Commentary

The reality of the red zone

Tarvaris Jackson leads all QBs in red-zone performance. How is that possible?

Originally Published: October 12, 2011
By Peter Keating | ESPN Insider
JacksonRon Chenoy/US PresswireTarvaris Jackson -- yes Tarvaris Jackson -- leads all NFL QBs in red-zone QBR rating.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Total QBR leader in the red zone is …

(Here's a hint: I would have guessed Matt Hasselbeck, who has been awesome so far in the red zone, completing 74 percent of his passes for seven TDs and no interceptions. But it's not him.)

(We'd give you another hint, but it won't help.)

Tarvaris Jackson!

Yes, Jackson has struggled often this season and was sidelined while Seattle came back to topple the Giants on Sunday. But he's been great on the relatively few occasions he has been able to lead the Seahawks within 20 yards of the goal line. For example, with 8:13 left against Atlanta in Week 4, he completed an 8-yard TD pass to Ben Obomanu that got Seattle to within 30-28, only to watch the Falcons then run more than six minutes off the clock. And against Arizona in Week 3, Jackson ran for an 11-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, putting the Seahawks ahead 13-10, which turned out to be the final score.

But let's face it: overall, Jackson hasn't been very good this season (QBR: 40.2). Neither has Mark Sanchez (QBR: 23.1), who ranks third in the league in red-zone QBR. But Hasselbeck, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady, all QBs having great seasons, round out the top five. Conversely, the quarterbacks at the bottom of the red-zone QBR rankings are a mix of QBs having terrible years (like Kevin Kolb) and good players who have thrown some dreadful picks (like Eli Manning and Michael Vick).

Now, we know what the red zone is supposed to mean: It's gut-check, all-in, go-for-glory terrain, where quarterbacks who are special leaders show off their knack for finishing scoring drives. It's also compressed space, which is supposed to mean quarterbacks do better statistically, with more completions and more touchdowns. Just look at this season's numbers according to traditional stats: starting QBs have 158 TDs and just 17 INTs in the red zone, and an average NFL passer rating of 91.1.

Unfortunately for traditional mythology, just about none of this turns out to be true.


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Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.