Friday, February 10, 2012

One more argument against Plax: The red zone (in)efficiency myth

I promise this is my last Plax-related post (unless we actually--and stupidly--sign him), but I had to respond to Aaron's post.

Really the only argument to be made for signing Burress is that he would be a credible red zone threat. Let's go ahead and dispel a couple of myths here using the magic of statistics.

First of all, there's some debate about whether red zone efficiency is a myth. How much does it contribute to win probability?

Football Outsiders has shown that red zone efficiency doesn't matter. What matters is how good an offense or defense is overall. A 30-yard touchdown pass isn't worth any less than a one-yard touchdown run.

The Eagles finished seventh in offensive generic win probability, which measures a team's likelihood of winning based solely on offense, and assuming it has a league-average defense.

So scoring, and the offense in general, is not a problem for the Eagles. As I mentioned in a previous post, they did set a franchise record for yards gained in a season in 2011.

But let's say you don't buy those arguments. Let's say you think red zone efficiency is extremely important.

The Eagles finished 18th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage in 2011, punching the ball into the end zone on around 51 percent of their red zone trips.

That's terrible. Again, it probably doesn't matter, but it's still terrible. Think about it though: why would this team be that bad in the red zone?

The Eagles feature a legitimate number-one receiver in Jeremy Maclin, an above-average receiving tight end in Brent Celek, one of the top slot receivers in the game in Jason Avant, and, most importantly, one of the top dual-threat running backs in the game in LeSean McCoy. And, oh, the fastest quarterback in the NFL.


I can't quantify the Eagles' lack of success, but I'm willing to bet it has something to do with play-calling. From 2006 to 2010, the Eagles ranked 12th, 25th, 25th, 21st, and 16th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage.

That's with different personnel, against different opponents, in different seasons. And remember, Football Outsiders found that red zone efficiency should vary significantly from season to season.

And yet, the Eagles have finished above average only once in the last six seasons, and never in the top 10.

In those same years, from 2006 to 2011, the Eagles finished 7th, 17th, 5th, 5th, 3rd, and 8th in total scoring offense.

Our conclusion? The Eagles regularly have a very good offense, and below average red zone efficiency. That tells us a couple of things.

First of all, we know red zone efficiency isn't important. The Eagles have overcome poor red zone execution to put up plenty of points.

Second, we know that the Eagles continue to perform poorly in the red zone over a series of years in which the only major constant in the offense has been Andy Reid's play-calling.

So if you think Plaxico Burress is going to come in and make a difference, I've got news for you: he won't. Don't waste the money.


  1. Informative post. Unfortunately for you I don't give a shit about percentages and numbers. I'm like George W Bush, I can be shown all the numbers and still do the exact opposite. Sabermetrics stopped impressing me as soon as they said RBI's are a worthless stat

    I agree that Reid is a horrible play caller, but that's like saying cake is delicious or porn is awesome. But some of your points lose me.

    First we need to come to a consensus; is Jeremy Maclin a #1 receiver. I have never thought so. Two years ago he had 10 td's, last year he was banged up but still was ok I guess, but I have never thought of his as our best receiver. Jackson has always been our go to guy and Maclin is just a very good 2.

    Secondly all our WR's are small. They suck at bump and run coverage and aren't good at finding space in the red zone, are you telling me Plax can't do either of those things?

    Third I disagree with you assessment that a 30 yard bomb and a one yard run are the same. While they both have the same outcome it is far more likely that you will get the bulk of your points while in the red zone. When the big play isn't there this team is as predictable as me at a rave party, i.e. standing around looking confused and scared.

    Four. "Don't waste the money." What money, Plax at 1/10 of Desean's new deal. Please no contest. We were 18th with Jackson and Macklin, how much worse could we be with Macklin and Burress?

    All these points are moot anyway because we can't win with Reid anyway.

  2. Maclin may not be a premier receiver, but I think--particularly in the context of the West Coast offense--that he is a fine primary receiver. I'm also skeptical of the claim that every receiver the Eagles have employed in the past six years has been bad at finding space in the red zone. That could easily be a product of play-calling. The fact that this team looks "confused and scared" in the red zone is, I would argue, a direct result of poor play-calling and preparation.

    Whether you care to differ about the merits of a 30-yard touchdown or a 1-yard touchdown, the point remains that the Eagles have put up more than enough points in the past six years, ranking below average in scoring just once and finishing in the top 5 three times. Red zone efficiency just doesn't really matter if you're getting your touchdowns in other ways, though it's frustrating to watch this team repeatedly sputter within the 10-yard line.

    It's also definitely a waste of money. Particularly if we're going to spend $4 million a year, as you suggested. SIGN A LINEBACKER. SIGN A SAFETY. SIGN A KICK RETURNER WHO DOESN'T RUN DIRECTLY INTO THE COVERAGE TEAM AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

    Finally...I know. Reid is terrible. I'm sure there will be myriad posts on that topic in the future.