Introducing A New Winning Stat: "Orange Zone" Efficiency

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 22: Reggie Wayne #87 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after catching the game-winning touchdown pass against Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Texans 19-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Ever since I started the Winning Stats series, I've been constantly thinking of ways on how to make it better, and that included finding more useful stats that lead to more winning. After last season, I started jotting down ideas on things I wanted to do to help its predicting power, and I've had some good results so far with weighting weeks, giving more emphasis to recent games, and removing the Net Punting Average, as it wasn't doing much to say who was going to win games, and was put in solely thanks to the greatest punting performance of the last 20 years. It was time to take it out.

Since the beginning, I always wondering why the Red Zone Efficiency wasn't higher up on our Winning Stats list, ranking just 11th of 16 in relative importance. I wondered whether the same concept could be used, just farther back on the field. Why was the 20 yard line the arbitrary marker for scoring efficiency? Well, it starts with the origin of the phrase, originally coined by former Redskins Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs back in 1982. It was ultimately a sound bite that caught on, and has been widely accepted as where scoring efficiency really matters. Now, I think it's time to move that line back a bit.

Let's start with how much better field goal kickers are in 2012 than they were 20 years ago. I'm going to use 1991 as my reference, as that's the first year NFL.com has yardage-specific percentages. Back in '91, only 10 kickers were 70% or better on FGs between 40 and 49 yards. Last year? Twenty of them. Kickers don't need to be inside the 20 any more to "guarantee" points. In overall percentage, 15, or roughly half the league in 1991 was at 75% or higher. Today, if you can't hit 75% of your FGs you're out of the league, as 32 kickers hit at least 75% of their kicks last year.

In trying to find out what the right (still arbitrary, for now) yard line to use for this is, I found a post done by Brian Burke at AdvancedFootballStats where he shows the average yards/play from each yard line. You can see a sharp decline at the 20 yard line, but it's right in the middle of the decline. I think the yard line should be at the top of that decline, as that's where it seems the defense starts to tighten up, and it gets easier for the offense to come away with points.

In the end, I chose the 35 yard line as my line of demarcation, as I think that's going to give us the best numbers. Without further testing I won't know if it is the best, but for now I know it's much better than using the 20 yard line, so in 2012 that's the number I'll be using. Because the phrase "Red Zone" is universally known, I needed to use another color to define this, and since orange is next on the color wheel from red, that's why I'll be calling this the "Orange Zone Efficiency".

As a refresher, we measure the efficiency by finding out the percentage of total points possible a team scored. Take the total number of TDs scored times 7 points, add the number of Field Goals made times 3, and divide that by the number of times inside the 35 yard line times 7, as each time a team gets there they have a potential of scoring a Touchdown, or 7 points. Two-Point conversions don't really matter for this calculation.

So just how much better is our new Orange Zone Efficiency than its Red Zone cousin? The way I measure that is by looking at the record of teams that are above the league average on both offense and defense. Since 2002, our Red Zone Winning Percentage is 70.4%. Our new Orange Zone Efficiency? 78.2%, which would put it as 6th best stat in our Winning Stats, a pretty good improvement. It certainly got me excited.

What's one of these posts without all the numbers, right? I went back to 2002, adjusted all of them for opponents, and have every team on both offense and defense. First, the Offense (click on headers to sort):

