Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!




Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      





Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer


Red Zone Report
Preseason Matchup Analysis
7/5/16

A d v e r t i s e m e n t

Touchdowns are the lifeblood of fantasy football. In most cases, they are highly volatile. There are many reasons for this, but it doesn’t change the fact that during a given NFL game, the unplanned happens with regularity. For example, owners of Green Bay Packers running backs over the years have been watching John Kuhn vulture scores for what seems like a decade. Or how about the "meaningless" score in a 38-7 game that helps give your opponent's quarterback the last few fantasy points he/she needs to ruin your week?

For the most part, one of the jobs of a successful fantasy football owner is to be able to discern what exactly can be considered lucky and what is repeatable. In other words, it is beneficial to place your bet on the event that is most likely to happen while also reducing the number of resources (i.e. players in your fantasy lineup) that essentially need to count on a breakdown or mistake from the defense to get their points. So how exactly do we measure this?

To my knowledge, there is no way to accurately predict how often a particular defensive back is going to make a mistake in his coverage in any given game (predictive) , just how often they get beat (reactive). After all, we see receivers beat perfect coverage quite often in today's NFL, so such analysis would be of limited use anyway. We can't even trust team's evaluations from year to year. If you require a recent example, look no further than Oakland Raiders CB David Amerson, who was a liability for the Washington Redskins for most of his short career there. Almost immediately upon arriving in Oakland, he was one of the league's stingiest corners.

One of the older fantasy football adages is more opportunities tend to lead to more success. Short of being able to predict how often a particular defender will fail to do his job, we can get a better sense of what offensive players will thrive based on the number of opportunities they get. Thanks to the explosion of advanced analytics over the years, finding more specific information is much easier than it used to be. This year, I'll finally be able to take the next step in the evolution of this article, which is to present more than what teams and individuals do inside the 20.

Red-zone analysis helps owners get a sense of what teams are doing in prime scoring territory, but looking at what teams do solely inside the 20 doesn't provide the total picture. And it makes sense why: just like in basketball where the field-goal percentage goes down as the shot get progressively longer, the percentage of teams scoring a touchdown on any given play go down the further away a team is from the goal line. In keeping up with the basketball metaphor, fantasy owners aren't concerned with the first few passes that led to the shot; we want successful conversions. The point to be made here is a lot more touchdowns are scored inside the 5 and inside the 10 than between the 11 and 20.

Below is a key for the abbreviations you will see below:

Att – Pass Attempts
Cmp – Completions
Cmp % – Completion Percentage
TD – Passing Touchdown
INT – Interception
INT Rate – Interception rate (INT/attempts)

