It's rivalry weekend, and that usually means rankings, stats, and trends shouldn't matter. Buyer beware. It's not picking the hard games that count, it's just picking the winners.
"We can still make it a great season," punter Ken DeBauche said. "We have a week left, and we can still go out on top."Hmmm. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Featured today are red zone offenses. Specifically, who teams throw to when they are inside the twenty yard line. Having a wide receiver pick up a cheap touchdown can save a bad day of yardage. So here's a quick rundown of what team's tendencies are inside the red zone:
They seem to favor the run whenever they do get into the red zone, a result of having the all-time leading rushing and a thrid year QB in the backfield. No one has had more than three red zone passes thrown to them this season. I'd assume that Larry Fitzgerald would be the guy here if they had more confidence in both him and McCown.
Alge Crumpler leads the team with 51 overall targets and that doesn't change when they get in the red zone. His 9 targets are six better than the next person on the list (Justin Griffith) but the Falcons are still a run first (65%) red zone team.
The top of the NFL alphabet is also the top of the red zone runners. These first three teams, along with the Steelers, compose the top four in average percentage of red zone rushing plays. But they all do it differently. The Ravens just give the ball to Jamal. 70% of the time. Recently, however, the 6 foot 6 inch Clarence Moore has been a red zone favorite, catching 3 out of 3 passes for two touchdowns. Keep an eye on him over the next few weeks to see if that keeps up. The return of Todd Heap will also diversify Baltimore's options inside the twenty yard line.
Across the entire field, Eric Moulds leads all Bills with more than double the targets than the next receiver (Evans). In fact, Moulds' 84 are closing in on triple of Lee Evans' 31. Inside the red zone, Eric is still the favorite. He leads the team in targets (7), catches (5), and touchdowns (3). Not far behind, however, is Damion Shelton (I'm not really sure who he is or what position he plays though). Shelton has caught 4 of 6 passes but for only 16 yards and zero touchdowns. The rise of Willis McGahee has made Buffalo more of a run first offense recently.
One might think that the Panthers red zone offense has been a victim of their depleated running game but in fact Carolina is in the top 10 in converting red zone chances into touchdowns. And they are doing it primarily through the air. Muhammad is by far the leader with 5 catches, 11 targets, and 4 touchdowns. Clearly, his size and strength are one of the few remaining weapons this team has and Jake Delhomme has a lot of trust in him. Brad Hoover's 2 touchdowns on 4 of 5 passes are second on the list.
Other than Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas, there is nothing of value to discuss here. The Bears are a running team and they have a young quarterback.
The Bengals stay balanced when they get in the red zone. Rudi Johnson is an effective inside the tackles runner and Chad Johnson is strong and quick enough to get off the line of scrimmage. Chad's 12 targets are by far the most on the team, but they haven't resulted in any touchdowns yet. Cincinnati saves those for plays to their fullbacks and tightends. Peter Warrick was a good player for this team last season inside the twenty and they continue to miss his presence.
A guy for the Browns who plays a lot like Warrick is Dennis Northcutt. Dennis leads the Browns with 7 RZ targets. He's caught four of them but none for touchdowns. Aaron Shea is the one they've gone to on four occasions (three for TDs). After that, Quincy Morgan was next on their list before he got traded. I assume that the Browns will look to use Antonio Bryant's size advantage here soon.
Jason Witten has been the Cowboy's offense this season. He's brought in an amazing 54 of the 68 passes thrown to him (79%). That number is an indicator that he is a real good football player who has very good hands and also the ability to get open in tight spaces. Dallas' RZ offense is right at a 50-50 run/pass balance but when they do throw, they are most effective when throwing to Jason. Two of his touchdowns are from the inside the twenty yard line. Surprisingly, Keyshawn Johnson is getting his chances (6 targets) but has only caught 1 of those passes. It was at least good for a score.
You can forget about looking for Ashlie Leslie in the Denver's RZ offense. He has had 6 targets there, but only 1 catch for eight yards. Leslie is more of a deep threat who isn't known as a physical player or one with exceptional hands. Rod Smith, on the other hand, is exactly that. Smith's 10 targets lead Denver, as do his 5 RZ catches and 3 RZ touchdowns. Also high on the list is Patrick Hape, a TE/HB who has been used as the blocking tight end in Denver. Coach Shannahan uses Jeb Putzier a lot in this offense, but his TE of choice in the red zone is Hape.
