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Focus on Red Zone offense key for Irish

Aug 12, 2013, 6:43 PM EDT

Tommy Rees

For a team that ran the gauntlet to an undefeated regular season, Notre Dame’s offense had a major flaw: The Red Zone.

In a season that was extraordinary, the Irish would’ve settled for being simply ordinary inside the opponent’s twenty yard line. Yet the Irish were one of the worst teams in the country in the scoring zone, even with jump ball threat Tyler Eifert and a powerful running game that averaged 200 yards a game in the regular season.

The Irish ranked an anemic 112th in the country in converting red zone appearances into touchdowns. Right there lodged between Middle Tennessee and Idaho, converting only 48% of their possessions. While the stout Irish defense bailed the team out, that type of conversion rate isn’t sustainable and is one of the biggest focuses the team has during training camp.

When talking to the media on Monday afternoon, Kelly discussed the focus on the red zone, and Tommy Rees‘ work in the scoring area. For all the scorn Rees has taken over his turnovers, the Irish converted 66% of red zone drives for touchdowns in ’11, good for 28th in the country. (They did rank 77th in the country on overall scoring percentage, with early season turnovers against USF and Michigan a big part of that low conversion rate.)

Asked if any segment of the team was ahead of schedule after eight practices, Kelly looked at the red zone play.

“I think our red zone play, what we’ve focused on, has been so much better,” Kelly said. “A lot of that has to do with Tommy, his experience. He’s been really good taking care of the football. He’s given us opportunities to score touchdowns, not kick field goals. I’d say that probably stands out the most.”

What’s interesting to consider is that for the first time under Kelly, Notre Dame won’t have a premiere red zone receiving weapon. As promising as freshman Corey Robinson may be, he’s not the kind of guy that All-Americans Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert were. That makes it likely the quarterback’s reads will be a little bit more complex than last year, when they seemed to be as limited as, “If Eifert is one-on-one, throw it to him.” (A strategy offensive coordinator Chuck Martin did his best to beat into Everett Golson.)

Notre Dame was once incredibly effectively with the fade route with guys like Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen throwing to targets like Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Floyd. But it hasn’t exactly been the weapon of choice for Kelly’s team. Dayne Crist struggled with accuracy, Golson hasn’t looked all that comfortable throwing it, and Rees hasn’t Rees hasn’t been a great touch thrower, surprising considering his accuracy. That may have changed over the summer, with Kelly complimenting Rees’ fade routes to the short side of the field.

Wins almost always cover up blemishes, and last year’s offensive struggles were often erased by the end result. But with personnel that Kelly expects to improve and a few key pieces ready to find roles, moving the ball isn’t hardly as important as being effective in the scoring zone — a priority for this football team.

Last year, the turnover problem was erased through a lot of offseason work. If that’s the case with red zone struggles, expect the Irish offense to put up a lot of points.

  1. dickasman - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    On my high school football team, we referred to red zone as female region at that time of month. Does that still apply in college?

    • dickasman - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:23 PM

      Basically we are screwed because we don’t have eifert, Rees or riddick. Hope we got a banger in the backfield

  2. tedlinko - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Fact is, only 3 times in the 2012 regular season did the Irish surrender more than 13 points (Purdue 17, BYU 14, and Pitt 26). They came close to losing ALL THREE of those games (none closer than Pitt).

    I think it is fair to say that even an average red-zone performance would have removed much of the suspense from those, and a few other, games. I sure hope Kelly is right about the red-zone improvement because, while the D should be stout again this year, it’s hard to imagine it duplicating last year’s results.

    • dickasman - Aug 12, 2013 at 9:21 PM

      Red zone is so much easier if you have a tall stud at WR or TE that can go get it. Rees surprisingly was pretty good at tossing those lobs. Corey Robinson?

      Our tight ends are garbage this year compared what we had in recent past

      • bernhtp - Aug 12, 2013 at 10:48 PM

        Rees was surprisingly terrible at throwing the fade the last three years. Kelly says he’s working on it and getting better. I hope so.

  3. mikes1160 - Aug 12, 2013 at 11:26 PM

    I’ll say it again: fnc111, leave. You add nothing but hate.

