Gino's Blog

Re-labeling and redefining Red Zone – part 1

Every play starts at the top. The psychology of a play on offense or defense is just as important as the physical element. We place a high premium on words because we believe that system-vocabulary positively or negatively influences mindset. What we teach and how we teach it establishes the mindset, one way or the other. One example is how we teach our Red Zone strategy.

In 40 seasons of coaching, I have never used the term ‘Red Zone’ at any practice or game and never will. No player has ever heard me say ‘Red Zone.’ It’s not in my vocabulary. 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 imminent danger to the defense. ’Red Zone’ sends the wrong message for peak performance mindset. Mindset matters most. Our solution has been re-labeling and re-defining – change the perspective, change the outcome. The way we accomplish the change of mindset is by re-labeling and re-defining Red Zone.

Success and failure in the conventional Red Zone makes or breaks your team’s psyche, regardless of what unit is on the field. Success and failure in the conventional Red Zone is one of the top factors that determine won-loss records because the closer the line of scrimmage gets to the end zone, the higher the expectations. The bar is raised on both offense and defense. Red Zone performance defines a team, positively or negatively, because the stakes are raised.  Our 40 season analytics based on our film study showed a direct correlation between Red Zone efficiency and deficiency with: (a) won-loss record, and (b) how we teach it.

Our players are taught from the first day that what they hear on TV about Red Zone doesn’t apply to us and our 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 especially when the line of scrimmage gets closer to the end zone. ‘The Cage’ is a label that has worked for us because both our offense and defense respond to the challenge of the cage fight. It has built a better mindset than Red Zone, for us. It gives a stronger sense of purpose because of a stronger sense of reality. The Cage issues a challenge. Red Zone doesn’t.

Here’s a summary of what we teach about the reality of ‘The Cage’ and how it re-defines the Red Zone in our SWAT system:

  1. The length of The Cage changes. 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 regardless of how close the line of scrimmage is to the end zone.
  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 to dictate which areas are closed and open.
  4. The Cage is the ‘tight end zone.’ When tight ends are used, the tight end becomes the top priority for both our offense and defense. Neutralizing the tight end is our top defensive priority. Freeing the tight end is our main offensive priority.
  5. We never play for a field goal. There is no room inside the cage for field goals. Nothing destroys the psychology of our 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 points. Three points is a ‘morale’ defeat – it defeats the morale of our offense. Guaranteed. Conversely, our defense is taught the same rule. Make the opponent settle for a field goal attempt. A field goal attempt is a ‘moral’ and ‘morale’ 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. Our analytics provide us with hardcore concrete evidence that no-kicking pays off with high returns. More importantly, our players have learned a major 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.


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

Head coach – Niagara X-men football

Owner – X Fitness Inc.

Gino Arcaro is a widely published author. His website, blog, Youtube channel, and list of books are at:

His books include:

4th & hell: seasons 1-5, Soul of a Lifter, SWAT Offense, SWAT Defense, X Fitness Workout System, and a 3 business book series called Soul of an Entrepreneur

He also has written 20 editions of 6 law enforcement academic textbooks. A new 8-volume interrogation book series will be released in 2014. And just released, a new children’s book called “BE FIT – DON’T QUIT.” His latest book on human potential called “Hashtag Peace” is at the editing stage. He just finished another book called “Lifter’s High.” Both will be released soon.




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