Yesterday, I took a broad look at the three areas that Jay Gruden said that his team was “terrible” in during the 2016 season, issues that cost the team a chance at the playoffs.

Today I’ll take a closer look at one of those areas, the struggles the offense had in the red zone.

The 2016 Redskins moved the ball up and down the field.

They were third in the NFL with a team-record 6,454 yards of offense. But they did not put points on the board to match their impressive yardage total. They were 12th in scoring, putting up just 396 points.

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There are many reasons why the Redskins’ point total was not in the same league as their yardage total but primary among them is their lack of productivity in the red zone. They had 61 drives with at least one snap inside the oppositions’ 20 yard line. They scored 28 touchdowns on those drives. That comes to a 45.9 percent success rate, 29th in the NFL.

It’s difficult to quantify what those problems cost the Redskins in terms of points and wins. But we can take a stab at it anyway.

Let’s say that their red zone efficiency had remained about where it was last year when the put the ball in the end zone 61 percent of the time. They would have scored 37 touchdowns rather than the 28 that they actually did tally this year. They didn’t get a field goal every time they didn’t get a touchdown in the red zone but since we’re estimating here, for the sake of simplicity let’s say they would have traded nine field goals for nine touchdowns. That would be an additional 36 points scored which would give them 432 for the season, tied for fourth in the NFL.

 

What matters, of course, is not how many points they score but when they score them. Here are some hand-picked games where the Redskins had red zone problems in losses.

Opponent:Red zone TD’s/Red zone chances — Result

— Week 2 vs. Cowboys: 2/6 — lost 27-23
— Week 8 @ Bengals: 1/4 — tied 27-27
— Week 12 @ Cowboys: 2/5 — lost 31-26
— Week 15 vs. Panthers: 1/3 — lost 26-16
— Week 17 vs. Giants: 1/2 — lost 19-10

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The first Cowboys game seemed to touch it all off.

The worst red zone failure in that game came in the fourth quarter when Kirk Cousins threw an interception in the end zone with the Redskins up 23-20 early in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys responded with a game-winning touchdown drive.

Many have theorized that the end zone interception, the first red zone interception thrown by Cousins in his career save for a garbage time pick the previous week, made him tentative in the tight spaces near the goal line. That can’t be proven one way or the other but something happened with Cousins; the numbers don’t lie.

In 2015 he completed 64 percent of his red zone passes with 22 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 113.5.

This year the numbers were 47.5 percent completions, 14 TD, 2 INT, and a rating of 84.6.

Since I know you’re wondering, the Redskins actually ran better in the red zone this year than they did in 2015. Last year they had 61 carries and averaged 1.8 yards per attempt. This year it was 62 tries and an average of 2.8. It should be noted that they did have more red zone trips this year (61 to 49) so they ran less frequently per red zone trip.

You can do the math on the games listed above and see that the Redskins could have won some of them with decent red zone production. It’s easy to take the 36 “missing” points calculated above and spread them out to come up with a few more wins.

What happened is one thing. How to solve it is another.

Whether it’s with personnel (Josh Doctson?), scheme, play calling (more running?), or some combination of all of the above they will need to be more efficient in the red zone or they could really be in trouble.

 

Their 61 red zone trips this year were the most the team has had since the NFL started tracking the stat in 2000. As noted above, the total yardage they compiled set a team record, one that had stood for 27 years. These were rare accomplishments and chances are they won’t be getting to the red zone as often in 2017 as they did in 2016. If they don’t improve their efficiency their scoring could drop and they could find themselves in negative point differential territory, not a place where winning teams are usually found.

Or maybe the defense can fix its issues and get them back on the plus side of the points ledger. We’ll take a look at what went wrong with red zone defense next.

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