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Field position and the Titans’ offense in 2012, final

I ran some of these numbers after Chris Palmer was fired, but with the season concluded, it's time to take a final look at how field position affected the Titans' offensive performance in 2012.

I may have said this before on this site, once or twice, in some detail, but the Titans weren't very good on offense in 2012. As the numbers will show, they struggled to move the ball when they had bad field position. They struggled to move the ball when they had pretty good field position. They did ok when they had great field position, but they didn't have great field position very often. Instead, they had bad field position more often. The Titans recently fired Alan Lowry, but it doesn't look like special teams was really the problem for the Titans in 2012.

After the jump, numbers and charts and more analysis.


My methodology is the same I've used in the past. Touchdowns are worth 7 points. Made field goals are worth 3 points. Missed field goals are worth 2 points. All other drives are worth 0 points. End of half/game drives where scoring is not the point are excluded from my calculations, as are desperation drives that don't have a realistic chance at scoring.

Here are your final numbers for 2012, with a comparison to 2011:


2012   2011
# Drives Pct Pts Per Drive Zone # Drives Pct Pts Per Drive
53 29.9% 0.81 1-19 41 23.6% 1.49
41 23.2% 1.56 20 48 27.6% 1.10
72 40.7% 1.79 21-49 66 37.9% 2.17
11 6.2% 3.64 50+ 19 10.9% 2.42

1. The Titans started 25% more drives inside least productive zone on the field, their own 20. That's hard for any offense. With a limited sample size like this (I'd prefer 72,000 to 72), it's hard to say things absolutely definitely, but for an offense as bad as the Titans were, that's killer.

2. Actual average starting field position between the 21 and the 49 was the 30.4. It was the 33.5 last year. See below for more on this. Nevertheless, that sort of trivial 3-yard change in field position is not enough to explain a difference of 0.4 points per drive.

3. Hey, the Titans were oddly efficient at scoring when starting at the 20, especially compared to their oddly low ranking last season.

4. Last season, the Titans were inefficient when scoring after getting the ball in opposing territory thanks in part to a relatively large number of possessions that started just on the other side of midfield. A majority of those 19 possessions last year started between the opposing 44 and opposing 49. Even on closer drives, though, the Titans did better this year than they did last year, though of course your sample sizes are 8 and 9.

5. If they'd had the benefit of 2011's superior field position, the Titans would have scored 300 offensive points instead of 276 on their 177 counting drives. That difference in and of itself would have improved the Titans from 4.6 to 5.2 Pythagorean wins. With 2011's production, the Titans would have scored 304 offensive points instead of 276. That difference would have improved the Titans from 4.6 to 5.3 Pythagorean wins.

Why was field position so bad? Well, most drives start after punts and kickoffs. Especially after the recent firing of special teams coach Alan Lowry, it seems reasonable to look at how the Titans fared on those, especially in comparison to last year. First, field position after kickoffs. Chart? Chart.


2012   2011
# Drives Pct Zone # Drives Pct
21 22.6% 1-19 10 15.0%
35 37.6% 20 40 59.7%
36 38.7% 21-49 16 23.9%
1 1.1% 50+ 1 1.5%

If it seems like Marc Mariani had an abnormally large number of kickoffs go for a touchback in 2011, well, that was indeed the case. Darius Reynaud was much more willing to take kickoffs out of the end zone. I criticized him for doing so during the season. In the final evaluation, the numbers are much less clear.

1. One of the areas of indeterminacy in my chart is just how where within the 21-49 range a drive started is. On the whole, the Titans enjoyed better field position on offensive drives after a kickoff in 2012 than they did in 2011. The difference between the 21.9 and the 20.9 is slight, but it might be worth something.

2. The Titans scored fewer points on offense than they would have if they'd maintained 2011's zone distribution, but the difference is slight. With 2011's distribution, they score about 143 points. Instead, based on average production, they would have scored 140 points. That's a minuscule difference, and given 2012's offensive performance and the possibility of a kickoff return, in principle Reynaud bringing out as many returns as he did is far from clearly wrong. Yes, I would have preferred to see his judgment in whether to do so improve, but it wasn't that big a deal. The Titans returned one kickoff for a score in each of 2011 and 2012 (2011's came on a handoff to Tommie Campbell).

3. Football Outsiders metrics back up my tentative conclusion, crediting the Titans with 4.1 points of kickoff return value in 2011 and 2.3 this year.

4. Kickoff returns were not why the Titans enjoyed inferior field position in 2012.

And now we come to the big deal, field position after punts. Chart? Chart!


2012   2011
# Drives Pct Zone # Drives Pct
29 46.7% 1-19 26 32.9%
5 8.1% 20 7 8.9%
27 43.5% 21-49 40 50.6%
1 1.6% 50+ 6 7.6%


1. Um, that's a lot of drives starting inside the own 20 compared to 2011.

Yes, it is.

2. Um, that's not a lot of drives with good or great field position compared to 2011.

Yes, that is also correct.

3. It's all Darius Reynaud's fault!

No, it is not.

4. But if the Titans had enjoyed 2011-style field position, they would have scored more points, wouldn't they?

Almost certainly yes. With 2012's offense and 2011's punt zone distribution, the Titans should expect to score about 15 more points over the course of the season after punts. In our handy-dandy points-to-win Pythagorean win formula, that's about 0.4 wins, or 2/3 of the difference in field position value from 2011 to 2012.

5. Just how bad was this field position disadvantage?

In 2011, the average Titans offensive possession after an opposing punt started at the 27.4 yard line. In 2012, it started at the 23.3 yard line.

6. Well, in that case, why isn't it Darius Reynaud's fault?

Well, there are two major reasons for that:

a. Teams punted a lot more against the Titans in 2011 than they did in 2012. In 2011, 45% of non-garbage opposing drives ended in a punt. In 2012, only 35% did. In both 2011 and 2012, the Titans had on average better field position after a punt than they did after a kickoff. Relatively speaking, in 2012, they just got the ball a lot more often after a kickoff than they did after a punt.

b. When a team takes over field position at a particular yardline after a punt, that's the result of the length of the punt, the return of the punt, and where the punt was kicked from. And in 2012, Titans opponents had better field position when punting than they did in 2011. The average line of scrimmage on an opposing punt in 2011 was the 33.4 yard line. In 2012, it was the 36.7. The Titans had worse field position after punts because opponents had better field position when they punted.

Bonus reason it's not Darius Reynaud's fault.

Easy. The Titans returned three punt returns for a score in 2012 (one of them by Tommie Campbell). They had one punt return for a score in 2011. These returns for a score aren't captured in my numbers, but if they were they'd be worth 7 points. One place they are reflected, though is in Football Outsiders special teams ratings. In 2011, the Titans enjoyed 3.4 points of punt return value. In 2012, they had a league-leading 17.8 points of punt return value.

Okay, Mr. Smarty-Pants, whose fault is it?

I'll get into this in more detail when I run the defensive field position numbers later this week, but the defense had a lot to do with the offense's bad field position in 2012.

Well, fine then. One last question, what happened when the Titans changed coordinators?

I'll probably have more to say about Dowell Loggains if/when the Titans hire him as their offensive coordinator, but let's just say the results weren't pretty. The sample size is pretty small, only 60 of the 177 possessions on the season, which is why I didn't bother with a separate chart. The Titans actually did okay, a bit better than Palmer, when starting from their 20, but were particularly poor on drives that started past the 20, scoring 31 points on 31 such possessions, including getting nothing on two drives that started in opposing territory. Of course, he also had to deal with Jake Locker starting every game.