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Red zone and third down improvement will be hard to come by for Redskins’ offense

Jun 27, 2016, 9:23 AM EDT

Matt-Jones-TD-vs-Rams-USAT

The Redskins did a good job of improving in some key areas last year. In 2014 they were woeful when it came to converting third downs with a rate of 31.5 percent, 30th in the NFL. Last year they converted 43.5 percent of third downs, fifth in the league. And after getting TDs on 47.9 percent of their red zone chances in Jay Gruden’s first year as their head coach (ranked 26th) they found the end zone on 58.3 percent of their red zone trips in 2015 (8th).

The improvement in those two areas went a long way towards helping the Redskins go from scoring 18.8 points per game (26th) to 24.2 (10th), and, more importantly, from four wins and another NFC East last place finish to 9-7 and a division title.

The Redskins players and coaches have let it be known that they are not satisfied with the fourth seed in the playoffs and their one-and-done experience there. One issue they will face in improving their win total and playoff outcome is that they grabbed low-hanging fruit on third downs and in the red zone. They don’t have much room to improve in those key areas.

Let’s look at the red zone production. In 2014 they scored 23 touchdowns on the 48 drives where they reached the opponents’ 20 yard line. Last year they have just one more trip to the red zone but they pushed it into the end zone 30 times. That’s about an extra touchdown scored every other game, a significant jump.

But they can’t expect to add many more points by adding to their efficiency in the red zone. The best red zone teams in the league average about a 70 percent success rate. If the Redskins have a 70 percent rate this year and have the same number of red zone trips they will score four more touchdowns, about one a month. While more scoring is never a bad thing and if the additional points are well timed they can make a difference, four more TDs are not going to get the Redskins where they want to be.

It’s a similar dynamic with third downs. The Saints led the league in conversions at 47.7 percent. If the Redskins had converted at that rate they would have had nine additional first downs. Again, potentially helpful at the right time but spread out over 16 games it’s not enough to propel the Redskins into Super Bowl contention.

Any substantial red zone and third down improvement is going to have to come from a defense that ranked 13th and 12th in those two areas, respectively.

  1. redskins12thman - Jun 27, 2016 at 9:32 AM

    For the Redskins to be better, they need to maintain their level of play in most areas of the game and improve in these three areas:

    1. Rushing attack

    2. Rushing defense / quarterback pressure

    3. No huddle defense

  2. dafoota - Jun 27, 2016 at 9:33 AM

    I’m sure we all would love to add four more touch downs to last year.

    Sure it doesn’t sound like much but 2 more against Miami, one against Atlanta, and one against Dallas and were sitting better in the playoffs.

    Or all four against Green Bay and we’re still in the playoffs.

    I agree with you on getting better. We just need to win every game and crush Dallas’ dreams. HTTR

    • renhoekk2 - Jun 27, 2016 at 11:12 AM

      That’s the problem. You don’t get to choose when the extra TD’s come. Maybe 3 of them come in games you would have won anyway. If your are lucky maybe you get one of them when you really need it. That’s why the biggest improvements need to come from the other side of the ball.

  3. troylok - Jun 27, 2016 at 10:01 AM

    I don’t know if there is any stat out there that shows how good the Redskins are at scoring from outside of the twenty but I have to think they are probably middle of the pack. They need to get more deep strikes. I think you are able to do that if you force teams to put more guys in the box to stop the run, so the running game needs to be more of a threat in order for the passing game to stretch the field.

    • Rich Tandler - Jun 27, 2016 at 10:27 AM

      Not exactly but I can tell you that the average Redskins’ touchdown plays from scrimmage averaged 5.97 yards, just a tick above the NFL average of 5.95 yards.

      Also the Redskins scored nine touchdowns from outside of the red zone, the league average was a little over 10. The Bills led the league with 24.

      But, the average distance of the Redskins’ non-red zone TDs was 52.6 yards, third highest in the NFL and well above the average of 40.6.

      Interesting area to explore, I might to a full post on that, thanks for the idea.

    • ET - Jun 27, 2016 at 11:53 AM

      Love him or hate him, this is where DeSean comes in handy. I’d like to see Doctson and Reed haul in a few long balls this season, or at least see some legit attempts in their direction. The THREAT of a deep strike is almost as important as actually nailing a few. Keeps the opposing DBs nervous and reactive.

    • John - Jun 27, 2016 at 11:56 AM

      First half of the season without Desean put the whole deep strike thing on ice. Ross did such a great job of filling in for Desean people were saying we should let go of Desean. Oh wait, that was because Desean missed some OTAs… LOL.