Ah, Detroit. With all the Joey Harrington apologists turning against him for blood now, who knows what will happen over the next 6 weeks. But so far the season, Roy Williams has earned his money inside the red zone. Considering he's only played seven games this season (and many of those while injured) Roy's caught 3 of 6 passes for 3 touchdowns. He's got the size and strength and also the technique to catch passes with his hands away from a defender on a fade or with his body in those tight spaces in the back of the end zone. Stephen Alexander has also been targeted 7 times, catching 4 of them for 25 yards and no touchdowns. The Lions have really spread things around, throwing RZ TDs to 5 different players so far.
Man these guys score a lot. In the red zone, they throw a little bit more than they run (60/40). And they really spread the ball around. Walker - 6/11 48 yds 4 TDs. Driver - 5/9 39 yds 1 TD. Fisher - 7/7 35 yds 2TDs. Franks - 5/6 44 4 TDs. Green, Henderson, and Ferguson have also scored 1 touchdown.
The Texans stay balanced, but they have been very up and down this season. When they're up, they're getting production from Andre Johnson. He's caught 5 of 9 RZ passes for 45 yards and 2 TDs. All of the Texans' RZ TD passes have gone to wide receivers. Armstrong, Gaffney, and Bradford all have one.
Every Edgerrin owner has been complaining about this and here's why: Harrison - 8/14 53 3 TDs. Wayne - 7/11 49 4 TDs. Pollard - 6/8 57 5 TDs. Clark - 4/7 26 4 TDs. Stokely - 3/4 19 2 TDs. Mungro - 2/2 2 2 TDs. And finally, James - 2/2 13 0 TDs. The one thing of note here is how Stokely isn't featured too often. Inside the 20, the Colts usually go to their favored two tightend sets and have the perfect red zone combination of size (Wayne, Pollard) and quickness (Harrison, Clark).
Here's another team that spreads things around inside the twenty. Ernest Wilford had those two game winning TDs early in the season but hasn't done much since. LeBrandon Toefield caught his first RZ TD last week. First round pick Reggie Williams has the size to be effective here, and has gotten the second most amount of chances (5) but has only produced 1 catch for a meager 4 yards. Jimmy Smith is the team leader in targets with 7, but also has just one catch (6 yards). The Jags score with ends and backs primarily. Greg Jones has also taken over the short yardage duties.
Two of the easiest calls here are KC and San Diego. Gonzalez has been RZ targeted 12 times, catching 7 of those for 51 yards and 2 TDs. Interesting to me that Johnnie Morton was second on the list with 5 catches on 7 targets, 51 yards and 1 touchdown. The Chiefs' other tight-end, Jason Dunn is 3/3 with 3 TDs. KC is more of a running red zone team. Obviously, more of the chances normally go to Tony and Priest. But things may get interesting if Holmes keeps sitting out games.
This is all for very little, since the fish are undergoing a change in coach, quarterback, and desire to win. Chambers was the team's red zone leader with 8 targets, but it's probably safe to bring this one back to square one for the near future.
The team that has redefined the red zone pass (at nearly a 70/30 ratio), has been struggling of late without Moss. Before the injury, Randy had 12 RZ chances and he converted on 7 of them for a striking 6 touchdowns. Those 7 catches were for a total of 22 yards (a 3+ yard per catch average). Marcus Robinson is also a favorite. He has gone 6/10 this year for 41 yards and 5 TDs. Nate Burleson, however, is the one who's received the most total chances with 15. He's caught 9 of those for 77 yards (an 8.5 yard per catch average inside the 20!!!) and 4 TDs. Jermaine Wiggins is 5/6 for 29 and 3 TDs and the only other player of note is Moe Williams at 4/6 45 and 1 TD.
Perhaps no other team over the last five seasons has better utlized it's entire roster than the Patriots. But, injuries (Branch, Watson, Brown, Offensive Line) have changed the way New England's red zone offense has looked since the preseason. 11 Patriots have been red zone targets so far this season, which is among the most of all NFL teams. Despite that, there are three clear leaders of the pack- if for no other reason than because they've stayed healthy. Daniel Graham - 6/7 32 5 TDs. David Givens - 3/8 16 2 TDs. David Patten - 4/7 28 3 TDs. Graham's number have dropped lately because he's been asked to block more due to changes along the offensive line. I also think the Pats had a lot of Colt-like things in mind when they drafted TE Ben Watson last summer. That will have to wait until at least 2005.
