Why Didn’t Wayne Score Touchdowns?

One of the things that we've talked about somewhat significantly this offseason is performances in the redzone.

We've looked at red zone performance for the team as a whole, which didn't look very good. We've looked at quarterback's performances, noting that Andrew Luck's numbers matched up well with the rest of the league.

One of the things we discussed in that original Colts overviewwas the struggles of Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery in the red zone, each receiver scoring just four touchdowns on 17 and 13 targets, respectively. Well, those struggles were brought up again in a recent piece by Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus, in which he discusses a new statistic: Opportunity-adjusted touchdowns (oTD).

The premise behind 'oTD' is based on the place on the field in which receivers are targeted. Depending on how far receivers are from the end zone when they are targeted (tADEZ), they should have a certain likelihood of reaching the end zone. A receiver who is targeted in the end zone has a certain probability, which is higher than a receiver targeted at the five, which is higher than one at the ten, and so on. 

For example, according to PFF data over the last five years, receivers score a touchdown when targeted in the end zone 36.9% of the time. When they are targeted at the two, they score 31.8% of the time. Targeted at the nine equals a TD% of 10.7%. The entire table (for every place on the field) can be found in Clay’s article.

So, based on that information, Clay calculates the oTD for each player, how many touchdowns should have been scored based on where those players were targeted. Now, the next step is to compare that to how many touchdowns the player actually scored.

For the Colts, who struggled in the red zone, it was no surprise that both Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery showed up on the list of the top ten underachievers for oTD.

But the question I’m interested in now is: why did somebody like Wayne, a brilliant receiver in so many ways, struggle to score, even while Andrew Luck’s success percentage in the red zone was fairly good?

Perhaps it’s an indication of Wayne’s aging, as declining physical skills would not allow him to get into the end zone on certain plays. Maybe it’s an indication of his inability to get open in tight spaces, instead relying on his experience and instincts to find open zones in larger spaces. Maybe it’s something different entirely.

To answer, I dug into the tape of Wayne’s targets while the Colts’ were inside the opponent’s 30, charting 31 plays overall.

While the Colts were inside the opponent’s 30, Wayne’s average tADEZ was the 4.65 yardline, meaning that on average he should have scored about 17% of the time. His oTD would have been about 5.2, but he only scored four touchdowns in the 31 targets that I charted.

On two of those plays we saw missed defensive pass interference penalties that should have been called.

The first was against Green Bay, where you can clearly see Charles Woodson hooking Wayne’s left arm, slowing him down and preventing any attempt to stretch out for the ball.

The second missed PI was against Buffalo, as Stephen Gilmore here hooks Wayne’s right arm, causing him to attempt to catch it one-handed. Wayne’s attempt is valiant, but the ball squirts out as he tries to squeeze it between his left hand and left shoulder.

But, even taking those two plays out of the data, Wayne should have, according to historical data, scored at least one more touchdown. So what happened on those other 29 plays?

Luck was at fault on 10 of the 29 throws, four of which were balls forced into coverage, while the other six were poor throws that Wayne had no chance at catching. On four additional plays, the offensive line was to blame, allowing Luck to be hit as he threw, and preventing Wayne from a chance at the ball.

Then there are the plays that limited Wayne because of the design of the play itself. These generally were designed for Wayne to get a first down, or a chunk of yardage to set up a 2nd-and-short. Six such plays occurred in the 29 plays charted. Add those to the 14 mentioned above, and we have nine plays left. On four of these, Wayne scored. All four came on a post or slant pattern, with three of the four coming in the back of the endzone (the fourth was the game-winning against Green Bay, where Wayne stretches across after receiving the ball at the one).

So we are left with five plays. One play was a Hail Mary, and while we could say a bigger, stronger receiver may have been able to make a play on it, nitpicking a Hail Mary would be a bit ridiculous. Expecting a receiver to score on those would be unfair.

However we do have four plays that could have been touchdowns if Wayne had acted differently.

The first occurred in the season-opener in Chicago, early in the fourth quarter. On first down from the four-yard line, Wayne runs a short in route, finding a small hole in Chicago’s zone and sitting down in it. Luck moves to avoid pressure, and then throws the ball into the space I’ve indicated below.

Now, Wayne misses this pass for two reasons. One, he, despite originally coming from the left side, starts to drift back to the left for some reason, even though the open space is to the right. So, when the ball gets there, it’s a bit more left than it would have been had Wayne stayed where he was when Luck started to release the ball.

Second, Wayne seems surprised when the ball is delivered to that spot. Wayne, the veteran that he is, should expect the ball there in this situation. The corner behind to the left dictates that the ball be delivered to that side. Perhaps Luck could have had a better throw, but Wayne should be expecting this here, and should have shielded the defender with his body and snagged this ball.

The one other play where Wayne was very clearly at fault was this drop against Detroit in what would have been the game-winning touchdown.

The throw from Luck over the top was perfect, and Wayne has the ball in his hand when the defender swipes at his left arm. Yes, there is contact from the defender, but it wasn’t until Wayne had the ball in his hands, and the defender doesn’t actually make contact with the ball. These kinds of plays are ones that Wayne is usually extremely adept at, and just caught a bad break in this case.

On two of the other plays, Wayne could have gotten the ball into the end zone were he a bigger or more dynamic receiver. One play was a catch he made on the 17, and then basically ran straight into the defense. The other was a catch he made on the one yard line on a crossing pattern that he was unable to pound into the end zone.

Overall, I’d expect Wayne’s numbers to look closer to what’s expected in 2013. It’s not like he doesn’t still have the skill to get open (just look at this play for one example), but he caught a few bad breaks in 2012 that should regress to the mean in 2013. Luck should improve his decision making and accuracy, and the offensive line should give him more time, so plays like this one (where Luck overthrew him while getting hit) don’t go to waste.

Wayne likely won’t be an overachiever in the red zone; he’s not a big target, and he’s not particularly good after the catch at this point in his career. But, Wayne would have matched his expected numbers (w/in 30 yards of the end zone anyway) had he just converted one of those four we just discussed (could have easily happened on the CHI or DET play, despite physical limitations). It’s not a tall order, and one that I expect to be filled in 2013.

He showed through all of 2012 that he still has all the skills, whether it was route running, hands or instincts. Until I see a significant drop in his hands or ability to run great routes, I see no reason why his low efficiency numbers near the end zone would continue.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.