  4. irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 1:43 AM

    At least it was admitted that TR has surprisingly no touch on those type of balls. The funnier line was when Keith said that was surprising because he is so accurate. LOL…..Perhaps he has high completion statistics, and that is what they are just statistics, due to the fact that all of his throws are within 10 yards. Your accuracy goes down the longer you throw. So normal QB’s with good to great arms will usually have lower “accuracy” due to the fact they try more lower percentage passes. When I say a QB is accurate I mean it to be that he puts it to the receivers in stride on their hands going the right direction on short plays and puts it in the window on longer plays. To me that is accuracy that matters and is relevant. Because you throw 6 screens, 4 slants, 4 ins and 6 outs within 10 yards and you complete 13 of them where does that get you? Usually not very far down the field, but your QB has a 65% completion percent….they don’t call it an accuracy %. Just saying. Oh and on those 13 completed how many one handed, reaching behind themselves or WR screens where they have to come to the ball were there. Too many.

    The Stanford game the 10 yard TD to win it was one of the worst passes I have ever seen as the WR was wide open and the ball was two yards behind him heading straight into the ground. It was an amazing catch!!

    Sorry I guess I could have just said short completions do not necessarily equal accuracy.

    • domerboyirish - Aug 13, 2013 at 9:31 AM

      Well done! Most people seem to forget how TR built that completion percentage. I’m suprised it’s not higher considering the vast number of screen and swing passes he attempted. I wonder if Keith can find out what his completion percentage is for passes longer than 15 yards? That might tell us more about TR’s accuracy.

      • irish4006 - Aug 13, 2013 at 2:58 PM

        How about passes longer than 10?

      • irish4006 - Aug 13, 2013 at 3:53 PM

        How about passes thrown to someone not named Michael?

    • domerboyirish - Aug 13, 2013 at 10:43 AM

      Also, this makes a lot of sense when you consider poor red zone efficiency. Screens, swing passes and slants are less likely to be successful on a short field with less ground for the defense to cover. Screen’s only work against the blitz (ask Georgia how those work out). Pick patterns and crossing routes against the flow of the defense can be very effective, but you have to hit those guys in the hands on the run. That’s something TR has not shown the ability to do properly. Our offense seems to run a lot of hooks against zone coverage which do not give us an oppurtunity for yards after a catch, esspecially in the red zone. Hopefully BK disucssed this with Belichek when they got together because New England does it very well.

    • ibleedirish - Aug 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      Absolutely great post puma. Tommy Rees accurate? you gotta be kidding me man. Efficient, maybe. High completion percentage sure. That has NOTHING to do with being accurate. I’m in the guys corner, but historically, he’s been one of the LEAST accurate QBs I’ve seen on the big stage.

    • irish4006 - Aug 13, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      Every now and then Keith will throw one like this out there? The TR fanboy in him is coming out again, slowly but surely.

      “ac·cu·rate [ak-yer-it]

      1. free from error or defect; consistent with a standard, rule, or model; precise; exact.

      2. careful or meticulous: an accurate typist.”

      hmmm… does it sound like TR to anyone? Anyone?

  5. irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    Oh and for Knuteghost watch some clips son. Joe Montana was the most accurate passers of all time. (my definition of accurate see above) One of the reasons his receivers were so good was the fact that he put the ball on their hands in stride. Rice, Taylor, Clark, Solomon all talked about how with Joe you just had to run and the ball was there. They even talked about how they did not worry about hits because wherever Joe was putting the ball it was going to lead them away from contact. Legendary and he never lost a Super Bowl and never threw an interception in the SB.

    Rumore has it Doc Rivers is a big fan of Joe. =0)

  6. ndfightingirishfan - Aug 13, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Given all things being the same from last year, just improving in the red zone alone will keep ND in contention for the BCSNG. They got plenty of RB’s to choose from to muscle it in behind a big line and huge TE. Also have quickness from RBs to get the corner plus Hendrix could be brought in to add another option.

  7. fnc111 - Aug 13, 2013 at 3:09 PM


    The truth hurts, I get it. But there is no argument. The defense has always carried the weight for this team. Plain and simple. Hardly hate. I praise the people who deserve the credit. Always have and always will. Why pump up overrated factors?

  8. knuterocknesghost - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Puma. See your still smarting from my Doc Rivers analogy regarding players’ abilities to play fast without running a 4.5 or 4.6 forty. Well, that analogy still holds. It is not necessarily the case that all is lost for ND, … it is not necessarily axiomatic as you think that the sky is falling because we won’t have Golson under center and Zaire was not named as the starter in place of Tommy Rees. Now, onwards to your latest.