When Boo Williams is healthy, he seems to be the favored target here (5/8 52 2 TDs). But Joe Horn's quickness and jumping ability gives him enough to be a goto guy in the red zone. He's got decent numbers to back that up to; 6/8 37 4 TDs. After that, it's hit or miss. Donte Stallworth suprised me with his 4/4 21 and 1 TD. Those numbers aren't too bad for a guy who was recently demoted to the #3 WR because of inconsistency.
NEW YORK GIANTS
How many Giants have caught a red zone touchdown pass this season? Only Jeremy Shockey, but at least he's caught four of them. A new quarterback here will also signal new trends. But it's still interesting that only one player has been able to score from short yardage. They've gone to Ike Hilliard 12 times and he's produced 8 catches and 36 yards out of those attempts. Toomer, on the other hand, has only caught 1 of his 8 passes. After those three, there isn't much diversity in the play calling.
NEW YORK JETS
You can always count on those west coast teams to spread it around to their reserve backs and ends. Chris Baker leads them with 4/5 and 3 touchdowns. The other tight end, Anthony Becht, has gone 3/4 but hasn't scored. When Justin McCareins was acquired, many hoped he would become a solid red zone threat, but that hasn't happened just yet. He's still tied for the team lead in targets with 5, but has only produced 1 touchdown from the 3 catches he has. This is Curtis Martin's RZ offense, except when he's tired and then it becomes Lamont Jordan's.
Like New England, the Raiders' offense has been hit by injuries and they've used a lot of different players to try to get into the end zone. The Raiders have thrown to 10 different receivers or backs but the only one that has been targeted with any consistency is Joey Porter. Still, his production has not been consistent as he's brought in only three of the 10 passes thrown his way for only 1 touchdown. The Raider offense has struggled all season, but the only player of note that I see making a regular impact from here out is Doug Jolley.
It's TO's world. 11 targets, 7 catches, 60 yards, and 5 touchdowns. After that, LJ Smith has those 3 TDs he got early in the year. There just isn't much else here.
Despite their 65/35 tendency to run more than pass inside the twenty, the Steelers receivers have had some success in the red zone. Plaxico's size gives him an advantage and he's produced 4 catches on 6 attempts for 32 yards and 2 TDs. Hines Ward has done well too, going 5/8 31 2 TDs. After that, there is only the odd single touchdown, from TE's Tuman and Riemersma and RB Haynes and WR Randel El.
Keenan McCardell has always been a good red zone option and if he wasn't sharing opportunities with Antonio Gates, I'd say he was a great late season fantasy option. Keenan is still a good play, having been targeted 7 times in only two games. He has caught 3 of those for 1 touchdown, but really those chances seem to have come more from Eric Parker (who's only been thrown one RZ pass in the last three weeks). The stud of the group, and maybe of the entire NFL is Gates, who has converted on 11 of 14 passes for 65 yards and 8 touchdowns. This is a two man show now, but look for Justin Peelle to get some chances in the same way Jason Dunn does in KC.
As productive as Brandon LLoyd has been this year, he hasn't been targeted in the red zone too often. That surprises me because this guy can flat out steal the ball away from defenders, the sideline, from low flying aircraft, and just about anything else that gets in his way. He's got 4 of the 5 Niner touchdowns from 39-20 yards out, but once they get closer this team goes to Eric Johnson (5/8 42 2 TDs) and Curtis Conway (3/9 29 1 TD). Lloyd's RZ numbers so far are 1/5 12 0.
Perhaps because they don't catch the ball real well, the Hawks' WRs are an afterthought in their red zone offense. But maybe it also has something to do with that they have one of the great touchdown performers of this generation in Shawn Alexander. The guy just knows how to score and this team has no problem letting him. In addition to his 9 overall rushing TDs, Alexander has been the Hawks' most frequent receiving option in the red zone with 7 catches on 10 attempts for 3 TDs. After Shawn comes Darrell Jackson (2/7 11 1), Jerramy Stevens (2/6 19 0), and Mack Strong (5/5 28 0). Koren Robinson? Not so much. 2 targets, zero catches.
TOO FAST, TOO FURIOUS
Running only when they have to, the Rams spread it around to Holt (4/9 36 1) and Bruce (5/7 42 2) first. But lately they've been using Kevin Curtis (3/4 33 1) and Shaun McDonald (2/3 21 2) more. Not much action for the TE's so far, Cleeland only has had one pass his way and Manumaleuna two. This is a team that scores from 20+ just as much as they do from the 20 and in.
