Fact: 81 percent of offensive coordinators have a separate plan for the red zone. What’s more is 69 percent of these coaches will even vary their offensive system once they get inside the +20 yard line. In a game of situations, there is no question that efficiency in the red zone could mean the difference in wins and losses. During the course of our research on red zone efficiency, we took the responses of only those coaches who scored touchdowns at least 75 percent of red zone opportunities last season. They present how they design their red zone attack, which personnel groupings and formations they use and which run/pass concept have given them the most success.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
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Fact: 81 percent of offensive coordinators have a separate plan for the red zone. What’s more is 69 percent of these coaches will even vary their offensive system once they get inside the +20 yard line. In a game of situations, there is no question that efficiency in the red zone will mean the difference in wins and losses. During the course of our research on red zone efficiency, we took the responses of only those coaches who score touchdowns 75 percent or more this season in the red zone and present how they design their red zone attack, which personnel groupings and formations they use and which run/pass concept have given them the most success.
Red Zone Preparation
Football is a game of situations and perhaps no other situation is repped more than red zone offense. The majority of coaches are spending 11-15 minutes per week on practicing red zone offense (see below). While different coaches see the red zone as different landmarks on the field, we found that 59 percent of coaches consider the +20 yard line to the end zone to be the red zone (see below). So in an effort to make things more universal, we will use this landmark. In most situations, it is in that area of the field where offenses will start to alter their approach. Ask most defensive coordinators and they will tell you the “red zone” begins when an offense changes its play packages. We found this characteristic to be evident among offensive coaches. In fact, 69 percent of coaches say they will vary their offensive philosophy at least slightly upon entering the red zone. We wanted to research how more successful coaches are altering their game plan to be efficient in this area. So, we surveyed only those coaches who score touchdowns on at least 75 percent of red zone situations to see what they were doing differently. We found that because the field shrinks in that area, offenses are being uber aggressive in their play calling by mixing their base runs with complementary play action passing. The full-length version of this report includes coaches’ responses.
It seems that the majority of offensive coaches are staying more and more with their base personnel in red zone situations. Those that are varying their personnel are choosing to bring in extra tight ends/offensive linemen in this area, but we did find a strong contingent of coaches that are integrating both 10 and 11 personnel units. We found the reasoning behind this is that some coaches felt that their players were more comfortable in these groupings and the majority of their offensive menu lies in these formations. Below are the top five most popular personnel groupings used in the red zone:
- 21 personnel
- 22 personnel
- 12 personnel
- 11 personnel
- 10 personnel
Once the personnel is established, we researched which formations these coaches were having the most success with. Now we realize that this can all be predicated on the run and pass concepts these coaches are employing, we present that part of our research below, we found the following types of formations to be most efficient in the red zone.
- Heavy/Unbalanced Formations: Four man surfaces, two receivers on the line of scrimmage to the same side of formation.
- Pro formations: two backs
- Twins formations: both in 21 personnel and 20 personnel
- Empty formation
- Diamond formation: 30 personnel
- 2x2 Open formation: 10 personnel
- 3x1 open formation: 10 personnel
- Bunch/compressed formation
- Tight End/Wing formations: both players to same side
- Wildcat formations Wildcat
Most Efficient Run Concepts
The majority of coaches, 44 percent, will carry between 3-4 run concepts each week into their red zone offense (see below). Below is an itemized list of the most efficient run concepts used in the red zone, prioritized by type (gap, zone and option).
- Two back Power
- QB Power
- Buck Sweep/G Sweep
- One back power
- Lead Zone
- Inside Zone
- Outside Zone
- Split Zone
- Fly Sweep
- Veer Option
- Zone Read
- Power Read
- Speed Option
The Most Efficient Pass Concepts
As far as the passing game is concerned, we found that 43 percent carry between 3-4 passes each week into their red zone game plan (see below). The pass concepts are itemized, based on their popularity, below:
- Crossers, rub/pick routes, and passes from bunches and clusters
- Smash/snag & other hi-lo combinations
- 3 level flood concepts
- Spacing concepts
- X Isolation routes or double move routes
- Double Slant routes
- Stick Concepts
Below are some responses from our survey on how coaches are using some of the above concepts in the red zone:
Bob Gecewich, Marion Local High School (OH): “We use a simple flood from a condensed formation. We start in 2x2, with the slot motions to arrow. The outside receiver is on a back corner fade. The non-motion slot on a 10-yard (or adjusted route due to line of scrimmage) out. The quarterback is thinking arrow, fade, run. We have also had a lot of success with a trips set, checking backside receiver on either a slant, fade or slant corner. The front side will run a quick game concept such as Scat or Stick and the QB chooses numbers. If we are 1 on 1 backside he chooses a leverage route.”
Jeff Craig, Blanchard High School (OK): “Our slant concept is our most productive in the red zone. We identify the coverage by identifying the flat defender then adjust routes accordingly. For example, for man to man we use double slants. Against half field safeties we pair an inside vertical with an outside slant. Against deep thirds, we use a bubble/slant combination. This puts in the right route combination vs. any coverage.”
Bill DeFillippo, Livonia Churchill High School (MI): “Our best concept has been using the TE and another receiver running smash into the boundary and two wide receiver’s running double post/slant from the field.”
You’re Missing Important Research Data…
Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and you’ll get the full-length version of this report. Plus, if you join today, you’ll also receive up to 4 FREE books from our best-selling books store. Here’s just a small sample of what you’ll discover in the full-length version of this report…
- How successful coaches are tailoring their offensive philosophy to adapt the condensed field and tight coverage in the red zone.
- Why 11 and 10 personnel formations may be the most efficient structures to use inside the +20 yard line.
- The various types of unbalanced/end over formations coaches are using to gain run advantages in the red zone.
- 5 variations of the power concept – the most popular run concept used in the red zone- that successful coaches are using to hit pay dirt.
- 3 variations of the shallow cross concept- the most popular pass concept used in the red zone- that successful coaches are using to hit pay dirt.
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It’s been proven that these specific components ensure immediate success inside the red zone. Our research has been generated from those coaches who have scored touchdowns on at least 75 percent of their red zone opportunities.