Field position and the Titans' offensive success revisited

Field position and the Titans' offensive success revisited


Field position and the Titans' offensive success revisited


In the halcyon days of yore, back when the Titans were 5-2 and seemed like a good football team, I wrote a post about how the Titans’ offensive success up to that point in large part was a result of superior field position.  After that point, of course, the Titans lost 8 of their next 9 games, and the offense was significantly less productive than it was the first 7 games.

Of course, while the offense was worse, part of the reason the offense was worse was because the defense (and special teams?) didn’t put it in advantageous positions nearly as often.  So, how much of the offensive decline was the offense, and how much was the offense being put in bad positions?

Chart?  Chart.

2009 Total 2010 Total
# Drives Pct. Zone # Drives Pct.
10 10.10% 1-9 10 5.43%
18 18.18% 10-19 18 9.78%
39 39.39% 20-30 80 43.48%
22 22.22% 31-50 51 27.72%
10 10.10% Oppo 25 13.59%

Just for comparison’s sake, here’s how the last 10 games of 2009 look next to all of the 2010 games.  The 10 drives starting inside the 10 and 18 between the 10 and 19 are not typos, just an odd case of synchronicity.  You may thank Marc Mariani for the superior field position, as the Titans ranked 7th in Kickoff Returns and 4th in Punt Returns by Football Outsiders numbers, which I like because they (a) take into account kickoff distance and (b) are less prone to skewing by long runs than simple yards per return.

Now, the other question, the first half of 2010 to the second half.  Chart?  Chart.

2010-First 7 2010-Last 9
# Drives Pct. Zone # Drives Pct.
5 6.49% 1-9 5 4.67%
7 9.09% 10-19 11 10.28%
32 40.51% 20-30 48 44.86%
20 25.97% 31-50 31 28.97%
13 16.88% Oppo 12 11.21%

Hmm, this isn’t quite what I was expecting.  These number ranges aren’t hugely granular, but this indicates the Titans didn’t really have worse field position the second half of 2010.  They started a smaller percentage of drives inside the 20.  They started more in the 31-50 range-plus side of their own territory.  What this seems to indicate is the Titans instead in the second half lacked particularly advantageous field position-the number of drives that started in opponents’ territory decreased by roughly a third.

And thus we get to the second half of the story: how well did the Titans’ offense in 2010 at converting field position into points.  Chart?  Chart.

2010-First 7 2010-Last 9
Pts Per Drive Zone Pts Per Drive
0.60 1-9 0.60
1.43 10-19 0.27
1.78 20-30 1.46
3.20 31-50 2.00
3.85 Oppo 1.08

Obviously, sample size is not ideal, even for substantial chunks of the season.  One thing is abundantly clear, though: no matter what type of field position the offense had the second half of the year, it didn’t use that field position nearly as productively as it did the first half of the year.  This is especially the case with the incredibly dismal performance by the offense when it got the ball in opponents’ territory.  This is the best field position a team could dream of, and the Titans converted 12 possessions into only 1 touchdown and two field goals.

I must say this isn’t the result I expected when I started crunching this data.  I probably wrote, and definitiely thought, the Titans’ offense was less productive the last 9 games because it was put in worse positions.  There’s a minor part of this that’s true, but by and large, the Titans’ poor offensive performance the second half of 2010 was the result of the offense performing poorly, not because the offense started off in worse position.

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