    Puma wrote: “At least it was admitted that TR has surprisingly no touch on those type of balls. The funnier line was when Keith said that was surprising because he [TR] is so accurate. LOL…..Perhaps he [TR] has high completion statistics, and that is what they are just statistics, due to the fact that all of his throws are within 10 yards. YOUR ACCURACY GOES DOWN THE LONGER YOU THROW.” (the emphasis using CAPs is added by me, and aren’t you feeling little too superior over poor Keith?)

    Hmmm. No surprise, completion percentages go up with a short passing game. I agree. Shock, huh? So you say that is why Tommy R’s completion rate statistics are so high? He fed on the short passing game to pump his percentage completion up? Yep, let’s not credit the kid at all. He’s a complete dolt. Right Puma?

  9. knuterocknesghost - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Well, let’s see if we can beat you with your own argument.

    First, Bill Walsh brought to the 49rs and Joe Montana an offense the philosophy of which was to emphasize short passes (quick out, quick slant, quick fade, hitch, and what they call the arrow, etc.). That’s the West Coast Offense.

    In 1989, when George Seifert took over from Walsh, John Turner and Jerry Rice played havoc against defenses with the quick slant. In a Monday night game against the Rams that season, Turner caught a pass after it traveled only 7 or 8 yards past the line of scrimmage from Joe Montana and then ran for 92 yards for a touchdown. And great downfield blocking too. It went in the stats as a 92 yard pass, but it wasn’t a “bomb” … the ball only traveled 8 yards before being caught. Of coursed the 49rs had the same success with the quick slant with Jerry Rice. Rice and Turner were masters in knowing how to work the DBs on the outside to break inside in running that route. How much did Joe benefit from guys like Rice and Turner? Both Montana and his receivers were also masters in reading defenses.

    BTW, that year in the third game against the Eagles Joe Montana was sacked 8 times. 8 times! If TR was sacked 8 times in one game, that would simply be complete proof for you that TR lacked mobility. But not so with Joe Montana, huh?

    I am not comparing TR to Montana, just the fact that offenses that are off shoots of the West Coast offense increase the odds for success by your quarterback. Short drops, no holding on the football too long for negative plays to avoid ending up 3rd and long. Or you simply throw the thing away. One of Brady’s key talents has been his ability to not forget two of his favorite receivers when he starts to feel defensive pressure: The turf and the 2nd row in the stands.

    • irish4006 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:19 PM

      You didn’t really do a lot to beat Puma with his own argument. The point he made about the ball being ‘right there’ is what makes an 8 yard play turn into a 92 yard TD. You kind of supported with an elaborate example.

      I have been a very vocal critic of TR’s play in the past but I will start 2013 with an open mind. If TR plays well, I will be his biggest supporter (the same is true for any other player on the team). I am only wasting my time posting on yet another TR argument because, *based on what we have seen in 2010/11/12*, if you keep babbling on about TR being accurate, checking out of bad play, playing quick vs. playing fast and whatnot; you either didn’t watch any of those games or have a very short memory. Give it a rest. Let’s not dwell on the past and restart the debate once we have seen a couple of games this year.

      • knuterocknesghost - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:02 PM

        Puma loves to pound on TR. Well, try telling Puma to lighten up a bit on Tommy. Especially when his criticism of TR is for the wrong reason.

        The ball being right there for a receiver is a matter of decision making and accuracy. And reps and experience.

        And you don’t have a completion percentage of 65.5 percent like TR did in 2011 at age 19 without having had a degree of accuracy with the football. And Puma’s point was that TR’s high completion percentage is all attributable to a short pass offense and not because he can throw an accurate ball. So his point is we do not owe any credit to Tommy for accuracy. I disagree.

        Per Puma, accuracy falls as distance increases. Well, dah?! Isn’t the implication of that is that accuracy increases with a shorter passing game? All QBs extolled as “accurate” passers have fed heavily on the short passing game, which was very true of Montana under Bill Walsh.

        Though obviously not at the same competitive level, Rees’ completion percentage is in the same ball park as Montana’s pro career percentage. And INTs are more the result of mental mistakes, and not from a lack of being able to physically throw an accurate ball. Even Montana threw half as many INTs as TDs in the NFL. And he’s a NFL Hall of Famer. To equal that ratio TR needed to throw 7 fewer intereceptions over his career, not 15 or 20.

