Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus Fantasy caught my eye with this tweet on Wednesday:
Fun Fact - Over the last five years, 2,015 (or 53%) of NFL passing TDs were scored when the receiver caught the ball in the endzone.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) June 26, 2013
It made me think immediately of the Houston Texans, who consistently failed to throw the ball into the end zone often enough last season.
In their playoff victory over Cincinnati, they were crazily conservative when it came to trying to get into the end zone.
I asked Katharine Sharp and Jason Starrett of ESPN Stats & Information to check Clay’s stat (he’s right) and to run some more numbers for me.
Since 2008, just 44.7 percent of Houston’s touchdown passes have been caught in the end zone. That’s the third-lowest number in the NFL over that span, ahead of only Arizona (39.3 percent) and Tampa Bay (41.8 percent).
Over the past five years, here’s the percentage of Texans touchdown passes thrown into the end zone:
Last season, when Houston made me crazy with its conservative play against the Bengals in that playoff win, just one of the Texans' seven red-zone throws was into the end zone.
The Panthers caught 26.3 percent of their touchdown passes in the end zone in 2012, the low mark in the league. The Cardinals posted a 27.3 percent mark. The Texans, a team far better than Carolina or Arizona, were third-worst, at 31.8.
At least they did some work to offset it defensively. They allowed the fifth-lowest percentage of TD passes thrown in the end zone at 37.9.
And it's not as if the Texans were a complete passing dud. They had 22 touchdown passes, just under the league average (23.7). They got a touchdown on 56.1 percent of their trips into the red zone, not a great number but still 12th in the NFL. There was a big gap, however, between them and the league's best offenses -- the Packers, Saints and Patriots all got touchdowns at least 68.1 percent of the time they got inside the 20. Boost last year's Texans to that level, they would have had seven more touchdowns.
I hope coach Gary Kubiak has spent part of the offseason reconsidering the team’s strategy about accepting what’s given to it in the red zone, where check-downs are going to be readily available but plays that produce seven points are far more important.
Sure, there are catch-and-run opportunities in games. But especially once an offense is in the red zone, defenses are playing to keep people in front of them. It's passive, and even a bit naive, to think you can have a great deal of success getting touchdowns instead of settling for field goals by throwing underneath when you're at close range.
First-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins, a receiver who comes into the league looking NFL-ready, could help the Texans threaten the end zone better and more often.
As for the rest of the division:
Our three other teams were also below average in terms of touchdown passes thrown into the end zone, with the Colts at 43.5, Jaguars at 45.0 and the Titans at 47.1.