Defensive Zone Exits: James Tavernier passes the test against Falkirk

James Tavernier, courtesy of RFC

written by – Rangers Report

With so much attention being focused on Rangers’ struggles on defence, particularly with how they handle counter attacks, I decided to shift some of my attention towards tracking who is getting the ball out of the defensive third & how they are doing it.  Much of this work is inspired by Jen Lute Costella’s tracking similar concepts in hockey for her blog & now for her start-up company – LCG Analytics.

Given the camera angles at Dumbarton’s stadium & some intriguing directorial decisions by the Rangers TV crew there will be a margin of error but this is what I was looking for –

  • controlled exits from the defensive third – when a player either dribbled the ball out of the zone or when they completed a relatively short pass out of the defensive third
  • clearances – the opposite of a controlled exit.  Basically, the defender kicks/heads the ball out of the zone with no real passing target.  I think it is safe to say that we all know a clearance when we see it. Additionally, I tracked how many of the clearances were headers.
  • pressured v unpressured exit- was the player under pressure from an opposing player when they made the defensive zone exit or clearance
  • flipping possession to the other half – regardless of how the ball left the area, did it lead to Rangers establishing possession in the opposing half of the pitch?  Ideally, Rangers defenders are able to trigger a counter of their own in order to attack an unorganized defence.

I have added the following plays to track:

  • Failed Exits – when a defender attempts to get the ball out of the defensive third but the ball fails to leave the zone.  Either a clearance goes astray, or a header doesn’t get far enough out & the opposition regains possession of the ball, or a controlled exit is thwarted  & the player is dispossessed.  Failed exits are not necessarily bad plays, often they are crucial at nullifying a threat – they simply represent a failed attempt to get the ball out of the defensive third.
  • Defensive assists – this represents a key play that triggers the defensive zone exit.  It may be a key tackle or even the breakout pass that spring the team’s exit.
  • Only defensive zone exits in the run of play are accounted for…meaning when Wes Foderingham triggers the team bringing the ball up the  pitch – those plays were not tracked nor was the play tracked if Rangers voluntarily played the ball back into the defensive third.  So basically, plays were tracked only when the opponent gets the ball into their attacking third & a Rangers defender retrieved it to get it out of the zone.
Player Controlled Exits Pressured Opp Half Clearance Pressured Opp Half Headed Cl Total Exits Failed Exits Pressured Defensive Assists
James Tavernier 6 3 5 2 2 0 0 8 2 1 2
Danny Wilson 3 2 2 4 2 0 1 7 4 4 2
Lee Wallace 2 0 1 3 2 0 1 5 1 1 3
Rob Kiernan 1 0 1 4 2 1 1 5 6 6 3
Dominic Ball 0 0 0 3 3 2 0 3 0 0 1
Dean Shiels 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0
Nicky Law 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Harry Forrester 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Totals 16 7 12 16 11 3 3 32 14 13 11
First Half 10 3 6 8 4 2 2 18 8 8  
Second Half 6 4 6 8 7 1 1 14 6 5  
  • Teams continue to test James Tavernier as a deliberate tactic & against Falkirk he put in one of his strongest defensive efforts of the season.  He led the team with eight Defensive Zone Exits & added two defensive assists that led to exits.  That means that of Rangers successful exits from the defensive third, Tavernier played a direct role in 31% of them.
  • Danny Wilson & Rob Kiernan both had 11 attempts at getting the ball out of the defensive third.  Wilson had seven exits, including three controlled exits.  Two of his controlled exits led to possession in the offensive half, however a key turnover on the other one received the most attention from supporters.  Kiernan continues to be the most dominant defender when it comes to headed clearances.  While only one of his four successful clearances were headers, his four headers on his six failed clearances reflect crucial plays in momentarily breaking up Falkirk’s attack.  He also added three defensive assists to help trigger a defensive zone exit.
  • It’s not a surprise to see that Dominic Ball was the most active midfielder when it came to supporting the backline.  He had three clearances & one defensive assist which translates to four occasions in which Ball was critical in getting the ball out of the defensive third.
  • Controlled exits led to possession in Falkirk’s half 75% of the time & clearances led to possession in the attacking half 27% of the time.

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