|12-16-2005, 08:32 AM||#1|
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: The Backside of the Internet
Red Zone Woes fading
Red zone no longer a Broncos bugaboo
By Mike Klis
Denver Post Staff Writer
There were times last season when the Broncos appeared to get their signals crossed as they marched inside their opponents' 20-yard line.
The NFL designates this territory as the "red zone." The Broncos thought it was called the "Rod zone."
That's what it looked like, anyway. For whenever the Broncos crossed into this crucial territory, quarterback Jake Plummer seemed to only have eyes for veteran receiver Rod Smith.
This year, although Smith has hardly been forgotten or unproductive when it matters most, he has company. Plummer's new favorite red-zone target is Kyle Johnson, a fullback who rarely touches the ball between the 20s. There have been no more passes intended for Smith in the red zone this year than for receiver sidekick Ashley Lelie or tight end Stephen Alexander.
Greater diversity has led to stunning results. Last year, the Broncos ranked 29th in the NFL by converting only 45.3 percent of their red-zone drives into touchdowns. This year, the Broncos rank sixth with a red-zone touchdown efficiency of 59.1 percent.
"We're a group that's not a one-player football team," Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "We've got everybody pitching in to where it's not like we've got to have Rod on the field. If Rod's worn out, and he's tired, we're playing other players and they're making plays. "
Statistically, the most glaring difference between the Broncos (10-3) and their Saturday night opponent, the Buffalo Bills (4-9), may be in the red zone. Thanks to returner Terrence McGee, the Bills rank first in the NFL with an average starting spot of the 33.1-yard line after the kickoff. The Bills also rank fifth in number of 10-play drives.
Yet the Bills have been stymied by their inefficiency in the red zone, scoring touchdowns there only 32.1 percent of the time. Only Arizona and Cleveland are worse in the red zone.
The Bills, it seems, have become the ultimate move-between-the-20s offense.
"People don't realize how much they do move the football," Broncos defensive coordinator
Larry Coyer said. "They have a lot of talent at their skill positions."
But the red zone has exposed the Bills' most glaring weakness and where the Broncos have been strong - the quarterback position. The Bills' J.P. Losman ranks 33rd with an anemic 58.9 red-zone passer rating, although his replacement this week, Kelly Holcomb, ranks first with a 125.7 rating in limited duty.
Plummer's red-zone rating of 90.3 is a dramatic improvement from last season, when it was 70.7.
"Jake's been very good down there," Johnson said. "He's been smart with the football, and that's helped us all out."
A more efficient Plummer and greater receiver diversity appear to be the primary reasons for improvement. The red-zone rushing differences depend on how the numbers are viewed. Last year, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell combined for a 3.1-yard average and seven touchdowns. This year, Bell and red-zone workhorse Mike Anderson have 10 touchdowns but a 2.5-yard average.
Spread the wealth
In some ways the Broncos
are running better in the red zone; in some ways they aren't. Where the comparative red- zone numbers leap off the page is under the receivers' section. Last year, the 19 passes intended for Smith were more than twice those for any other Broncos receiver, and only Smith and tight end Patrick Hape had more than two red-zone receptions and one red-zone touchdown.
This year, Hape was cut in training camp and Smith is one of five players with more than two red-zone catches.
"Anybody can get the ball when we get the ball down there," Plummer said.
Indeed, when seven touchdowns combined are caught by Johnson, a fullback who otherwise has just three carries outside the red zone, and Dwayne Carswell, an offensive tackle who suffered season-ending injuries Oct. 27, it's only natural to believe Kubiak and coach Mike Shanahan have become more creative in their red-zone play- calling.
"It may look that way when things work," Kubiak said. "Sometimes you think you're creative every year, and (plays) don't pan out."
As for Smith, who would not be interviewed for this story, he has gotten more out of less from the red zone this year, catching five of the six passes thrown his way, three for touchdowns.
"I don't think it was ever, 'Got to give it to Rod,"' Johnson said. "There's reads and progressions a quarterback has to go through. I don't think that ever changes."
Plummer agreed. He said there was never a purposeful emphasis on Smith in the red zone last year, nor was there designed intent to spread the ball elsewhere this year.
"The defense dictates what you can do or can't do in the red zone," Plummer said. "Getting down, there is a mind-set. You've got to be determined to get the ball in the end zone.
"I think we've done a better job of that, but we still could be better. But, yeah, getting it distributed around has obviously helped us improve."
In the zone
With three games remaining, the Broncos already have scored more red-zone touchdowns in 2005 than in 2004. A comparison:
2004 || 2005
Rushing plays 84 90
Rushing average 2.49 2.71
Rushing TDs 9 14
Passing plays 57 50
Passing average 3.11 3.26
Passing TDs 14 12
Staff writer Mike Klis can be reached at 303-820-5440 or email@example.com.
|12-16-2005, 08:39 AM||#2|
Join Date: Mar 2004
So we improved on TO's and Red Zone performance offensively. If we can only improve on third downs on both sides of the ball and the defense can step up in the red zone more.
|12-16-2005, 08:41 AM||#3|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Jul 2002
Rod Smith: 5 TD
Ashley Lelie: 1 TD
I guess it's Jake's fault. He doesn't hit Lelie in stride in the red zone?
|12-16-2005, 12:23 PM||#4|
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Topeka, KS
We are actually one of the BETTER teams in the NFL in redzone efficiency. That's one reason we are 10-3...
|12-16-2005, 12:33 PM||#5|
lost in the ether
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: The 'cuse
|12-16-2005, 12:42 PM||#6|
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posted this in another thread, but what's with Rod declining to interview for this one? Just curious, not criticism.