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Skins Stats: Ten Reasons the Redskins Red-Zone Offense Will Improve

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Ten sets of stats that show why the Redskins' red-zone offense is destined to improve in 2017

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins ranked third in offensive yards (6,454) last season, yet they found themselves with a 12th-place ranking in points scored (396).  Anyone who follows the Redskins knows why the team's scoring didn't match up to their yardage output.

The 2016 Washington Redskins were absolutely horrible in the red zone.

The offense got the ball into the red area an average of 3.8 times per game.  That was good for fourth in the NFL.  However, they only found the end zone in those instances 1.75 times per contest, which only ranked 15th in the league.

In all, the Redskins scored touchdowns on just 28 of their 61 trips inside the 20-yard line.  The resulting touchdown-scoring rate of 45.9% ranked 29th in the NFL, which is tied for the team's worst ranking in this category since red zone data began to be tracked in 1999.

The 45.9% RZ success rate ranks in the 23rd percentile since 1999 and the 12th percentile in the last five years (0th is worst and 100th is best).  The red-zone struggles caused the offense to leave points on the field far too often, and it came back to burn the Skins in a big way.

Five of the eight games that the team failed to win (including a tie against the Bengals) were decided by eight points or less.  Washington only hit pay dirt on more than half of their red-zone trips in one of those contests.  The team converted on just 8 of 20 red-zone opportunities in those games (40%).  To put that in perspective, consider that a team with a 40% red-zone TD rate would've ranked last or second to last in the league in each of the last five years.

Two of their three other losses occurred in games where the margin was eight or less with 70 seconds left on the clock (Weeks 15 and 17 against the Giants and Panthers).  The offense only scored two touchdowns on five combined trips to the red area in those games (40% again).

The only game that was truly out of reach for the Redskins was their 22-point loss on Monday Night Football to the Steelers in Week 1 (1-4 in the red zone).  The Redskins trailed by one score or less in the final minutes of every other one of their losses.  They probably would have won most of those games if they had just converted on one or two more red-zone opportunities in them.

Ultimately, the Redskins' red-zone woes likely cost them multiple wins and a playoff berth.

This all sounds pretty bleak for next year's outlook, right?  Especially, for those of you who are hoping for any kind of a red-zone renaissance.  But is the thought of a major improvement in this department just a pipe dream?  Is it really that farfetched to believe something like that is possible after last year's incompetence inside-the-20?

I think not.  In fact, I strongly believe that a revival is on the horizon for the Redskins' red-zone offense; and, as usual, I've got the numbers to back it up.  Here are ten sets of stats that show why the Redskins' return to red-zone relevance is for real.

1A. Monsters in the Red Zone

Tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are no angels in the outfield, they're monsters in the red zone.

We'll start with Reed, who has been an absolute beast in the red area since he stepped on an NFL field.  Just check out his rankings in red-zone catch percentage and his red-zone target-to-touchdown percentage (RZ touchdowns/RZ targets).

The following rankings are collected from a sample of all players that received at least 10 red zone targets in the season in question.  Reed just missed the cut in 2013, but his hypothetical ranking (if he had qualified) for that season is included below for informational purposes.

Jordan Reed Red-Zone Values & Rankings
2013 2014 2015 2016 Career
Catch % 85.7% 50.0% 76.2% 66.7% 70.00%
Ranking 5th 48th 5th 21st n/a
RZ TD % 42.9% 0.0% 47.6% 41.7% 36.00%
Ranking 11th n/a 4th 7th n/a

Jordan Reed has finished in the top five in the league in catch percentage inside-the-20 in half of his seasons, and he's been in the top 11 in the all-important red-zone touchdown percentage metric in three of his four years in the pros.

And in 2015, he put up big-time totals to match his amazing efficiency.  In that season, Reed finished seventh in targets (21), third in touchdowns (10), first in receptions (16) and first in yards (133) inside of the red zone.

1B. Monsters in the Red Zone

Believe it or not, but Vernon Davis has been even better than Reed at scoring in the red area.

Davis' career red-zone touchdown percentage of 38.9% is the best among all receivers and tight ends on the team.  If you looked back at every season between 2016 and Davis' rookie year in 2006, you'd see that this number (38.9%) would rank 12th in the league on average in those seasons.

Why is Davis so good in the red zone?  Well, I think it has something to do with him being one of the most athletic players in NFL history.  His explosion score (vertical + broad jump) of 170 is tops among all number one and two tight ends, and his catch radius is number one in the league among all the receivers and tight ends that receive significant playing time (the sample used includes over 200 players).  Those are two traits that are incredibly helpful in the red zone.

I could go on and on, telling you about how athletic Davis is, but I'll just let these charts from Player Profiler do the rest.

