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Look For Chiefs Red Zone Targets To Even Out In 2011

Posted Jun 1, 2011

The addition of Jonathan Baldwin gives the Chiefs more red zone receiving options, making another year of lopsided red zone distribution unlikely

While Matt Cassel’s red zone efficiency was staggering in 2010 – throwing 18 TDs to just one INT – the Chiefs preference was to run the football when inside an opponents’ 20-yard line. The NFL’s top-ranked running game had something to do with that, as did a shortage of red zone receiving targets.

For every red zone completion, the Chiefs ran the football 2.69 times. Kansas City attempted the seventh-fewest red zone passes (51) and the 10th-most red zone rushes (70) of any NFL team last season.

Though the workload weighted towards running the football, the Chiefs were effective on the whole, churning out a *successful play on 50.0% of their red zone snaps. That percentage ranked fifth in the NFL.

*Successful Play - anytime the offense gains 40 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on first down, 50 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on second down or gains the first down on third or fourth down.

But where the Chiefs struggled was in obvious passing situations. The percentage of successful red zone plays decreased dramatically as third and fourth downs approached. While Kansas City’s first-down success rate was the league’s 2nd-highest (58.5%), second-down success dropped to an 11th ranking (52.5%) and third/fourth-down success fell to 19th overall (34.3%).

In balanced situations, the Chiefs were among the league’s red zone elite. But when pushed into pass-first situations, Kansas City dropped below average.

Outside of Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs owned relatively few red zone receiving options in 2010. Bowe led the team in red zone targets (16), receptions (7), yards (56) and TDs (7). Nobody else, especially among wide receivers, came close to getting as many looks as Bowe.

Chiefs 2010 Red Zone Receiving Log

Player Targets Rec. Yards TDs
Dwayne Bowe 16 7 56 7
Tony Moeaki 9 4 31 3
Terrance Copper 6 3 13 0
Jamaal Charles 5 5 40 3
Dexter McCluster 4 2 11 0
Chris Chambers 3 1 11 1
Leonard Pope 2 2 4 2
Verran Tucker 2 1 11 1
Mike Vrabel 2 1 2 1

Jamaal Charles caught the second-most red zone passes (5) via short routes out of the backfield and Tony Moeaki drew the second-most looks (9) as a tight end. Remove running backs, tight ends and defensive players from the equation and Bowe accounted for over 50% of the Chiefs red zone passing targets.

Terrance Copper drew the most looks (6) of any wide receiver outside Bowe – a hefty amount considering that Copper caught a total of four passes throughout all of 2009.

Limited options led Bowe to receive the third-highest percentage (27.7%) of total team red zone targets in the NFL last season – only Larry Fitzgerald (30.8%) and Roddy White (31.0%) drew more.

Still, the Chiefs still thrived. A lot of things went right in the red zone. It was a welcomed sight compared to previous seasons.

Rather than taking a sack or forcing a throw, Cassel didn’t hesitate to throw the football away and his efficiency soared. The rushing attack helped keep defenses honest on first down and Bowe put together a Pro Bowl season, leading the NFL in TD receptions.

The Chiefs red zone TD efficiency (59.6%) ranked in the NFL’s top-10, as did the club’s average points per red zone visit (4.85 points). Not only did a lot of things go right. A lot of things had to go right in order for the Chiefs to be successful.

Critical scoring numbers may have increased, but there’s still obvious room for improvement going forward. The addition of first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin will help make last season’s red zone accomplishments sustainable..

"He'll add a dynamic to our team in the red zone," GM Scott Pioli said about the Chiefs top pick.

Baldwin offers a legitimate red zone receiving threat opposite Bowe. His size and leaping ability should allow the Chiefs to open the playbook when red zone opportunities knock. As a college player, Baldwin was fearless across the middle as well.

“Offensively, I feel like we have a unique bunch that can do a lot of different things, which should make us hard to defend,” Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley told Rich Eisen on the NFL Network late last week.

Two bookends are better than one and Baldwin’s addition allows the Chiefs to exploit defenses with mismatches throughout various personnel packages.

Look for the Chiefs red zone receiving log to even out in 2011. Fantasy players take note.

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