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Red zone NFL team play calling for fantasy football

We look at run:pass ratio for different situations in the red zone. It can inform some of your fantasy football decision-making.

Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 05, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

To become a better fantasy football player, it is good to have a handle on how teams call plays on average and in specific circumstances. We know that Andy Reid is going to use Patrick Mahomes as often as he can, which makes the Chiefs a pass-heavy team, but how often do they throw with a lead or in the red zone? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer when researching daily fantasy football.

One of the best places to find this kind of detail is at Sharp Football Stats. Warren Sharp offers extensive breakdowns on a variety of situations to help sort out any situation.

Red zone usage

All situations

Top 5 passing percentage

1. New York Jets: 66 percent (63 attempts, 33% success)
2. Atlanta Falcons: 63 percent (102 attempts, 34% success)
3. Washington: 62 percent (75 attempts, 39% success)
4. New York Giants: 61 percent (80 attempts, 39% success)
5. Los Angeles Chargers 60 percent (93 attempts, 41% success)
5. Cincinnati Bengals: 60 percent (86 attempts, 37% success)

Without taking into account anything other than the ball being within the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Jets led in percentage of throws in the red zone while the Falcons were second in total red zone passing attempts to the Patriots, but second overall in passing percentage.

Without context, we can infer some things here. The teams that pass a lot in the red zone are teams with losing records. That also means they were likely losing and not that productive. Losing teams will throw more in the red zone, which can help you decide on value plays, but their efficiency is going to remain low.

Top 5 rushing percentage

1. Minnesota Vikings: 60 percent (105 rushes, 49% success)
2. Baltimore Ravens: 58 percent (110 rushes, 53% success)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 56 percent (56 attempts, 39% success)
4. Dallas Cowboys: 55 percent (79 attempts, 53% success)
5. Los Angeles Rams 53 percent (89 attempts, 57% success)

The Vikings and Ravens lead the way in rushing percentage but the Vikings had 91 rushing attempts from running backs to 73 running back attempts from the Ravens. The fact that Lamar Jackson gets a big cut of those rushing attempts needs to be taken into account.

Now with Stefon Diggs out of Minnesota, we can only expect their running backs to continue to see good usage in the red zone, giving them high fantasy upside, no matter who it is. The Rams running backs were spread out in touches quite bit last season, but they ended up having more rushing attempts than the Ravens with 74 and with Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks gone, we can expect Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson to see a lot of work.

Within 3 points

Top 5 passing percentage

1. Atlanta Falcons: 68 percent (21 attempts, 19% success)
2. Seattle Seahawks: 65 percent (35 attempts, 34% success)
3. New Orleans Saints: 58 percent (45 attempts, 40% success)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 57 percent (27 attempts, 33% success)
5. New York Jets: 57 percent (21 attempts, 33% success)

Looking at passing percentage for teams in the red zone in games within three-points is one of the better stats. It helps you feel more confident that a team will go with the pass as their default option when in scoring position. I was surprised to see the Seahawks actually use Russell Wilson well, by giving him the ball when they get close to the end zone. Tom Brady should also get plenty of good fantasy opportunities after Bruce Arians went to the pass 65 percent of the time in close games.

Top 5 rushing percentage

1. Baltimore Ravens: 60 percent (64 rushes, 66% success)
2. Tennessee Titans: 55 percent (33 rushes, 55% success)
3. Indianapolis Colts: 55 percent (40 attempts, 53% success)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 55 percent (30 attempts, 30% success)
5. Minnesota Vikings: 55 percent (36 attempts, 44% success)

The Ravens are an extremely run heavy team, but again, we must divvy up those red zone touches between Mark Ingram, among other running backs, and Lamar Jackson. The Titans on the other hand, use Derrick Henry as the main ball carrier by a large margin. We can always count on them leaning his way for as long as they can.

Winning by 4 or more

Top 5 passing percentage

1. New York Jets: 67 percent (20 attempts, 45% success)
2. Detroit Lions: 61 percent (14 attempts, 29% success)
3. Washington: 60 percent (6 attempts, 17% success)
4. Cincinnati Bengals: 54 percent (7 attempts, 29% success)
5. Chicago Bears: 50 percent (11 attempts, 45% success)

Even when leading, it appears that losing teams tend to throw a bit more in the red zone, at least in 2019. Of course, a team like Washington only had six passing attempts when ahead in the end zone, so these are pretty small sample sizes.

If we go down the list, the Saints passed 49 percent of the time in the red zone with a four-point lead or higher. Their 35 attempts only trailed the Chiefs and Ravens. Both teams amassed so many red-zone plays with a lead, that they had 40 and 36 pass attempts despite only throwing on 46 and 40 percent of the plays.

Top 5 rushing percentage

1. Minnesota Vikings: 73 percent (47 rushes, 51% success)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: 70 percent (21 rushes, 10% success)
3. Cleveland Browns: 68 percent (21 attempts, 43% success)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 67 percent (16 attempts, 44% success)
5. Dallas Cowboys: 64 percent (29 attempts, 62% success)

The Vikings were an easy guess to the question of what team would lead in rushing percentage with a lead. As long as Dalvin Cook doesn’t hold out, he remains a high floor/upside fantasy back with Alexander Mattison right up there if Cook does miss games.

The Jaguars ran the ball in the red zone with a lead, but weren’t successful. New OC Jay Gruden wasn’t in the red zone often enough with a lead to get much from his numbers in Washington last season, but the season before, he leaned more toward the run.

The Browns upgraded their run blocking this off season, so their run-first approach should be a boost to Nick Chubb, who will lose some work to Kareem Hunt, but is still too good to pass on early in drafts.

Losing by 4 or more

Top 5 passing percentage

1. New Orleans Saints: 83 percent (19 attempts, 32% success)
2. Green Bay Packers: 80 percent (40 attempts, 43% success)
3. New York Jets: 76 percent (22 attempts, 23% success)
4. Los Angeles Chargers: 73 percent (52 attempts, 35% success)
5. Detroit Lions: 72 percent (26 attempts, 46% success)

The Saints weren’t losing too often but when they were, they threw the ball at a high-rate. It is interesting to see just how often the Packers threw the ball in the red zone last season. Aaron Rodgers had 85 attempts overall inside the red zone and ended up with 17 touchdown passes

Top 5 rushing percentage

1. Dallas Cowboys: 55 percent (31 rushes, 52% success)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 50 percent (18 rushes, 50% success)
3. Minnesota Vikings: 50 percent (22 attempts, 50% success)
4. Tennessee Titans: 47 percent (27 attempts, 70% success)
5. Buffalo Bills: 46 percent (18 attempts, 50% success)
5. Houston Texans: 46 percent (28 attempts, 61% success)

Rushing the ball in the red zone while trailing isn’t going to be the preferred play across the league, but finding the teams that do the most often is helpful to picking running backs. We don’t want to pick running backs from losing teams, but we cant predict every game correctly, so rostering backs from teams that run even when losing is a good idea.

If you’d like to look at different scenarios, Sharp Football Stats is the place to go.