Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reinventing - and vastly upgrading - the red zone metric: Total Red Zone

Heading into the Nebraska game, both Penn State and the 'Huskers were faring well this season in a true measure of red zone success - Total Red Zone.

In an era in which seemingly every imaginable sports statistic has sprouted, it is amazing and occasionally infuriating how incomplete and un-insightful the standard red zone measurement can be.

For example, when the television graphic flashes a red zone statistic, typically it looks something like this:

Team BlahBlah in red zone: 24 of 28 (85.7 percent)

This is followed by the play-by-play announcer saying something like this: "Team BlahBlah now is in the red zone, and as you can see they've been very successful there this season with an 85.7 success rate. Which ranks third in the Big Ten."

Okay, you think: Third in the Big Ten. They’re pretty good in the red zone.

But moments later the color commentator might say: "But of those 24 scores, 10 of them are field goals and only 14 are touchdowns, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten.''

And you are left with a big, huge ? in your head, and perhaps a "huh?" expression on your face.

Is Team BlahBlah good in the red zone? Not good in the red zone?

Well, finally, there is a solution to your red zone quandary.

It is Total Red Zone (TRZ).

It is one number, an easily quantifiable percentage out of 100. It's simple, and provides much better context than what is currently peddled.

Here's how it works:

Much like a baseball pitcher's ERA is a calculation of runs allowed per nine innings (because nine innings is the length of a baseball game), TRZ is based on a theoretical maximum of seven points per trip to the red zone. Because the objective almost every time a team enters the red zone is to score seven points.

(This is one of Total Red Zone’s mild imperfections. Sometimes a team might want/need to score eight points, and on occasion three points is just as desirable as seven. But the vast majority of the time, seven points is the objective. Over the course of a season, such outlier situations should, in general, even out. And TRZ assumes seven points for each TD scored, even though a team might get six or eight points.)

So, in the hypothetical "Team BlahBlah" example above, the 28 red zone trips could have resulted in a maximum of 196 points (28 x 7 = 196).

Those 28 chances actually yielded 14 TDs and 10 FGs, which adds up to 128 points.

Divide 128 (actual points scored) by 196 (the maximum it could have scored) and, voila, you have a TRZ of 65.3%

There it is: The only number you need to know about Team BlahBlah in the red zone: 65.3

It is one simple figure, with a perfect maximum of 100, so it’s easy to know how successful, or meaningful a 65.3 is.

Over time, as TRZ becomes the lone stat cited for red zone proficiency, you'll instantly know whether 65.3 is good or not, much like baseball fans instantly know a .300 batting average is good and .230 is not, or football fans know 65.0% completions is good and 45.0% is not.

The formula uses the scoring system for football - seven points for a touchdown/PAT, three points for a field goal and zero points for everything else - and compresses it into a tidy, singular figure.

It is a much truer measure of red zone success than what is currently used.

Need proof? Remember how bad the Penn State offense was last season, and how good the defense was? Of course you do - the PSU offense was numbingly awful. If not for Silas Redd, the Lions would have been unwatchable.

The PSU defense, meanwhile, was nasty and stifling.

Well, after six games last season - midway through the 2011 season - the Penn State offense ranked higher than the Penn State defense in the Big Ten rankings of conventional red zone statistics.

This was the ultimate wake-up call for shortcomings of the conventional red zone statistic.

So, like many great (ahem) inventions, Total Red Zone was born, in 2011, out of necessity - the moral necessity to completely debunk anything that said the PSU offense was better than the PSU defense in 2011 in any way.

What about this season, 2012? Conventional red zone metrics are amiss re: PSU in the opposite manner. Penn State’s offense is a little undervalued in the red zone this season, the defense slightly overvalued.

(All figures below through games played on Nov. 3)

Big Ten Red Zone Offense 2012 (conventional)
  1. Northwestern - 91.4
  2. Michigan - 90.3
  3. Ohio State - 88.6
  4. Michigan State - 87.9
  5. Indiana - 87.8
  6. Nebraska - 85.7
  7. Wisconsin - 82.1
  8. Iowa - 79.3
  9. Purdue - 78.1
  10. Minnesota - 76.7
  11. Penn State - 76.2
  12. Illinois - 72.0

Total Red Zone Offense 2012
  1. Ohio State - 83.4
  2. Indiana - 75.3
  3. Northwestern - 75.1
  4. Nebraska - 74.8
  5. Purdue - 70.1
  6. Michigan - 70.0
  7. Wisconsin - 69.9
  8. Michigan St - 68.8
  9. Penn State - 66.7
  10. Illinois - 65.1
  11. Minnesota - 63.3
  12. Iowa - 59.1
So, TRZ reveals Ohio State actually easily is best in the Big Ten in the red zone this season (due to the Buckeyes' huge TD proficiency).

Penn State and Indiana are among those doing better, and Iowa is faring much worse, than the conventional metric shows.

Clearly, TRZ unearths some significant discrepancies and flaws in the conventional metric.

What about on defense? Well, by conventional measures, PSU ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in red zone defense by a large margin this season.

But TRZ for league defenses shows just how limiting and deceiving the conventional metric can be. Michigan State is 8th conventionally, but No. 1 in TRZ.

The Spartans have limited opponents to a FG on 12 of 24 red zone chances, and allowed just eight red zone TDs.

Penn State by comparison has allowed TDs on more than half of the red zone chances (14 of 27) while limiting opponents to a field goal three times.

Thus Michigan State catapults all the way to No. 1, while PSU holds the No. 2 spot, in TRZ.

And heading into Saturday's game, Penn State fans will note Nebraska’s ranking in the Top 5 on both offense and defense in TRZ.

Big Ten Red Zone Defense 2012 (conventional)
  1. Penn State - 63.0
  2. Ohio State - 74.2
  3. Iowa - 77.8
  4. Nebraska - 78.6
  5. Northwestern - 81.2

  6. Michigan State - 83.3

Total Red Zone Defense 2012
  1. Michigan State - 54.8
  2. Penn State - 56.6
  3. Ohio State - 59.4
  4. Iowa - 60.3
  5. Nebraska - 62.2

So there you have it, the reinvention of the red zone metric - Total Red Zone.

Someday, hopefully soon, it will be the universally accepted No. 1 red zone statistic.

For insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check, or follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.

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