What once was a game week task has shifted to an off-season endeavor. We researched some of the top programs in the country in red zone efficiency to find that many start planning for the red zone now, by pouring over film of concepts that were productive last season and matching them with what they expect to see defensively from their usual opponents. Six of our contributors finished in the top ten in red zone efficiency last season and averaged a 90 percent scoring rating from the +20 yard line. We asked them questions that range from how they break down their game plan based on areas of the red zone, how much practice time they devote during the game week, how many concepts they carry each week in their game plan and what their most efficient red zone concept was this season. Read the report here.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
Insiders Members: Login here to access the full-length version of this report.
It’s without question, the most important area of the field for offenses. Whether it’s referred to as the red zone, green zone or the fringe, one thing is certain, wins are determined by how successful your offense is in this part of the field. We researched several programs that are successful in the red zone to find out how they prepare for this area of the field.
Contributors (in alphabetical order)
Steve Dearmon (SD), Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas Tech University: Finished 9th in Division 2 in red zone efficiency with a .898 scoring percentage.
Jim Good (JG), Offensive Coordinator, University of the Redlands (CA): Finished 1st in Division 3 in red zone efficiency with a .943 scoring percentage.
Eric Long (EL), Offensive Coordinator, St. Francis University: Finished 2nd in FCS in red zone efficiency with a .925 scoring percentage.
David Patenaude (DP), Offensive Coordinator, Coastal Carolina University: Finished 10th in FCS with a .889 scoring percentage.
Gordon Shaw (GS), Offensive Coordinator, Colorado State Pueblo: Finished with a .863 scoring percentage in the red zone.
Trevor Stillman (TS), Offensive Coordinator, Thomas More College (KY): Finished 4th in Division 3 with a .905 scoring percentage.
Christian Taylor (CT), (former) Offensive Coordinator, Illinois Wesleyan University: Finished 8th in Division 3 with a .884 scoring percentage.
What area of the field do you consider the red zone?
JG: “It starts at the +20 then evolves as we get closer.”
EL: “We talk about +25 and in because that’s where we are in real-easy field goal range. It determined based on the kicker.”
DP: “We call it the +25 and in, but I don't see teams changing what they do until the +10 yard line going to more bracket coverage or man pressures. That’s where it changes.”
GS: “We start on the +25 yard line because the field is shrunken at that point. That’s where the defenses will start to change coverages. Many will play cover zero and run with underneath receivers.”
TS: “Red zone is the +20 and the green zone is the +10.”
CT: “We break up our red zone into five different areas and have run and pass play calls specific to each area. The red zone fringe: +30-+21 yard line, the high red zone is the +20 to +15 yard line, the mid red zone is the +14 to +10 yard line, the low red zone is the +9 to +5 yard line and the goal line is the +4 and in.
Is there anything that you do differently (as it pertains to philosophy) in practice that emphasizes how important this area of the field is to your players?
SD: “On Friday night at the hotel, we put together a script. It’s a 30-40-play cutup of putting our kids through a game. The first 10 plays is what their base looks are to our formations. Then we discuss third down and we talk about what to expect in those situations. Then we talk about red zone. We talk through why we are running our concepts. We put them through the game situations so they can play the game out on Friday in their heads. We show them pictures.”
EL: “We do a lot of seven on seven and team drills in that area. We even do one on one’s in that area to stress competition.”
DP: “Our process is we wanted to score more touchdowns. One of the things we do is we start watching film in the winter and see what are the specific things we are seeing and dig into how to beat it. Then we create a menu of what we are going to do and we carry that menu forward the rest of the year. So when we watch red zone cutups, if they are a saw man team, let’s pull out our Saw man plays. So, now they are running Bear, these are the five things we are running.”
TS: “We de-emphasize the red zone which makes it a priority. At some levels, you can put too much pressure on some areas of the game. I will not over-emphasize a quarter of our plays for an area that if we just stay consistent and do what we normally do we will have success. If I try to overemphasize it, it will change how I’m calling the game and that’s not what I want to do.”
CT: “We begin practicing red zone near the end of week one in training camp against our own defense. As far as field goals, we have one team field goal period per week where we stress field goals from 37 yards and in (red zone field goals). Also, once per week, we practice tunnel field goals for a period, where we have the entire team surround our field goal unit and try to distract them.”
Explain the balance between the concepts you run well and the deficiencies vs. opponent have had in this area. Do you plan red zone after the base game plan is done?
JG: “For us, it’s more about structure than personnel. It all comes back to where are they sound and unsound against option football as it equates to numbers, particularly inside the ten-yard line.”
CT: “We carry over any open field concepts that will work well in the red zone each week. However, there are a few concepts that are red zone specific. We will run the concepts we are good at, that also have a great chance of success versus our opponent each week. Our goal, as it is in the open field, is to design plays to get our players in positions that suit their strengths. We put our skill guys on routes or blocking assignments that they are best at and find mismatches based on opponent personnel each week. We start or red zone game planning on Tuesday evenings and complete it Wednesday morning. We complete our goal line game plan early Wednesday afternoon. We complete our base open field, first and second down game plan on Monday and finish our third down game plan on Tuesday morning.”
DP: Depends on whom you have on your side. We don’t get carried away with putting big personnel in the game. We want to keep them as spread as we possibly can. Even inside the one-yard line we may go four wides and run the read game. What is the gain of putting 22 personnel on the field if you’re getting double eagle defensively? “
What You’re Missing…
Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and you’ll get instant access to the full-length version of this report – including access to everything X&O Labs has ever published. Plus, if you join today, you’ll also receive up to 4 FREE books mailed directly to your home or office. Here’s just a small sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version of this report:
- How these coordinators plan their red zone offense directly around the approach (philosophically and structurally) the defense will take.
- How many periods, reps and minutes are necessary during game week in order to be efficient in the red zone.
- How these coordinators are breaking up the red zone into several different parts and composing a game plan for each.
- How many concepts each of these coordinators carries into their red zone play menu each week. What is too much? What is not enough?
- How they are devising a red zone call sheet based on all these elements.
- Each of these coordinators weigh in on what has been their most efficient red zone concept this season.
Join the Insiders today and get your FREE book(s)!
According to our sources, developing a plan for the red zone is not something that is concocted during the game week. It’s done in the off-season, where coaches are evaluating what schemes work against the types of structures defenses in your conference are presenting in that area. Because, chances are, they will not change from season to season.