main comparison is his nose for the goal line. White was so underrated for that and I think Greene will be great especially behind a solid interior O-line. If he comes anywhere near 12-15 TD's I think the playoffs are a strong possibility.
I'm with you Locker is going to surprise people, I've been a huge supporter of his and really don't understand all the hate people have for his game. Love his demeanor about it though, he acknowledges it and says sure I want to prove people wrong but it's not my source of motivation. Oddly I loved VY regardless of his numbers. I can't remember a game he didn't come through in the clutch at the end, he found a way to win and to me as long as he isn't a big part of why we are losing I loved him. Hated his attitude, how emotional he was when adversity hit and his reportedly poor work ethic. My hope is Jake becomes a little more polished player on the field than VY, because we all know he is a hard working, super positive and fiery guy. I'd love to see him pan out as the face of the franchise for what a solid guy he is. Plus you are right on about the weapons he has compared to VY, that actually was my biggest complaint is we were drafted Joel Filani's, Chris Davis, Roydell Williams, Brandon Jones, Chris Henrys and even CJ (thank god he panned out!). Then Collins took over and we got Britt and Cook lol Jakes got the best WR corps I think we've ever had assuming TN isn't stupid if they cut Washington. Damn I'm excited is it September yet?
@wjames1204 I agree.. With the improve O-line and emphasis on running I think that's probably a floor for both backs. And if the Titans can get leads and Green is in there closing games out, his yards could be much higher than 400, say 600.
I assume in the 7th paragraph overall (3rd up from the bottom), the he you are referring to is Chris Johnson, correct?
@dragak1981 Yes. Computer issue when I saved the post last night and didn't get a chance to delay posting. Fixed.