    • dafoota - Jun 27, 2016 at 12:00 PM

      I agree about forcing teams to play to your strength. I’m eager to see Matt jones but am weary from the social vibes that resonates with him right now. It doesn’t seem as if we are going to have that great of a run game. I wonder if it’s cuz of Matt jones or gruden.

      I never was convinced that gruden cared about developing a run game. But o don’t know that much to be confident in that matter.

      • John - Jun 27, 2016 at 6:03 PM

        They lacked the backs in Cincy, during Grudens tenure.

        Last year they made a commitment early to run the ball, but then the injury bug took out Lavau and Lichtensteiger. The TEs were terrible blockers and Alfred was indecisive along with Jones having rookie issues along with being injured on and off. Death by 1,000 paper cuts.

  4. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Jun 27, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    If we can stay the same (among the league elite) in this area, that”d be solid.

    Tighten up the D and all will be well.

    I’m hoping Josh Doctson can help us on 3rd down and red zone plays.
    ~

  5. bangkokben - Jun 27, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    The Redskins made the necessary improvements on offense in the above two categories — because they were glaring weaknesses. Now, they need to make improvements in other areas while continuing to maintain a high level of success on 3rd downs and red zone scoring.

    Jackson being healthy for a full season would help in the big play area. In 2014, the Redskins led the league in 40+ yard completions with 20. Last year they were tied in 19th place with just 9 such completions. The ability to score from anywhere on the field opens up the offense. Another area that we began to see improvement on the amount of yards gained on 1st down.

    Here are FO’s stats on drives: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestatsoff
    The Redskins are in the top third or half in most categories. The two offensive areas they need the most improvement on are fumbles per drive (26th) and 3-and-out percentage [.253 (23rd)]. Both Jones and Cousins need to protect the ball better when hit and perhaps the experience of failing to secure the ball is enough to get them to recognize similar situations and make the necessary adjustments. With a better pass/run ratio on 1st down, that 3-and-out percentage should improve. The predictability of running on first down the first 3/4 of the season was as much a culprit as the failure to actually run the ball.

    The other category the Redskins were low on was the average starting field percentage. The Redskins were 19th with there average starting field position being the 26.85 yard line. Similarly the Redskins were 18th in average starting field position after a kick off starting at the 21.79 yard line. Interestingly, the Chiefs were the only team to be over 25 yards in this category. With the new touchback rules, it will be interesting how that changes this stat league wide.

  6. bangkokben - Jun 27, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    Here is how the Redskins ranked in tempo:

    Team WAS
    Sec/Play(total) 29.25 (30)
    Sec/Play(1st half) 30.20 (31)
    Sec/Play(2nd half) 28.28 (23)
    Sec/Play(lead 7+) 31.49 (29)
    Sec/Play(+/- 6) 30.22 (30)
    Sec/Play(trail 7+) 24.74 (10)
    Sec/Play(situation neutral) 32.49 (29)

    No surprise that the Eagles were number 1 in all categories. The Giants were 2nd overall and in two other categories. The Redskins were 3-1 against these teams.

    • ET - Jun 27, 2016 at 3:00 PM

      Not sure what to make of this category.

      Most interesting that the Skins were 3-1 against “fast” teams, though that’s likely related to other issues and not tempo per se (see: Chip Kelly’s Eagles).

      • bangkokben - Jun 27, 2016 at 4:03 PM

        There isn’t too much to make of it. There has been a knee-jerk reaction to the GB playoff loss that somehow the Redskins are incapable of dealing with hurry-up offenses. My belief is that they had a tough time against Aaron Rodgers and that it was one game. It was the perfect storm of playing directly after losing Kyshoen Jarrett, the refs missing the illegal motion, and Aaron Rodgers doing his thing. It’s way too small of a sample size to make conclusions. At the same time, four games against fast tempo teams isn’t enough to outright refute that theory but it at least paints a different view.

        • kenlinkins - Jun 27, 2016 at 4:22 PM

          Great job making your point, I stand corrected. My concern of playing against fast team is not supported by the data.

        • John - Jun 27, 2016 at 5:57 PM

          Green Bay beat the Skinslike a drum in 2013 when Robert the great was the QB in 2013 (38-20 but was never really close).

  7. Scottlo - Jun 27, 2016 at 3:43 PM

    Get the running game on track and nobody stops this offense simple as that

  8. dafoota - Jun 27, 2016 at 10:27 PM

    I just read that according to Vegas odds we have the hardest schedule.

  9. Parkman - Jun 28, 2016 at 3:42 AM

    Sorry but flawed logic here. This analyzis is meaningless unless you believe the redskins will take the ball into the redzone the exact number of times as last season.

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