**** Sorted by Comp% Inside the 10 Quarterbacks | Runners | Receivers
 Red Zone Report - Quarterbacks
   Inside 20  Inside 10
Player Tm Cmp Att Comp% TD INT INT Rate Cmp Att Comp% TD INT INT Rate
Matthew Stafford DET 48 73 65.75 26 0 0.00% 27 36 75.00 21 0 0.00%
Blaine Gabbert SF 19 28 67.86 8 0 0.00% 4 6 66.67 4 0 0.00%
Marcus Mariota TEN 26 42 61.90 15 0 0.00% 13 20 65.00 10 0 0.00%
Kirk Cousins WAS 55 90 61.11 22 0 0.00% 26 43 60.47 16 0 0.00%
Andrew Luck IND 23 36 63.89 11 1 2.78% 9 15 60.00 8 0 0.00%
Derek Carr OAK 23 53 43.40 17 2 3.77% 9 15 60.00 8 0 0.00%
Matt Ryan ATL 42 75 56.00 17 4 5.33% 19 32 59.38 12 2 6.25%
Philip Rivers SD 43 72 59.72 22 2 2.78% 12 21 57.14 11 1 4.76%
Tyrod Taylor BUF 17 34 50.00 6 1 2.94% 8 14 57.14 4 1 7.14%
Joe Flacco BAL 30 55 54.55 10 2 3.64% 13 23 56.52 6 1 4.35%
Brian Hoyer HOU 24 47 51.06 14 1 2.13% 10 18 55.56 8 1 5.56%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 38 73 52.05 16 0 0.00% 17 31 54.84 12 0 0.00%
Tom Brady NE 62 103 60.19 30 3 2.91% 24 44 54.55 17 2 4.55%
Cam Newton CAR 47 81 58.02 26 0 0.00% 18 33 54.55 13 0 0.00%
Peyton Manning DEN 25 46 54.35 7 2 4.35% 6 11 54.55 3 1 9.09%
Blake Bortles JAC 49 97 50.52 25 2 2.06% 24 45 53.33 19 1 2.22%
Alex Smith KAN 39 73 53.42 16 1 1.37% 10 19 52.63 6 0 0.00%
Sam Bradford PHI 25 54 46.30 10 3 5.56% 10 19 52.63 7 1 5.26%
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 38 73 52.05 23 1 1.37% 17 33 51.52 13 0 0.00%
Eli Manning NYG 45 90 50.00 20 5 5.56% 21 41 51.22 14 3 7.32%
Drew Brees NOR 44 73 60.27 19 2 2.74% 12 25 48.00 10 1 4.00%
Aaron Rodgers GB 49 108 45.37 23 4 3.70% 20 43 46.51 16 1 2.33%
Andy Dalton CIN 30 56 53.57 19 3 5.36% 9 20 45.00 8 2 10.00%
Brock Osweiler DEN 18 38 47.37 7 0 0.00% 6 14 42.86 5 0 0.00%
Carson Palmer ARI 50 100 50.00 27 2 2.00% 19 45 42.22 15 1 2.22%
Russell Wilson SEA 34 68 50.00 19 1 1.47% 12 29 41.38 11 0 0.00%
Josh McCown CLE 21 43 48.84 9 0 0.00% 6 15 40.00 4 0 0.00%
Jameis Winston TB 30 75 40.00 15 1 1.33% 14 36 38.89 10 0 0.00%
Jay Cutler CHI 33 75 44.00 11 2 2.67% 14 37 37.84 9 2 5.41%
Tony Romo DAL 13 25 52.00 4 1 4.00% 4 11 36.36 2 0 0.00%
Ryan Tannehill MIA 33 73 45.21 15 3 4.11% 13 37 35.14 8 2 5.41%
Teddy Bridgewater MIN 21 51 41.18 9 1 1.96% 7 21 33.33 6 0 0.00%
Colin Kaepernick SF 16 43 37.21 3 0 0.00% 5 17 29.41 2 0 0.00%

Introductory thoughts:
  • A 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is usually considered an acceptable standard for NFL quarterbacks, while a 3:1 ratio is nearing elite. The worst marks in the red zone last year among regular starters were Sam Bradford's 3.3:1 and Peyton Manning's 3.5:1. (It is interesting to note Manning had a 25:1 ratio the previous season.) Five quarterbacks (Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger and Marcus Mariota) didn't even throw a red-zone pick, while eight other regulars tossed only one.

    On a regular basis, coaches drive home the point of not turning the ball over in the red zone and this analysis confirms the message typically gets through. NFL signal-callers combined to throw 578 TDs versus 64 INTs inside the 20 last year - a stellar rate of 9.03 touchdowns for every interception. Think that's good? Quarterbacks threw 353 TDs versus 32 interceptions inside the 10 (where the windows are presumably the smallest) in 2015 - which works out to 11.03 TDs for every pick.

  • To get a better sense of how much trust a quarterback deserves in the red zone - hopefully leading to more opportunities as a result - let's dig a bit deeper than TD:INT ratio. As such, I thought it would be interesting to calculate the interception rate (interceptions/attempts) for each signal-caller inside the 20, with two percent generally considered the league standard. Cousins, Newton, Stafford, Roethlisberger and Mariota (along with Josh McCown, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Brock Osweiler) obviously led the pack because they didn't get picked off in the red zone, but it was fascinating to see Jameis Winston next and Ryan Fitzpatrick (tied with Alex Smith) for the next lowest non-zero percentages (1.33 and 1.37, respectively). Interestingly, Bradford and Eli Manning (tied at 5.56) and Andy Dalton (5.36) were the most prone to interception.