Jon Gruden loves his tight ends. He also loves to spread it around. No one player has more than 1 RZ receiving touchdown. No one player has more than 3 RZ catches. The teams' target leader, however, has been it's most productive overall receiver. Michael Clayton has gone 3/6 16 and 1 TD. Next is Ken Dilger with 3/4 19 and 1 TD. Will Heller, Tim Brown, Jamel Cook, and Michael Pittman have also scored.
Who is Troy Flemming and why does he have two touchdown receptions? I don't really care, actually. Derrick Mason leads the team with 10 targets. He's caught 5 of them for 29 yards and 1 touchdown. Drew Bennett is next with 4/8 23 and 1 TD. The Titans don't have a lot of depth anymore, but one lesser known guy who is good for a red zone chance is Shad Meier. He's caught all 5 of his RZ passes and has scored twice. Enron Kinney has been hurt, but he could end up with a few down the stretch.
A true 'red zone only' threat has emerged in the 2004 version of Rod Gardner. Once a well rounded prospect, under Gibbs and Brunnel, Gardner has produced 401 total receiving yards this season and 5 total touchdowns. 167 of those yards came in one game. Rod's red zone number are 6/8 for 63 yards and 5 touchdowns. So, he hasn't scored from outside the 20 yard line yet, and with the exception of his week three performance against Dallas, he isn't really worth a fantasy spot for a league that rewards yards more than touchdowns. But if you're looking for a guy to steal you 6 points, he's the one. There's a new QB in town, so maybe things will change. Also of note, Coles leads the team with 10 targets, but he's only caught 3 of those for just 1 TD. Chris Cooley is their other consistent option. Cooley is a similar player to Patrick Hape, and has similar numbers: 3/8 18 3 TDs.
As always, my raw target stats come primarily from the hard work of The Football Guys.
I’m very, very upset. I met with the offensive staff today. I’ve already met with the defensive; I’m meeting with the special teams coach this afternoon. The importance of that game and how we played in the game, it really upsets me a lot. We had good practices. I didn’t understand why we had to function that way when we got into the actual game. I’ve said that. Now, the fact is we have seven games left, five games at home. There are a whole bunch of teams clustered at 5-4. This thing is far from being over. There is a lot of football left to play. There is reason for optimism; there is reason to look ahead. We’ll keep working real hard around here.
We’re told Saints head coach Jim Haslett decided to demote WR Donté Stallworth from the starting lineup in favor of veteran Jerome Pathon because he’s tired of using inconsistent players, even if it means putting less talent on the field.
Sources in Minnesota say WR Marcus Robinson (foot) has a more serious injury than the team is letting on and insist that if Randy Moss had played in the last two games, Robinson may not have been available.
The Ravens believe TE Todd Heap, out since September with an ankle injury, will be back no later than Week 13.
Our sources in Seattle say there’s no doubt newcomer Jerry Rice has wasted no time in having a positive effect on the Seahawks’ WR corps, particularly Koren Robinson. Rice, who is still adapting to unfamiliar terminology, has offered more encouragement than tips, but his regal-like presence appears to be making a difference. Dropped passes in practice last week were way down from the previous week.
Word is, the ankle that Cardinals rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald sprained so badly in the preseason is likely to continue bothering him and won’t be fully healed until next year at the earliest.
Don’t look for the Saints to suddenly turn things around in the second half of the season. We’re told the players no longer are buying what the coaching staff is selling, and that they don’t seem to be getting anything out of practice anymore. Head coach Jim Haslett has been trying to get his players to take more responsibility for the team’s problems, but he also has accused the local media of being too negative and called out the fans at times for not supporting the team. Maybe a bigger problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a leader on the Saints who can call a meeting to try to hash out the team’s problems among the players. QB Aaron Brooks isn’t a vocal leader, DT Brian Young hasn’t been around long enough and OT Wayne Gandy and LB Orlando Ruff both have been inconsistent, which robs them of credibility. RB Deuce McAllister might fit the bill, but there is a sense that the season is lost and no amount of talking will solve the problem.
Fresh from my success over the last few weeks in finding good value in some less prominent games, I'm going to stay with that trend today. But I do think Cleveland has a very good chance to take the upset vs Pittsburgh. Just like we all look back at the Patriots' 2003 loss to the Redskins, this could be one of those games that just happens. The Browns have a lot of experience at slowing a big back like Bettis (Jamal Lewis) and will have the home field wind advantage in their favor. The Steelers have yet to face a tough inside running team since they lost Casey Hampton, and the Browns have two RBs who can do it.
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