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Re-labeling And Redefining Red Zone – part 1

Success and failure in the conventional Red Zone makes or breaks your team.

Success and failure in the conventional Red Zone is one of the top factors that determine won-loss record because your playbook becomes more limited the closer you get to the end zone. The same applies to offense and defense. The closer you get, the farther it seems.

In 40 seasons of coaching, I never have used the phrase ‘Red Zone’ in practice and never will. The reason is the negative psychological effect that ‘Red Zone’ has on both offense and defense. On offense, ‘Red Zone’ is the equivalent of a traffic light that implies stopping. Slamming on the brakes. On defense, ‘Red Zone’ implies danger to the defense. Our offense thrives on the positive psychological effect of the ‘green light’ concept while our defense thrives on the positive psychological effect of the danger implication to the opposing offense. Mindset matters most. Change the perspective, change the outcome. The way we accomplish the change of mindset is be re-labeling and re-defining Red Zone.

Our players are taught from the first day that what they hear on TV doesn’t apply to us and out SWAT system because ‘Red Zone’ has a limiting effect for both offense and defense. I call the Red Zone ‘The Cage’ to get the message across that the closer the line of scrimmage gets to the end zone, the bigger the cage fight. Cage fights are nasty fights. Despite recent efforts to portray football as a softer, gentler game, it isn’t. Football always has been and always will be a violent combat sport. Football is the equivalent of a cage fight minus the chain link fence. Both our offense and defense respond to the challenge of the cage fight. It gives a stronger sense of purpose because of a stronger sense of reality. Here’s a summary of what we teach about the reality of the cage and how it re-defines the Red Zone:

  1. The length of the cage changes. The closer you get to the goal-line, the smaller the cage. The ball on the 19-yard line is not the same as the ball on the 9- yard line or the 9-foot line or the 9-inch line. There’s a big difference on how we play offense and defense from each place.
  2. The width of the cage does not change. The most important number about the cage is 53.3 yards – the constant width of the field that stays exactly the same.
  3. Squeeze the opponent. That’s our strategic objective on both offense and defense. Squeezing the opponent means forcing them to crowd one area of the cage leaving another area clear.
  4. The cage is the ‘tight end zone’ – dual meaing: First. Neutralizing the tight end stops the offense from entering the end zone. This rule applies two-ways, to both our offense and defense. Second: The End Zone is a tight place attached to a tight cage that reduces tactics and play-calling. 
  5. We never play for a field goal. There is no room inside the cage for field goals. Nothing destroys the psychology of a no-huddle offense worse than getting in the cage and losing the fight by settling for a field goal. There’s only one way for the offense to win a cage fight – cross the goal line. Enter the end zone. Six point. Three points is a morale defeat – it defeats the morale of any offense. Conversely, our defense is taught the same rule. Make the opponent settle for a field goal attempt. A field goal attempt is a moral victory for the defense and a demoralizing loss for the offense. Life is too short to care about what others think of our no-kicking philosophy. We had a 20-year no-kicking streak and the percentages worked out in our favour/favor. More importantly, our players learned a life lesson about not fearing being different and re-defining the concept of ‘risk.’

Research based on our 40-season film-study governs what we do inside The Cage at our level of amateur football. We have used the same philosophy and strategy at the high school, collegiate, and semi-pro levels. This article is only part 1, intended to briefly introduce what we teach and why about how we play inside the 20. Part 2 explains more of our system in greater detail.

#MUCHLOVE #soulofalifter

Blessings + all good things

Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., Level 3 NCCP (Nat’l Coaching Certification Program)

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