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How much did the Titans’ offense improve when VY came in? Part 2

In the first part of this little series looking at how much the Titans offense improved when Vince Young came in, I wrote about how Collins’ and Young’s statistics compared to what we’d expect based on teams that normally change quarterbacks midseason.  The findings on that weren’t too surprising, namely that Vince Young played a lot better than Collins, pretty much across the board.

One of the reasons the Titans were able to turn things around, quite apart from the quarterback play, was that the defense started playing much better.  Even excluding entirely the Patriots game, the defense allowed 27.8 points per game the first five games and only allowed one opponent the last 10 games to exceed that, when they gave up 42 to San Diego on Christmas.  And, bad defenses don’t only give up points, they tend to allow yards.  While total yardage stats can be an unreliable indicator of team quality, defenses that consistently give up a lot of yards tend to leave their offenses in unfavorable situations.

A good example of this is the first Jaguars game.  The Titans put up 379 yards, their 5th best total of the season, but only scored 17 points, because their best starting field position for the entire game was their own 23.  Lousy returns played a role in this, in addition to the defense, but either way the offense was starting backed up and needing 50 or more yards just to get into reasonable field goal range.  Since point production is thus a result of field position, I thought I’d look at how the two quarterbacks did with similar field position.

To do this, I semi-arbitrarily divided the field into 5 regions: inside the 10, the 10-19, the 20-30, the 31-50, and opponents’ territory.  I’m not hugely wedded to those particular numbers, but I thought those ranges should give a reasonable approximation into how well each quarterback did in different types of field position.  One dataset note: I (again semi-arbitrarily) tossed all of VY’s drives from Week 5 v. IND and Week 6 @NE, but included for Collins his Week 14 work v.STL since he entered the game with the score 17-0 in the second quarter.

Overall, Collins had 6 drives that started inside the 10, 12 that started from the 10-19, 37 between the 20 and 30, 17 from the 31-50, and 5 inside opponents territory.  The comparable figures for VY were 10, 18, 39, 22, and 10.  In percentage terms, well,

Collins Young
# Drives Pct. Zone # Drives Pct.
6 7.79% 1-9 10 10.10%
12 15.58% 10-19 18 18.18%
37 48.05% 20-30 39 39.39%
17 22.08% 31-50 22 22.22%
5 6.49% Oppo 10 10.10%

So, in some contrast to my expectations, VY did in fact face slightly more drives with worse field position than did Collins.  VY’s great advantage, though, came in drives that started in especially favorable field position, in opponents’ territory.  This difference is particularly stark if you look at only the weeks each QB started.  Of Collins’ five drives all year that started in opponents’ territory, two came in the Week 14 Rams game.  Put another way, the Titans averaged over a drive a game starting in opponents’ territory in the games VY started, and less than half that when Collins started.  Since each quarterback’s points produced on those drives was nearly triple their production in drives that started between the 20 and 30, it should come as no surprise that VY put up more points than Collins.

Those point production figures tell a similar sort of story to the first post.  While each quarterback’s differential was similar between the drives with the best field position and more average field position, we’re not comparing the same baselines.  Here’s what point production looked for each field zone by quarterback:

Collins Young
Pts Per Drive Zone Pts Per Drive
1.17 1-9 2.20
0.92 10-19 2.05
1.16 20-30 1.62
2.00 31-50 2.68
3.20 Oppo 4.40

One methodological note: for calculating these numbers, all touchdowns were given 7 points, field goals 3, missed field goals 2, and all other possessions (punts, interceptions, lost fumbles, downs, end of half) 0.  All drives consisting solely of kneeldowns were removed.  I’ll also add the caution there we’re dealing the realm of Small Sample Size Theater.  If Kenny Britt doesn’t catch the pass at the end of the Arizona game, and I take out the drive at the end of regulation of the Pittsburgh game (2 CJ runs, 1 kneeldown), VY and Collins are pretty much equal on drives starting inside the 10.

One interesting question, I thought, was how these numbers compared to what the Titans did in 2008.  So, another table:

Zone # Drives Pct Pts Per Drive
1-9 20 10.53% 1.30
10-19 16 8.42% 0.38
20-30 72 37.89% 1.44
31-50 52 27.37% 2.42
Oppo 30 15.79% 3.40

Same point distributions as detailed above, plus this contains my standard adjustment for 2008 numbers: playoff game included, Week 17 Who Cares Fest not.  Comparing these numbers to what happened this year, a couple things jump out:

  • Under Collins, from the same zones, the offense was slightly, but not dramatically worse, in 2009 than it was in 2008.  The difference was the offense started with much better field position in 2008.  The reason I did my breakdown of Collins’ 15 straight incompletions in the Jets game was I thought he was taking more guff than he deserved from Titans fans.  These numbers support those thoughts.
  • With VY under center (and CJ28 getting a lot more work), the Titans offense was better in 2009 than it was in 2008 from every single zone.  If you thought the 2010 Titans could be a good team AND offense-driven team for the first time since 2003, these numbers support those thoughts.
  • The Titans started more than twice as many drives (in percentage terms) from the 10-19 this year as compared to last year.  If you’re looking for where the return problems showed up, especially punt returns, this is one big place.  And, for the past two seasons, starting there has produced terrible results.
  • Similarly, the number of drives that started between the 31 and 50 was about 5% higher (in terms of total numbers of drives) in 2008 than in 2009.  This is where the kickoff problems showed up most dramatically.  The difference between the 25 and the 32 isn’t the extra point you see in all three expected points by zone, but it’s still quite valuable.

One big honking disclaimer: these numbers do not adjust for quality of opponent.  Number of drives per game is also not adjusted; some games the Titans have 9 or 10 possessions, others 14.  One thing I didn’t look at is the role of the offense in putting the offense in back position in later drives; that’s something I may look at in my next post.  Another factor I may address in my next post is where the Titans started drives based on how they got the ball-this can more definitively answer the kickoff question and possibly shed some light on other issues.

Any feedback you have is appreciated.  Let me know if you like or don’t like the tables or the presentation or anything that isn’t clear enough.  I haven’t decided exactly where this series is going or what each installment will be, so if there’s anything you’d like me to look at, let me know and I probably will.