    Inside the 10, 16 regular starters did not throw a pick. Using the same interception rate methodology as the paragraph above, Dalton (10 percent) and Peyton Manning (9.09) were easily the worst, followed by Eli (7.32) and Tyrod Taylor (7.14). To be fair, only Eli had more than 20 attempts inside the 10, while Dalton was the only other one of the four with more than 14 attempts.

  • Last year marked the first time since at least 1999 three quarterbacks attempted at least 100 passes inside the 20, which I'm going to assume is a record. Six quarterbacks had at least 90, which was a height very few reached even 10 years ago. Unsurprisingly, the same six quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Blake Bortles, Cousins and Eli Manning) with at least 90 attempts were also the only ones with at least 40 attempts inside the 10.

----------------------

Rodgers is the only quarterback to accumulate at least 100 red-zone attempts in each of the last two years, while Eli Manning is the only other one to hit the 90-attempt mark in both seasons. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this, since new HC Ben McAdoo - the Giants' play-caller the last two years - is a product of the Mike McCarthy coaching tree. What is interesting is that Rodgers' 108 red-zone attempts last season were the most since Peyton Manning's historic 2013 season (113) and tied for the second-most since Brady's 116 during his team's run toward perfection in 2007. It should come as no surprise that Rodgers was much less efficient last year inside the 20 (45.4 completion percentage, 23 TD, four INT) than he was in 2014 (51 percent, 24 TD, one INT), but it was slighting surprising to see his numbers inside the 10 stay roughly the same (46.5-16-1 in 2015; 48-17-1 in 2014). Did Jordy Nelson's absence not make as much of a difference inside the 10 or is it just a result of small sample size?

Based solely on his counting numbers, it is easy to say Stafford performed at an unbelievable level in 2015. He enjoyed his finest fantasy season since his breakthrough 2011 campaign, posting a career-high completion percentage (67.2) and besting his previous mark by nearly four percentage points, and he really took off once OC Jim Bob Cooter took over the play-calling responsibilities and Detroit began emphasizing protection over everything else. Perhaps most impressively, Stafford completed 75 percent of his throws inside the 10. The chart above does nothing to suggest otherwise either, as a remarkable 21 of his 27 attempts in this area ended up as a touchdowns. While those league-high totals were borne somewhat out of necessity, it is still incredible efficiency for a team that couldn't run the ball to save its life for most of the year.

I'd be remiss if I didnít point out the huge disparity between the Niners' top two quarterbacks last year, even if it did not make a difference in fantasy in 2015. Of the 32 signal-callers on this list, Gabbert was the most accurate inside the 20 (67.9 percent), while Kaepernick was at the bottom (37.2). Even more surprising, neither threw a red-zone interception. The real stunner: all four of Gabbert's completions inside the 10 went for scores!

For as far below he played below his usual standards, Andrew Luck was pretty much the same quarterback he was in 16 games during 2014 (54.5-23-1) as he was in seven games last season (63.9-11-1). Luck has been criticized for holding onto the ball too long - tied for fourth with Russell Wilson in time before release (2.67 seconds) - which becomes a problem when the same quarterback is getting blitzed 38.4 percent of the time and the offensive line didn't have the talent or ability to hold up against a normal rush. It is interesting to note Luck actually held the ball a fraction of a second longer in the red zone (2.71) but faced pressure four percent less than he did outside the 20.

Including Gabbert, eight quarterbacks completed at least 60 percent of their throws inside the 20 (rounding up on Rivers). Gabbert is the biggest surprise of the bunch given his history and supporting cast, although 28 attempts isn't a huge sample size. We've already discussed Stafford, while Brees, Luck, Brady and Rivers were all somewhat predictable. Mariota was surprising as was Cousins, who had as many interceptions as touchdowns (six) through six weeks before catching fire against Tampa Bay in Week 7. The common denominator in many of these quarterbacks was a dominant/underrated force at tight end or a player like Calvin Johnson that provides the same kind of matchup advantage, which shouldn't come as much of a shock to owners. Either way, Mariota (Delanie Walker, Dorial Green-Beckham later in the season) and Cousins (Jordan Reed) really only had one mismatch option available to them for the majority of 2015, so it comes as an eye-opener to me that both players were so accurate inside the 10 and 20, did not throw a pick and turned well over half of their completions into touchdowns.

Next | Runners | Receivers



Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.