Davis and Reed combined for just 18 red-zone targets a year after Reed had 21 of them by himself.  Their combined target total of 18 would've been tied for 15th among all individual players last season.

These two freaks should be racking up red-zone target totals that place both of them in the top 15 by themselves.  Jay Gruden must get the ball to these two when the offense is in scoring position.

2. DeSean Jackson: Deep Ball Hero, Red Zone Zero

DeSean Jackson may be the best deep-ball receiver in NFL history.  His speed and his ability to catch the long ball scares the hell out of defenses, but what about when he doesn't have the room to get up to speed?  How do you think Jackson fares in an area where size, length and leaping ability are valued over speed?

If you guessed that DeSean Jackson performs poorly in the red zone, then you were right.

Jackson has caught just 37.8% of his career targets inside the 20-yard line and scored on a measly 12.2% of those looks.  He's never ranked higher than 27th in catch percentage and 30th in TD percentage in a single season.  If you exclude 2015, when he only had four red-zone targets and no scores, Jackson's average rankings in the two aforementioned categories is 59th and 58th.

Truthfully, he's downright awful in the red zone, and it's really not that surprising considering his size.

At 175 pounds, Jackson is the sixth lightest receiver and the third lightest starting wideout in the league, and that is including the top three receivers on each team (these ranking are derived from a 196 receiver sample, which includes the top five receivers from each team and over 20 draft prospects).  He is the lightest starter in two-receiver sets.

The same goes for his height.  At 5 feet and 9.75 inches Jackson is the 23rd shortest receiver and the tenth shortest starting wideout.  If we are looking just at two-receiver sets, then Jackson is the third shortest starter.

Jackson received 25 targets in the red zone in his time in Washington and scored on just four of them.  While overall the loss of DeSean Jackson will hurt the Redskins' offense, his subtraction will be an addition to the team's ability to score in the red area.

3. You're Better Than That, Jay

Say what you want about Jay Gruden, but his red zone offenses usually aren't as bad as what we saw in 2016.

Jay Gruden Red-Zone TD% Values & Rankings
Year Team Role Value Rank
2011 CIN OC 45.10% 26th
2012 CIN OC 54.39% 16th
2013 CIN OC 73.91% 2nd
2014 WAS HC 47.92% 26th
2015 WAS HC 61.22% 8th
2016 WAS HC 45.90% 29th
Average 54.74% 17.8

Okay, so he's not some kind of a red-zone genius, but before last season he had as many top-eight finishes as bottom-ten finishes.

As with most things, the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle.  I'd say that his 16th-place ranking in 2012 and his average ranking of just under 18th are probably more indicative of his prowess as a play caller in the red zone.

He's not a horrible coach in this regard.  His teams are somewhere between average to slightly below average in the red zone.  There's nothing wrong with that, and we should be so lucky, because "average" would be a major improvement over what we witnessed last season.

It's also worth noting that his teams have never finished in the bottom ten in this metric in consecutive seasons.

4. Callahan's a Premium Name.  That's What I'm Buying.

Remember that time, like a minute ago, when I said that Jay Gruden wasn't a "red-zone genius"?  Well, Bill Callahan might actually be one.

Bill Callahan Red-Zone TD% Values & Rankings
Year Team Role Value Rank
1999 OAK OC 54.39% 8th
2000 OAK OC 58.46% 5th
2001 OAK OC 55.93% 4th
2002 OAK HC 56.67% 9th
2003 OAK HC 44.12% 26th
2008 NYJ OL 53.23% 17th
2009 NYJ OL 48.98% 20th
2010 NYJ OL 40.00% 30th
2011 NYJ OL 65.45% 1st
2012 DAL OC 51.02% 20th
2013 DAL OC 68.63% 3rd
2014 DAL OC 64.71% 2nd
2015 WAS OL 61.22% 8th
2016 WAS OL 45.90% 29th
Average 54.91% 13.0
OC/HC 56.74% 9.6

One of his teams did finish 30th in red-zone touchdown percentage once.  However, his offenses have also finished in the top ten on eight different occasions and in the top five in five seasons.

That amounts to a top-10 finish in 57% of his NFL seasons since 1999 and a top-5 finish in 36% of them.  Bill Callahan teams have ranked in the top five of red-zone touchdown success rate almost twice as often as they've finished in the bottom ten.

With Callahan's promotion to Assistant Head Coach and Sean McVay moving on to L.A., I expect the old line coach to have even more say when it comes to game-planning and play-calling.  That should be a boon for the Redskins' red-zone production.

5. Wide Receiver Size Matters

When it comes to scoring touchdowns, size definitely matters for receivers.

10-TD Player Seasons Since 2002
>/= 215 lbs. >/= 200 lbs. >/= 6'2" >/= 6'1" >/= 6'0"
72 102 85 97 119
52.17% 73.91% 61.59% 70.29% 86.23%

The table above shows the number of ten-touchdown seasons by players at several different heights and weights since 2002.  It also shows what percentage of the ten-TD seasons that each cohort is responsible for during this time frame.

As you can see, over 70% of these seasons were produced by players that weigh 200 or more pounds and/or that are at least six feet tall.  Over half of these years came from guys that are 215 lbs. and/or that are 6'2" or taller.

A few years ago, I shared with you the fact that the Redskins had the smallest receiving corps in the league, and I told you how that might be a problem for them in the red zone.

Well, guess what?  With Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson on the outside, that's not a problem anymore.

Average of Outside WRs in 2-WR Sets
Avg Height Avg Weight
Value 6'3.25"
214.5
Ranking 2nd 7th
Average of Outside WRs in 3-WR Sets
Avg Height Avg Weight
Value 6'3.25"
214.5
Ranking 3rd 5th

Yes sir, two outside receivers that stand at 6'2" or taller and that weigh over 205 pounds will do wonders for your rankings in the size department (that doesn't sound right, does it?).

And, just in case you were wondering, the Redskins rank in the top half of the league in both average height and weight when we look at every teams' top three, four and five receivers.  Washington's wide receiver corps has certainly bulked up rather quickly, and that should pay dividends inside the 20-yard line in 2017.

6. The Freak: Part 3?

The addition of Terrelle Pryor has a lot to do with the Redskins getting bigger at wide receiver.  At 6'4.5" and 223 pounds, Pryor is the seventh tallest and 3rd heaviest wideout in our 196-player sample.  He is the third tallest starting receiver in the league behind only Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans.  Benjamin is the only starter that weighs more.

Not only is Pryor gigantic, he is also extremely fast.  This is a fact that becomes quite evident when we look at his height-adjusted speed score.  This is a metric that adjusts speed (40-yard dash speed) based on a player's weight and height.  Let's see how Pryor stacks up against the rest of the league.  This time we'll add a couple of retired Hall of Famers and over 70 tight ends to our sample to move us to over 270 players.

Note that there are a few different heights, weights and 40-yard dash times for Pryor out there, but I'm going to use the most modest or the worst of them for this calculation.

Height-Adjusted Speed Score Values & Rankings
Player Height Weight 40 HaSS
Calvin Johnson 6'5"
236 4.35 140.8
Randy Moss 6'4"
215 4.25 139.0
Vernon Davis 6'3.25"
250 4.40 133.4
Terrelle Pryor 6'4.5"
232 4.43 126.3

Do not adjust your sets, you are reading this correctly.  The only receivers that I could find with a better height-adjusted speed scores are living legends Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson.  Let's not forget that Pryor has been training with a certain Mr. Randy Moss, as well.  Oh, and what do you know, there's our old friend Vernon again too.

This means that Terrelle Pryor is the fastest size-adjusted wide receiver in the NFL!

Pryor's combination of size and speed should make him a lethal weapon for Washington in the red zone next season.  It certainly worked for him and the Browns in 2016, when he caught 9 of his 13 red-zone targets (69% catch rate) and scored on 4 of them (31% TD rate).

7. Josh "The Jetpack" Doctson

This is not just about Terrelle Pryor.  Do not, I repeat, do not sleep on 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson.

Doctson doesn't bring quite the size that Pryor does (6'2" and 206 lbs.), but he makes up for that with incredible leaping ability.

Josh Doctson Jumping Values & Rankings
Vertical Broad Explosion Catch Radius
Value 41 131 172 10.35
Overall Rank 5th 13th 8th 8th
Starter Rank 4th 5th 5th 4th

Josh Doctson is top five among starters in virtually every type of leaping metric that we use to evaluate NFL players.  Julio Jones, Allen Robinson, Marquise Goodwin and Chris Conley are the only starters that best him in more than one of those categories.

Doctson used his otherworldly jumping ability to convert over a third of his red-zone looks at TCU into touchdowns.  In fact, half of Doctson's 34 college touchdowns came in the red zone (17 red-zone scores), and he led his team in touchdowns in three of his four years at college (including one year at Wyoming).

It's not just all about scoring touchdowns either for the former Horned Frog.  In his final year at TCU, Doctson had the highest Pro Football Focus grade and the second best yards-per-route-run average among all draft-eligible receivers.

Considering that Josh Doctson only played less than half a game's worth of snaps last season (31 snaps), it's almost like the Redskins are getting a new first-round pick and red-zone toy this coming season.

8. Redskins Red-Zone Regression

With such awful red-zone output and efficiency in 2016, the Redskins are due for some positive regression in 2017.  Simply put, according to math, teams typically do not suck that bad at scoring touchdowns inside of the 20-yard line two years in a row.

