Dallas Cowboys Red Zone Efficiency 2010

Let's start this one off with a quick show of hands: Who thinks the Cowboys are terrible once they are in the red zone?

Aahh, yes, I see a lot of hands high in the air. And why would we believe this to be the case? Yes, Paul?

Despite gaining the most yards from scrimmage of any team in franchise history, the 2009 'Boys frequently couldn't find the end zone with a compass, a bloodhound and a GPS system.  And now [...] Cowboy fans are getting that "deja vu all over again" feeling.

Just a few weeks back, Paul wrote a very interesting article on why - on paper at least - "The Cowboys will be the best red zone team in the NFL."

But that optimistic statement has been clouded by the reality of a 1-5 start, the Alex Barron hold that negated a Roy Williams TD against the Redskins, the pass to Martellus Bennett intercepted in the endzone by the Titans and other gamechanging plays that lead most of us to believe that our red zone play is still the same old, same old. But what do the numbers say?

Throughout my life I have found great words of wisdom in 80's hair metal, and so it is today as I look at red zone stats that I can hear David Coverdale talking to me: "I don't know where I'm going, but I sure know where I've been, hanging on the promises in the songs of yesterday". Yes, Dave, you're so right. How can we know what to make of this year's red zone stats without knowing how we've performed in years past? So here we go again:

Cowboys Red Zone TD Percentage - Offense
Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
TD% 42.6 52.5 52.8 60.3 53.6 59.1 52.0
Rank 28 16t 13 4 15 8 14

The Cowboys have traditionally ranked somewhere in the middle of the league, with a Touchdown percentage in the red zone of about 50%. Only in 2006 and 2008 did the Cowboys see those numbers climb close to 60%.

Through week 7, 2010, the Cowboys have compiled a 61.1% red zone TD percentage, which is better a better rate than they've achieved in any of the last seven full seasons. That's not too shabby, and ranks the Cowboys fourth in the NFC behind the Packers (66.7), Giants (66.7) and Lions (62.5), and 7th in the NFL. Just for comparison, the Eagles are at 55%, the Redskins at 33.3.

And it's not like this is a completely misleading stat because the Cowboys are not showing up in the red zone. In 6 games, they have been inside the opponent's 20 yard line 18 times. That average of 3.0 per game ranks the Cowboys tied for 13th in the league. Apart from a few very visible miscues, the Cowboys are actually having themselves a pretty good season so far in terms of red zone efficiency on offense. Paul may have been right after all.

So what gives?

The Defense is what gives. And gives a lot. Consider that the defense has traditionally allowed a TD percentage of around 50%.

Cowboys Red Zone TD Percentage - Offense
Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
TD% 47.1 71.1 50.0 52.1 50.0 46.4 56.3
Rank 12 30 14t 18 11 6 23

Two outliers jump out in this table: 2004 was a truly atrocious year in terms of red zone defense. 2009 looks bad on the surface, but Dallas also allowed the fewest red zone possessions by opponents (32) of any team in the league, so that percentage has to be seen within the overall context of the defensive performance.

This year, the situation is much less rosy. In somewhat of a statistical coincidence, the line for the defense looks exactly like the line for the offense in the red zone: 18 possessions, 11 TDs, 61.1 TD percentage. However, where a high percentage is good on offense, you want a low percentage on defense. The 61.1% ranks the defense 26th in the league, and this time, a low number of opponent possessions is not the answer: 18 possessions rank the Cowboys a fairly high 19th in the league.

All five losses this year were by 7 points or less. Granted, the final box score of the Giants game is somewhat misleading, but the fact remains: If the Cowboys had given up one touchdown less per game, they might very well be 5-1.The red zone offense has done it's part this season, the red zone defense clearly hasn't.

This one's on you, Wade.

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