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Friday, July 22, 2011

"He Can Play Well Until He Hits the Red Zone"


Part II

Well, I rambled a bit in the last post, so I'm going to try and keep Part II of my analysis of Denard Robinson's quarterbacking a bit more concise. Since I think analyzing the quarterback on any team is a difficult task, I'm dividing this into three pieces. Part I focused on his throwing ability, Part II will focus on his ability to score in the red zone, and Part III is an analysis of Denard's success against "good" teams.

So when determing Denard's ability to score in the red zone it would make sense to look at Michigan's offensive stats from last season. Michigan had the most offensive yards of any Big Ten last year, but seemed dropped off a little in actual scoring. Michigan had the 3rd best scoring offense and the worst red zone success rate in the Big Ten. So with a quick glance, anybody looking at these stats can see Michigan could move the ball, but they seemed to have quite a bit of trouble in actually putting points on the board when it counted.

So Michigan's 2010 red zone offense seemed to leave much to be desired, but before we place all the blame on Denard, let's take a look at the team's scheme. Is this failure to convert in the red zone something that can be linked to Rich Rodriguez's offenses, or is this more correlated with Denard Robinson? Well, with a look at West Virginia's offensive statistics, it can be seen that Michigan's poor red zone scoring offense cannot be linked to Rich Rod's schemes. Rich Rod's teams at West Virginia boasted red zone success rates near 90%, much higher than Michigan's 78% in 2010.

So what was the difference between Michigan's 2010 offense and Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia teams? What could possibly have caused a 12% drop in red zone success when players are using the same schemes? The easiest way to explain this drop seems to be to point at the quarterback, Denard Robinson. If you look at Denard's stats, he only passed for 7 more touchdowns than interceptions and seemed to struggle at points in the red zone. Denard's inability to throw these touchdowns seems the most obvious cause of the drop off from Rich Rod's earlier teams.

However, with a little more analysis, this doesn't seem to add up. In fact, in 2006, Pat White's stats ended up being almost identical to Denard's passing stats. Pat White threw just 6 more touchdowns than interceptions (5 fewer total touchdowns than Denard), had a 65.9% completion percentage (3.4% higher than Denard), and had 1655 yards (about 900 less than Denard).

So what this tells us is that Pat White was not that much better of a passer than Denard in 2006. So if Denard performed near the same level as West Virginia's quarterback, then what caused the 12% drop off? I point, not to Denard Robinson as the cause of Michigan's poor red zone success last season, though some is surely his fault, but to Michigan's running backs.

Although Denard made a significant impact as a runner as well as a passer, this cannot discount Michigan's poor performance at running back. This is because Pat White was almost, or just as good or a runner as Denard. In 2006, the season where West Virginia had an almost 90% red zone success rate, Pat White ended up with 18 touchdowns (4 more than Denard) and over 1200 yards (500 less than Denard).

However, West Virginia's 2006 offense had another rushing threat to complement White which Michigan lacked in 2010. Not only did Pat White put up amazing numbers as a quarterback, but Steve Slaton did some great things as a running back. He scored 16 touchdowns (9 more than the highest Michigan running back) and ran for over 1700 yards (almost 1100 more than Michigan's highest running back).

So what we can say based on this data is that Slaton had much more success than any single Michigan running back. However, anyone who watched last season knows that Michigan used several running backs. So what I did was add together the top 3 running backs on both West Virginia and Michigan for touchdowns and yards. West Virginia top 3 running backs ended up with 8 more touchdowns and over 1100 more yards than the top 3 running backs from Michigan.

Bottom line, West Virginia's performance from its running backs was far superior to the performance of Michigan's running backs. Though running backs shouldn't be accountable for all the offensive production, they are vitally important in the red zone. With a strong running back attack like that West Virginia, Michigan's red zone numbers would surely have improved. Since Michigan already scored more passing touchdowns than West Virginia, closing the gap for rushing would have been an enormous improvement.

So the data seems to show that Denard shouldn't be blamed for most of Michigan's red zone woes, but let's take a look at his turnover margin. Since red zone success is determined by scoring, let's take a glance at Denard's scoring numbers. Denard ended up with 18 passing touchdowns, but threw 11 interceptions. Though this was a massive improvement from 2009 (See Part I on Denard), this still appears to be a place for improvement. A +7 td/int ratio is not anything to brag about seeing that almost all the other Big Ten quarterbacks had a higher ratio.

However, there's one glaring omission from this ratio. Denard Robinson had almost as many rushing touchdowns as passing touchdowns. For example, Kirk Cousins had a +10 td/int ratio, but only had 1 rushing touchdown. If you add this, he ends up with a +11 td/int ratio. However, if you add Denard's rushing touchdowns to his ratio, he ends up having a +21 td/int ratio. Though this isn't exactly a perfect statistic, it's important to realize that his passing touchdowns numbers most likely were decreased from his frequent use of his legs to score.

Is Denard a perfect red zone quarterback? Of course not, but simply blaming Michigan's poor red zone success on him is not right either. In fact, Michigan's red zone success actually IMPROVED in 2010 with Denard Robinson in the quarterback position. With an analysis of West Virginia's offensive numbers, it can be seen that Michigan's poor running back success most likely had much more to do with Michigan's poor red zone success than anything Denard did or didn't do last season. Along with this, simply pointing at his +7 td/int ratio can't be seen a proof he "can't" play well in the red zone because it ignores his success as a runner.

I can't wait for Part III and make sure to follow me on Twitter: