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A Look At Spread Offenses In The Red Zone

Data suggests Kingsbury's style won't be an issue inside the 20

The Cardinals had trouble connecting in the red zone against the Ravens.
The Cardinals had trouble connecting in the red zone against the Ravens.

The Cardinals have lamented their red zone woes all week, and in a league where games are constantly decided by a touchdown or less, it's a facet that must be ironed out.

Here's the $64,000 question moving forward: Were the early issues random variation due to small sample size, or were they a function of coach Kliff Kingsbury's spread offense?

Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer intimated that it could be a season-long problem:

"On the surface, it looks fine—the Cardinals, even with a revamped receiver group, a shaky offensive line, and a rookie quarterback, are 12th in total offense. Their 22 points per game rank, likewise, 12th in the league. Both are a pretty major step forward from last year's dumpster fire on that side of the ball in Arizona.

But there are also the issues that are predictable to spread offenses—a struggle to get things going in tight spaces. The Cardinals are 31st in red-zone offense, and four trips into the red zone in Baltimore last week produced just one touchdown."

With a major assist from SportsSource Analytics, I checked to see if spread offenses (designated as three wide receivers or more for this exercise) truly had more trouble than traditional offenses in the red zone.

In 2018, teams that lined up with three wideouts or more in the red zone averaged 3.3 yards per play. Teams that lined up with two wideouts or fewer averaged 2.7 yards per play in the red zone.

The spread offenses did have a slightly lower touchdown percentage (20.7% compared to 21.5%) but not appreciably so.

The 2019 season is only two weeks old, but thus far, spread offenses are averaging 3.5 yards per play in the red zone, while the heavier packages are averaging 3.4 yards per play. The touchdown percentage for the heavier personnel is doing well at 25%, with the spread offenses lagging at 18.6%.

The Cardinals unquestionably struggled in the red zone against Baltimore – and there is an argument to be made that more runs should be called close to the goal-line -- but this data suggests that spread offense personnel is not an issue.

Table inside Article
Year Personnel Plays Yards/Play TD Percentage
2018 3+ WR 3,123 3.3 20.7
2018 0-2 WR 1,678 2.7 21.5
2019 3+ WR 323 3.5 18.6
2019 0-2 WR 168 3.4 25.0

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