The average red-zone touchdown percentage for all teams over the 18 years of data that we have to work with is 51.87%.  The average for the last five seasons is a bit higher, at 54.53%.  Now remember that the Burgundy and Gold only converted on 45.9% of their red-zone trips last season.

What's even more promising is how teams that finished in the bottom five of this metric perform in the following year (N+1 season).  On average, those teams find the end zone on 50.08% of their opportunities in the red area and they have a rank of 18.26.  When you narrow the scope to the last five seasons, those numbers improve to 52.78% and 17.29.

Again, slightly worse than average is much better than bottom of the barrel; and if we use history as our guide, then we should expect at least that much out of the Skins' RZ offense this coming Fall.

9. A Murderers' Row of Red Zone Defenses

Something that many people don't know is that the Redskins had a bear of a schedule in terms of both overall and red-zone defense in 2016.

According to Football Outsiders, the Redskins faced the hardest schedule of defenses in the league last season.  The last five teams that faced the most difficult schedule per the site had an average offensive DVOA ranking of 23.4.  Only one of those teams ranked higher than 21st (14th).  The Redskins ranked fifth in offensive DVOA last season.  That's pretty damn impressive, all things considered.

Warren Sharp, of Sharp Football Stats, looked specifically at red-zone strength of schedule for every team in 2016.  Can you guess where the Redskins' opponents ranked?

I don't know exactly how Warren came up with his numbers, so I did my own research using the average values and rankings of every team's red-zone schedule.  The numbers I looked at put the Redskins just ahead of the Browns at 31st place.  Big upgrade, right?

It shouldn't surprise you to learn this has some predictive power.  For example, last year when the Skins ranked eighth in the league by scoring touchdowns at a 61.22% rate in the red area, they faced a much easier slate of red-zone defenses (12.4 average ranking vs. 17.63 average ranking and 51.98% vs. 56.34%).

It's also noteworthy that five of last year's bottom seven teams in red-zone touchdown percentage had a red-zone schedule ranked 13th toughest or higher.  Six of the top-12 teams in the metric had one of the nine easiest runs of red-zone opponents.

The Redskins' red-zone schedule is only slightly better next season (average ranking of 14.63 and value of 53.18%), but that small improvement could lead to big gains for Washington's ability to score six.

10. Surprise!  Kirk Cousins Is Actually Good in the Red Zone

Don't tell Kirk Cousins' agent, but Cousins is actually a fantastic red-zone quarterback.  That seems crazy to say considering his struggles inside-the-20 last season, but it's true.

The 2016 season was the aberration, not the trend.  Just take a look at Cousins' numbers between 2012 and 2015 side-by-side with what he posted last year.

Kirk Cousins Red-Zone Efficiency Stats
Cmp% FD % TD % Int % Sack % Rate Y/A ANY/A
2012-2015 62.61% 40.0% 27.8% 0.0% 2.54% 111.8 4.3 9.37
2016 47.50% 27.5% 17.5% 2.5% 3.61% 84.6 3.3 5.33
Difference 15.11% -12.50% -10.33% 2.50% 1.07% -27.2 -1.0 -4.05

Two things jump out here: 1) his efficiency numbers absolutely took a nosedive last season; and 2) he was nothing short of brilliant in the red zone prior to last season.

In 2015, Captain Kirk posted the following red-zone rankings: 6th in attempts, 2nd in completions, 4th in completion percentage, 4th in passing yards, 7th in touchdowns, 13th in touchdown percentage, 1st in interception percentage and 8th in yards per attempt.

In 2014, he came in the top 12 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage.  He would've finished in first in a number of efficiency stats in 2013 and 2014 if he had thrown enough passes to qualify.

Yet, somehow he did not rank in the top 20 in yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdown percentage, or interception percentage last season.

And after not throwing a single interception and only being sacked three times on 118 red-zone dropbacks between 2012 and 2015, he threw two picks and equaled his previous career total of three sacks in 2016 alone.

Sample size is not the culprit here either, as Cousins only dropped back to pass 83 times in 2016 as opposed to the aforementioned 118 dropbacks prior to that.

Logic and past history tell us that Kirk Cousins simply performed too well in the red-zone in his first four seasons to really be as awful as he was there in 2016.  Perhaps, he's not quite as good as he was in 2015, but it's even more likely that he is better than he was last season.

The same can be said of the entire offense.  The myriad of red-zone weapons, coaching history, simple regression to the mean and an easier schedule will almost certainly lead to a resurgence of red-zone productivity for the Redskins in 2017.

*All statistics are courtesy of CBS Sports, ESPN, Football Outsiders, Mockdraftable, NFL.com, NFL Draft Scout, numberFire, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Sharp Football Stats, Sports Reference and Team Rankings*