Offense 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Overall
49ers 58.2% 53.4% 50.9% 47.3% 50.0% 45.5% 50.3% 56.7% 41.3% 58.8% 51.2%
Bears 50.4% 48.1% 37.0% 46.8% 49.7% 45.9% 56.8% 52.0% 48.4% 60.2% 49.5%
Bengals 46.4% 63.2% 59.5% 61.3% 62.6% 57.6% 46.6% 52.8% 53.0% 54.0% 55.7%
Bills 56.6% 42.0% 50.5% 42.7% 57.4% 41.3% 43.5% 51.5% 54.3% 48.4% 48.8%
Broncos 55.1% 57.7% 49.1% 65.2% 62.1% 54.2% 52.2% 48.3% 59.8% 52.5% 55.6%
Browns 59.5% 46.9% 45.0% 44.8% 50.6% 58.4% 46.6% 47.8% 57.5% 47.8% 50.5%
Buccaneers 44.5% 53.1% 43.8% 54.2% 42.4% 50.3% 49.2% 40.5% 57.8% 54.8% 49.1%
Cardinals 54.3% 46.3% 52.6% 47.4% 50.3% 65.4% 53.7% 59.9% 39.0% 54.5% 52.3%
Chargers 48.2% 56.7% 69.5% 68.0% 71.3% 62.1% 60.0% 67.4% 57.0% 54.6% 61.5%
Chiefs 59.5% 69.7% 69.0% 56.8% 56.2% 55.8% 59.5% 58.5% 46.8% 40.4% 57.2%
Colts 51.1% 68.4% 71.6% 62.7% 71.7% 64.3% 62.4% 73.0% 67.5% 46.2% 63.9%
Cowboys 43.8% 43.7% 51.8% 62.6% 56.7% 65.4% 54.0% 47.5% 57.3% 53.4% 53.6%
Dolphins 58.5% 54.9% 51.6% 49.0% 49.4% 50.9% 58.8% 60.9% 50.4% 53.7% 53.8%
Eagles 54.6% 67.6% 56.5% 53.2% 53.0% 55.0% 49.1% 52.3% 61.6% 59.0% 56.2%
Falcons 58.4% 50.2% 52.1% 51.4% 47.7% 41.0% 57.6% 57.0% 62.6% 58.0% 53.6%
Giants 55.4% 39.3% 44.5% 58.2% 54.0% 54.5% 58.8% 59.9% 55.5% 60.3% 54.0%
Jaguars 59.1% 50.1% 49.0% 52.0% 61.8% 59.2% 56.3% 49.7% 57.1% 45.1% 54.0%
Jets 54.8% 56.8% 52.3% 39.9% 51.6% 48.6% 54.1% 49.1% 49.4% 58.4% 51.5%
Lions 56.3% 47.8% 52.1% 54.6% 54.9% 53.9% 62.5% 47.3% 56.3% 60.2% 54.6%
Packers 57.4% 61.0% 59.4% 48.7% 36.3% 54.2% 62.7% 56.5% 56.1% 72.7% 56.5%
Panthers 44.5% 46.8% 55.3% 63.5% 56.1% 49.1% 61.8% 51.8% 35.7% 56.0% 52.1%
Patriots 57.5% 50.5% 60.7% 62.4% 60.8% 70.8% 55.5% 59.0% 71.0% 61.9% 61.0%
Raiders 61.5% 47.7% 57.7% 53.4% 32.0% 51.7% 41.1% 45.5% 50.7% 61.0% 50.2%
Rams 52.9% 59.3% 49.7% 53.5% 52.9% 43.7% 40.5% 35.0% 45.7% 38.1% 47.1%
Ravens 56.3% 54.5% 51.1% 47.6% 51.4% 45.2% 53.3% 55.3% 64.1% 52.9% 53.2%
Redskins 55.6% 56.9% 49.0% 58.7% 49.4% 53.5% 47.8% 51.4% 51.0% 43.7% 51.7%
Saints 59.3% 52.5% 50.4% 48.5% 62.3% 61.6% 62.1% 59.6% 52.0% 59.4% 56.8%
Seahawks 49.8% 58.5% 60.7% 62.7% 51.4% 49.8% 52.1% 47.5% 51.4% 53.8% 53.8%
Steelers 49.0% 52.5% 57.5% 54.5% 49.9% 67.2% 51.9% 55.8% 50.7% 46.9% 53.6%
Texans 44.1% 55.6% 55.3% 59.2% 57.2% 58.6% 56.9% 54.8% 65.2% 52.7% 56.0%
Titans 61.7% 60.4% 57.9% 43.8% 58.0% 44.7% 54.2% 52.2% 56.0% 60.5% 54.9%
Vikings 62.6% 56.4% 61.8% 50.9% 46.5% 53.9% 54.9% 63.8% 51.1% 58.1% 56.0%

A couple of observations:

  • The 2009 Colts had the highest single-season percentage of any team over the past decade at 73%, which is crazy to think about. It means that every time they crossed their opponent's 35 yard line (73 times in all), they scored on average 5.1 points, almost a point and a half more than the overall average in the NFL.
  • Over the full decade, even including dismal years on either end of this stretch of years, was still best in the league by nearly 2.5% over the 2nd best team, the Chargers. The Patriots at 61% are the only other team to go over 60%. The describe this another way, the Colts scored a higher percentage of points once they crossed the 35 than 14 different teams scored in the Red Zone. Something for the new-look Colts to strive for.

Now for the Defense:

