49ers Red Zone numbers: How effective are they?

49ers vs Rams boxscore

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As we've completed the final week of the season, we're down to our last "sponsored post" of the season.  For this last post I was actually rather curious about everyone's thoughts on a specific issue related to the red zone and the 49ers.  The most basic red zone statistic is "red zone efficiency."  That statistic is determined simply by dividing touchdowns scored in the red zone by total trips into the red zone.  On generally useful statistical site is teamrankings.com and they refer to it as "Red Zone Scoring Percentage," although it is the same mathematic equation.

Given that touchdowns are not the only way to score in the red zone, that last title (scoring percentage) is certainly a misnomer.  In looking at all this, it's always bothered me that people would calculate the percentage this way.  One alternative is of course Football Outsiders' use of DVOA, which they can apply down to specific zones on the field, including the red zone.

In looking back at 2009 through traditional stats and the more advanced metrics of FO, we see the following:

According to teamrankings.com, the 49ers finished 5th in red zone scoring percentage on offense and and 1st in opponent scoring percentage for red zone defense.  According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers finished 4th on offense in the red zone and 2nd on defense in the red zone.  So clearly the rankings are relatively close.  Nonetheless, the idea of scoring percentage still drives me crazy.  After all, according to the traditional "scoring percentage" formula, a touchdown is worth "1 point," if you will, while a field goal, interception, blocked field goal, turnover on downs, etc is worth 0 points in the formula.  Wouldn't it make sense to give some kind of value to a field goal?

Looking back at the 49ers 2009 season, their offense finished 23/39 in the red zone based on the traditional formula.  That means 16 of their red zone trips were "unsuccessful."  In looking at those 16 specific visits to the red zone, the 49ers made 11 field goals, while having 2 turnovers on downs, 1 fumble, 1 blocked field goal and 1 missed field goal.  The point of football is to score more points than your opponent.  How can you say a field goal in the red zone is the equivalent of an interception?

If we look at the team's defense, the same issue arises.  The 49ers defense finished 19/47 in the red zone, meaning 19 touchdowns were scored.  Of the remaining 28 red zone defenses, the opposing offense successfully kicked 19 field goals, threw four interceptions, had 1 blocked field goal, 1 missed field goal, gave up 2 fumbles and had 1 turnover on downs.

Wouldn't it make more sense to potentially give 1/2 credit for a field goal in the red one?  So, looking at the 49ers offense, instead of finishing with a red zone scoring percentage of 59% (23/39), they'd finish with a percentage of 73% ((23+ (11*.5))/39).  Under that equation, you reflect the fact that the 49ers did in fact score some points.  If you wanted, you could even knock it down to less than 1/2 credit since the odds of scoring a touchdown would likely be higher in the red zone.  Either way, you'd be reflecting these other scoring situations.

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