The red zone is the dead zone.

Seth Emerson returns to a subject we’ve harped on plenty here since the end of the last regular season, Georgia’s ineffective play on both sides of the ball when it’s inside the 20-yard line.

… The 20 yards beyond the end zone were calamitous for Georgia in general last year.

On defense, it was probably what kept a good unit from being great: Georgia ranked 114th nationally, and second-worst in the SEC, in red zone defense. It allowed opponents to score 90.7 percent of the time it got inside the 20, and to score touchdowns 74.4 percent of the time.

That was a major step backwards from 2015, when Georgia ranked third-best nationally in red zone defense. Opponents only scored 67.6 percent of the time inside the 20, and the touchdown rate was 50 percent.

“We work on that a little bit more, so we can perfect that, have a little better percentage next season,” Baker said.

On offense, Georgia’s red zone problem last year was just another problem area: The Bulldogs scored at least three points on 84.4 percent of trips there, which ranked 64th nationally. But it only managed a touchdown 55.6 percent of the time, which ranked 100th nationally.

If there’s a difference in the two, it’s that I would say the offensive red zone woes were more an extension of the general inefficiency we saw last season, whereas the defense played well outside of that area.  Or, as Emerson puts it,

The offensive problems are easier to diagnose, because they’re symptomatic of what went wrong in general. Problems with blocking, by the line and on the perimeter. Play-calling that was too predictable at times. A freshman quarterback slowed down the offense, stalling momentum when drives got closer to the end zone….

Smart is correct about the team being “horrible” in the red zone offensively. But it was only part of the problem: Georgia had 45 red-zone offensive trips last year, but that only ranked 79th nationally. The Bulldogs got touchdowns on 25 of those trips. If they had penetrated the end zone 10 more times, then the 35 touchdowns still only would have ranked 39th nationally. Good, but not great.

The defense, on the other hand, can almost single-handedly point at red zone problems. Georgia’s opponents only had 43 such trips, tied for 37th nationally, but the success rate (39 times getting at least a field goal, and 32 touchdowns) is startling.

So, you can argue that if the staff can address the offense’s general problems, that should lead to more red zone success.  On defense, though, it’s a little trickier.  Davin Bellamy thinks “it’s all about attitude”.  He’s referring to himself and his teammates there, but as I once speculated, I wonder if it’s more about coaching priorities.  If I’m right, there’s a lot of factors in play that would have to be addressed.

I joke about the Auburn game that the key to keeping Auburn from scoring regularly from the red zone was to keep Malzahn’s offense out of the red zone, but that’s actually how things played out in Georgia’s most impressive defensive effort of the year.

The trick to that, though, isn’t simple or one-sided.  You have to think turnover margin and field position play major roles in aiding a defense in keeping opponents from crossing its twenty.  So does stopping teams on third downs, though.  All of which has been a mixed bag for Georgia over the past few seasons.

All I’m saying here is, if indeed this is something that matters to Smart — and his track record at Alabama would indicate that it does — there’s a lot of work across the board left to be done.

Starting this spring.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

26 responses to “The red zone is the dead zone.

  1. Keese

    I would like to know who was the first to look at Kirby and think “hey this guy is head coach material and plus he’s a former Georgia guy let’s get him”. How that idea turned into reality in the ranks of BM decision makers befuddles me


    • It’s a little too early to judge Smart, IMO, other than to say his first year wasn’t a surprise, given that he’d never been a head coach before.


      • Keese

        I’ve wanted to be wrong from the minute he was hired. He’s a rah-rah lackey under saban- not some defensive mastermind or player guru. Kirby will only achieve success in my opinion if he makes good hires still and recruits at a high enough level


        • Go Dawgs!

          … apologies if this sounds snippy, but what head coaches do you think would be successful if they DIDN’T make good hires and recruit at a high level?


          • Cojones

            Snipping your snip, but I hold Smart responsible for the pedigrees that he hires and sees are the best for us. They haven’t lived up to any hype yet and first year aggravations faced by coaches don’t match the continued aggravation of their coaching acumen that we are seeing. The drum of last season’s stats keeps rumbling back the problems that can’t be accounted for by the talent we had before this new class.


            • Mayor

              I thought before last season that Georgia had pretty good talent. This past season only showed me what happens when a HC misuses the talent he has. I understand the pro-Kirby argument that he was trying to change the culture from being a finesse team to becoming a power team and that you have to break some eggs in order to make egg salad. I hope it works because it sure as hell didn’t work last season.


  2. Bright Idea

    Red zone defense struggled mostly because of poor tackling, especially by the safeties. I was relieved to learn that Sanders was hurt which helped explain his whiffs. Offensively the staff didn’t trust the QB or anyone else not named McKenzie in the red zone. SC game particularly comes to mind.


  3. Limiting (or maximizing) the number of red zone trips and TD percentage once there are more important statistics in the red zone. The first is dependent on a number of factors especially starting field position which is completely dependent upon special teams and turnover margin. Once a team gets into the red area, you need luck to prevent points (a turnover or a kicking error). When a team gets into the red area and only kicks a FG, it’s generally a win for the defense. Using 2 examples, Missouri intercepts Lambert and returns it to the 1 on the game’s first scrimmage play in 2015. The defense wins by limiting them to a FG. Fast forward to this year’s Vandy debacle. They return the opening kick to the 5 and quickly score a TD as if the defense hadn’t rolled out of bed yet. The difference was a win and a loss respectively.


  4. Macallanlover

    We were awful at both ends, really, really bad. I put 80% of our frustration on offense directly on Chaney (and I am usually the “execution, not play calling” guy).

    On defense, I think we simply were not physical enough, I remember us getting blown back and decimated almost every time an opponent lined up in the Red Zone. It didn’t matter whether it was Vandy on that last drive, or more accomplished offenses, our guys didn’t seem to have that mind set of defending the goal at all costs. Our defensive front should be outstanding this season but they need a new mindset about how their performance last year reflects on their manhood.


    • doofusdawg

      Not physical enough but also not aggressive enough on both sides of the ball. Hopefully it was just new coaches and system and a freshman quarterback. I’m afraid Tucker could be another Joe Kines… read and react doesn’t work in the red zone. And constantly substituting defensive tackles in the redzone seems dumb. That’s a long sprint from the sideline to the goalline. But the constant substitutions need to be done so the coaches can show how smart and invaluable they are.

      Let the kids play.


      • Bulldog Joe

        Yes, the constant shuffling of linemen is a stroke of genius.

        A fifty-yard sprint between each play does wonders for your stamina and focus. What a great way of instilling confidence in your team and imposing your will on your opponent!

        Wonder why no one else outside of Todd Grantham has discovered this strategic gem?


  5. HVL Dawg

    Does Seth ever complain to you when you re-post his entire article?

    He is working for clicks you know and he can’t buy cat food with all the eyeballs at GTP.

    Just wondering.


    • I imagine if Seth had a problem, he would let the Senator know


    • Does Seth ever complain to you when you re-post his entire article?

      He is working for clicks you know and he can’t buy cat food with all the eyeballs at GTP.

      Well, I take issue with your “entire article” comment. Beyond that, though, if I take most of the readership here at its word, they won’t read the AJ-C. From that perspective, I’m doing Seth and the paper a favor.

      I doubt he’s losing any sleep over it.


      • Cojones

        Yes, you are doing them a favor as you certainly should. Seth does his research more so than any others there and , I’m sure, his boss knew that when he hired him. His writings add to the UGA section that used to be feckless and was the reason many of us didn’t have any curiosity about what they wrote. Good Lord, he wrote for the Macon Telegraph before he was hired away and his articles were taken in their entirety then.

        Has the AJC considered reciprocating with your posting of a requested article or two?


  6. 69Dawg

    The defense in the Red Zone was the one thing that scared me about a Kirby Smart coached team. After making a point to get the UGA defense tougher they literally disappeared in the one place a defense has to be tough. Hell if you need to put the biggest guys you have in on the goal. Our opponents were just running straight up the gut on the 10 yard line and we couldn’t even get a hand on the running back. A team lacks toughness when it can’t stop a touchdown in the Red Zone. Kirby can use all that “impose your will” BS on the other team’s defense by our offense talk that he wants but the other team is imposing their will on our defense in the Red Zone and that has got to stop. Maybe he can ask Saban what he should do.


    • Cojones

      You ain’t wrong.


    • Macallanlover

      Well said, it is a state of mind and you would think KS could have gotten that point across to his defense, at least. Ever make you wonder who won those Red Zone battles in scrimmages (assuming the #1s on offense ever faced the #1s on defense)?


  7. Derek

    If you look at Alabama’s RZ defense the last three years vs. what it did before that (2009-2013), the drop off is spectacular. They’ve gone from being consistently one of the best RZ defenses in the country to being middling. As good as they are on D, the RZ numbers are mediocre. They sucked in 2007 and 08 in that area too.

    Assuming CKS is doing the same things one, we shouldn’t be too surprised and two, it appears that offenses have figured out what to do vs. the CKS/CNS defense in the RZ.

    (If you’re curious, or want to make yourself sick, look how CJP did in his one year as DC at UGA).


  8. Cojones

    Let’s link a few of these observations to a part of Eason’s performance. The criticism belongs to Chaney and others for not beginning Jacob’s ability to roll out earlier and letting him remain immobile behind a folding line. The look that Jacob would have gotten in many games didn’t happen until the last two games, including the bowl game. If a QB is unable to run out of the pocket – that’s one thing, but not letting him do that from the get-go means that someone else should have been in there in those games. It seemed as if Chaney and Pittman were waiting for the line to jell and when it didn’t, we were stuck.

    I’m certainly no coach, but I can’t stand for another year of training new coaches. Their excuses don’t fit their credentials that were given when they were hired and using up a good one-in-6-yrs recruit isn’t what they signed on to do. I can’t believe a 6’6″ athletic QB can’t be taught to run to keep the D honest when his height should be a great advantage for the QB and his targets. I’m for hiring David or Aaron or both to teach this young man how to fake the handoff like they did when they ran the O and since the present coaches don’t seem to have a clue how to teach him.