Defense 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Overall
49ers 59.8% 55.4% 72.2% 53.3% 54.2% 52.6% 58.2% 46.9% 55.6% 43.9% 55.2%
Bears 54.2% 50.9% 46.4% 38.0% 50.2% 45.8% 51.2% 56.7% 47.0% 46.2% 48.7%
Bengals 59.8% 59.9% 53.7% 61.8% 52.8% 55.6% 57.5% 58.8% 56.6% 66.1% 58.2%
Bills 61.0% 43.7% 58.4% 60.0% 53.3% 46.3% 51.0% 50.3% 56.6% 59.9% 54.0%
Broncos 60.6% 50.9% 52.1% 48.3% 49.1% 57.6% 60.2% 47.7% 62.7% 56.0% 54.5%
Browns 49.4% 47.3% 53.7% 49.9% 53.7% 55.2% 50.3% 47.8% 52.3% 49.5% 50.9%
Buccaneers 38.2% 41.0% 46.4% 49.9% 55.4% 67.0% 51.2% 57.1% 57.8% 57.5% 52.1%
Cardinals 57.8% 62.5% 51.3% 58.2% 56.3% 57.3% 62.7% 50.8% 58.1% 50.3% 56.5%
Chargers 50.6% 63.7% 56.8% 51.1% 60.1% 46.1% 48.4% 59.5% 53.8% 58.4% 54.8%
Chiefs 50.0% 53.9% 57.1% 43.8% 55.1% 50.4% 56.6% 55.4% 59.9% 51.4% 53.4%
Colts 57.6% 63.4% 50.8% 46.3% 55.4% 50.7% 40.9% 49.6% 60.0% 61.9% 53.7%
Cowboys 52.0% 56.7% 67.8% 50.1% 57.4% 51.9% 55.5% 47.3% 59.5% 59.3% 55.8%
Dolphins 50.2% 43.4% 47.2% 55.9% 49.5% 57.0% 52.3% 53.7% 51.3% 55.9% 51.6%
Eagles 42.5% 56.0% 52.7% 62.5% 52.3% 44.5% 47.3% 55.5% 65.5% 48.0% 52.7%
Falcons 51.7% 59.7% 60.2% 51.5% 52.7% 59.4% 54.0% 52.0% 55.5% 49.8% 54.7%
Giants 53.8% 63.5% 60.0% 48.5% 52.3% 52.3% 53.5% 71.3% 46.4% 54.7% 55.6%
Jaguars 52.5% 50.3% 41.5% 54.5% 46.6% 58.2% 60.1% 56.5% 54.5% 60.3% 53.5%
Jets 53.8% 51.2% 57.3% 55.1% 52.7% 53.5% 51.9% 41.3% 55.1% 51.9% 52.4%
Lions 67.2% 60.8% 60.1% 55.7% 61.5% 56.9% 60.7% 58.4% 59.1% 43.2% 58.4%
Packers 48.0% 47.5% 61.3% 56.3% 58.2% 53.9% 54.6% 55.0% 40.6% 54.8% 53.0%
Panthers 56.6% 54.4% 50.8% 53.6% 58.8% 58.4% 50.4% 49.7% 56.1% 54.5% 54.3%
Patriots 50.7% 43.2% 38.0% 57.0% 46.5% 57.9% 58.6% 52.1% 54.9% 58.7% 51.8%
Raiders 52.4% 58.7% 58.3% 52.4% 52.1% 54.9% 57.7% 52.1% 48.2% 58.3% 54.5%
Rams 53.2% 52.5% 59.2% 64.3% 61.4% 59.1% 64.0% 63.7% 53.7% 54.1% 58.5%
Ravens 52.3% 49.5% 43.0% 53.6% 34.9% 49.8% 42.8% 48.4% 52.0% 47.1% 47.3%
Redskins 48.0% 60.5% 44.9% 46.7% 56.7% 54.3% 61.1% 49.9% 46.8% 53.5% 52.2%
Saints 65.1% 55.7% 55.0% 57.0% 62.6% 62.5% 54.3% 54.2% 46.5% 58.3% 57.1%
Seahawks 56.0% 51.3% 54.1% 52.1% 51.9% 50.0% 58.7% 55.0% 61.6% 51.0% 54.2%
Steelers 53.1% 54.3% 55.1% 46.5% 49.4% 52.7% 45.7% 51.5% 41.4% 52.1% 50.2%
Texans 52.3% 58.8% 49.5% 69.4% 56.3% 56.5% 61.9% 57.3% 60.5% 56.1% 57.8%
Titans 65.1% 50.8% 60.4% 66.3% 57.3% 52.5% 49.5% 54.4% 44.4% 57.3% 55.8%
Vikings 61.9% 56.6% 59.4% 55.1% 49.5% 52.1% 43.1% 59.0% 59.1% 58.1% 55.4%

Couple things here too:

  • If you saw the Colts as being in the top half of the league defensively, please know my bullshit-meter is going off on you. In fact, the Colts were 14th best over the past 10 years, in what was certainly a surprise to me.
  • In an even bigger surprise, the 2008 Colts, best known for starting slow thanks to a Peyton Manning injury, ripping off nine straight to end the season, then losing in OT to a punter (twice in the same article, damn). They were certainly good at avoiding points, giving up just 40.9% of the total points possible, by far their best season.
  • Unsurprisingly, the Ravens and Steelers are the two best teams, and the Rams have the distinction of being worst in the NFL on both offense and defense. Ouch.

You'll be seeing the Orange Zone Efficiency in all of my stats wrap-ups after games, as well as in the preview articles. Next offseason I'll look at some other yard lines to see if they are better/worse than the 35. For now though, it's just good to have another meaningful stat to look at.

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