Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are the Redskins Horrible, or Horribly Unlucky?

The Skins have had a lot of problems this year, but the most glaring one has been the offense's impotence in the red zone. I just finished reading Football Outsiders (FO) Almanac 2009, only about 1 month too late, and sure enough, one of the last articles in the book is about deciphering red zone performance.

I have read the article, and I have a radical solution for the Redskin red zone problems: do nothing. Per FO: "On a year-to-year basis, there's essentially no relationship with regards to the difference between a team's red zone Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and their overall DVOA, on either side of the ball." In non-geek terms, red zone performance over time should mirror performance over the rest of the field. So, yes, a team can over or underachieve in the red zone during a single season, but any disparity is likely a fluke. When the Skins moved the ball incredibly well between the 20s against the Rams, and then stalled in the red zone, that was just bad luck, at least according to the FO metrics.

The numbers are pretty easy to analyze. The correlation between 2 numbers can range from 1 to -1, with 0 meaning there is no correlation, and 1 or -1 meaning there is a perfect correlation. FO shows that year-to-year, the correlation between defensive performance in the red zone is 0.01, and offensive performance is 0.09, so there ya go.

That is not to say red zone performance is not important, it is actually a vital aspect of team success; a team that performs well in the red zone will overachieve. Red zone performance, however, is not something a team can specifically improve or be good at on either side of the ball. As the book states at the conclusion of the article, "A team almost always needs to be good in the red zone to succeed, but the way to ensure success in the red zone is to have a good team."

So while everyone piles on Zorn, Campbell, Portis, etc. it seems that if we just keep playing the way we have, we will score touchdowns in the redzone. If you need some other statistics, according to FO, the Redskins were ranked 14th in successful short-yardage and goal-line running last year, and our running ability should be similar this year, so we should have a perfectly adequate ability to run in the red zone.

The bright side of this is that we dominated that Rams, despite what the final score says. In Detroit, we missed an opportunity on our first drive and only scored 14 points, but the bigger problem was that our defense was unable to stop the Lions consistently. 3rd down conversion rate is another fluky stat by FO's metrics (take my word here) that disproportianately influences game outcomes, and sure enough is an area the Lions dominated (we were 2-for-10, they 10-for-18). Now, I'm not saying we put forth great performances in either of these losses, but I am saying that we have had some bad luck and aren't the trainwreck some people think. So if you need to criticize (and you probably should) look at the offensive and defensive performance over the entire field, not just the last 20 yards.

(Image courtesy of


  1. Here is where I diverge from statistics and the inferences made from them: how do the stats measure predictable play-calling, lazy run blocking, and a powerless running back?

    You also point out our running game's success last year meaning that we SHOULD be ok this year. News flash: it's not last year.

  2. holy crap....I think the Skins are headed to the Super Bowl!

  3. hilarious picture of zorn.

    hockey in 2 days.


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