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Red to Gold: A Look at the San Francisco 49ers in the Red Zone

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Red to Gold: A Look at the San Francisco 49ers in the Red Zone
(Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Unlike baseball, football is not as heavy on the statistics (Google Sabermetrics if you're not sure what I'm talking about). There are few complex metrics that are widely used. However, efficiency has been one metric talked about frequently, from 3rd down conversion percentage to yards per run or catch. One statistic I find fascinating is Red Zone Efficiency.

The percentages used when talking about the Red Zone (The area from your opponent's 20 to the Goal-line) is usually touchdowns. Sometimes people use scoring percentage, counting the number of scores (Field Goals or Touchdowns) versus trips to the Red Zone.

I find these both to be inadequate. A field goal is better than nothing, yet it is not as good as a touchdown.

So, when I decided to look at the San Francisco 49ers Red Zone Efficiency since 2006, I decided to create a new statistic (which I wouldn't be surprised if someone had created it already, but I have not seen it) where you see how many points a team scored per Red Zone trip (PPT).

I then took a look at how the 49ers had done since 2006, when the team finally showed some signs of life.

The defensive numbers were far from shocking, as the Defense progressed nicely over the past three years. While their RZ ranking based on touchdowns went from 17th in 2006 to 6th in 2007 to 8th in 2008, their rank based on my metric has them progressing from 25th (4.77 PPT) to 14th (4.60 PPT) to 9th (4.35 PPT) in the past three years.

The cause for the disparity would be the scoring percentage other teams had in the Red Zone, converting 90 percent of the time in 2006 and '07 while dropping the number down to 80% in 2008.

The offense (my original and main focus) was a bit surprising. They went from 25th to 13th to 18th from 2006 to 2008. I decided to analyze this a bit further to see what caused such a shocking result.

The first thing I noticed was a surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) low amount of attempts in 2007, 29, compared to 48 and 52 in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Such a small sample tends to be indicative of a poor offense and can skew the results, as it also does with the 2008 Detroit Lions who had a top 10 Red Zone Offense, but only 31 attempts.

I still felt that there was something off about 2008, so I looked for a difference between J.T. O'Sullivan versus Shaun Hill. There was a difference and it was staggering (Note: I took in to account the switch mid game against Seattle when compiling the stats)

Under JTO the offense averaged 4.17 Points Per Trip, while Hill averaged five. To put that in context, JTO's offense would rank 29th, ahead of only Cleavland, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. Hill's offense would rank 7th.

The difference between the two is not in the scoring percentage as one might think due to JTO's tendency for the Red Zone Turnover. Surprisingly, the Scoring Percentage difference is merely 2.4 percent (83.3 percent for JTO, 85.7 percent for Hill).

The Touchdown Percentage accounts for the majority of the difference: JTO's was 41.7 percent to Hill's 60.7 percent, which translates to almost one more touchdown per every five trips to the Red Zone.

Based on these statistics, the trends look good for 49ers production in the Red Zone in the upcoming year, assuming they continue to improve. It might also bolster the case for Hill as the starter.

I'll be away this weekend, but when I return, I'll look more in depth at the performances of Shaun Hill and Alex Smith in the Red Zone and attempt to upload the stats (in an excel doc) for everyone to view.

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