        As far as being told to watch film of Montana, people need to watch film of Tommy R. If they do, they’ll see that, contrary to what they may think, Tommy’s pass completions included his share of having threaded the ball accurately through defenders downfield and putting the ball where his receivers could make a play. Some nice roll outs too. Somehow people can only fixate on the mistakes.

        The film shows that there is physical talent in Tommy R to play very well and at a high level this season and his not having demonstrated sufficient mobility is not because of any lack of speed. His 40 time is equal to that of other QBs who are considered mobile enough to extend a play. Mobility is something that can be worked on if you otherwise have a decent 40 time. Tom Brady was considered a slug in the NFL draft. His 40 time at the “combine” was 5 plus seconds.

        When he was 19 TR lacked consistency because of poor decision making and seemingly not always staying aware of the game situation. That is not the same as faulting him for not being as athletic as Golson or Zaire. And that has been Puma’s point all along. My concern is more with his mental toughness and preparation, and whether in game situations he can eliminate the mental mistakes he made as a 19 year old quarterback, and not with his lack of sufficient physical gifts.

        TR doesn’t need to be an NFL Hall Famer for ND to have a very good season. He needs to show that his mental part of the game has matured in the last 2 years from when he was 19. And I hope he’s able to show us that.

        At the Purdue game last year when TR entered the game to salvage a win for ND, he was met with a resounding chorus of boos. I cheered instead. Even if he slips up, I will still cheer for TR and any player on that team because I know all them want to win badly and the amount of dedication they have expended on the practice field and in the classroom, especially at a school like ND, is deserving of admiration. The crowd booing doesn’t deserve the effort being put in by TR or any other player at ND. And Puma is a part of that crowd. And, oddly enough, it seems as though he’s proud of it.

      • irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:22 PM

        great post irish could not agree more! I am in the same boat I will be Tommy Boys biggest fan in 3 weeks. But where do these neophytes get off telling me how I can think or post until then. And then to talk about his athletic prowess and look at his film….ARE YOU KIDDING ME????


        News flash Knute if Tommy wins and becomes the next Brady as you have eluded to than I win and I am a happy man. If Tommy sucks you have made such an ass of yourself….guess what I win!!!!

        I am playing with house money this season boyz.

    • irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:23 PM

      IF TR gets sacked 8 times that would be a minimum of 5 fumbles!!!!!!!!

  10. knuterocknesghost - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    During your earlier tirade against TR, I observed that a smart quarterback who has studied the game hard enough will play faster (aka as the Doc River’s philosophy regarding knowledge versus athleticism) and will immediately know where to find his receivers, which increases his ability to put the ball where the team’s speedsters can make a play for a another 7 or 10 yards after catching a short pass. With short yardage routes, you have to hit the receiver when he makes his break. That means a QB who studies his playbook hard will know where his receivers are going to be before the play without even having to think about it will have a better chance of hitting his receivers on their breaks. This is the SAME as how Manti Teo has described in the past that he was able to increase his football reaction time by not having to think before acting, but by his just reacting to the play reflexively – aka the Doc River’s analogy – aka the Bob Diaco mental development he strives for with his players.

    A real student of the game can play at a very high level that way in the West Coast offense without being a Golson or Zaire. Montana was not a Golson or Zaire, and TR need not show he’s an NFL Hall of Famer like Montana. He need only show that he learned over the long summer to protect the ball against fumbles and INTs, and keep ND out of negative yardage plays while holding on to his high completion percentage.

  11. knuterocknesghost - Aug 13, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    As I said before in your tirade against TR, arm strength is less important than accuracy. And when I posted the completion percentages for TR as a demonstration of his accuracy, you considered that absolute daft on my part and unconvincing. Well, now I know why since, gee, they’re just stats that TR inflated by taking advantage of a short passing offense. Hmm. Imagine that!

    If you just move the sticks consistently, you will win a lot of games. That’s the West Coast philosophy too, and you don’t need to throw the home run ball to do that or even hit a quick slant that goes for 92 yards as John Turner did for the 49rs. And, no again, it’s not out of reach for TR either simply because he hasn’t got Golson’s or Zaire’s throwing arms or legs.

    Finally, Puma, Keith is no dummy. And neither is BK. I’ll stop there.

  12. irish4006 - Aug 13, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Did someone mention tirade?

  13. irishpuma - Aug 13, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    Knute aka Tommy seems to be the only one on a tirade lol. It might just be because we cannot understand him as Doc Rivers has taught him to play faster than us!!!! Plus if he types up the whole page he must be right cuz our posts go back a page.

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