Gino's Blog

Redefining and re-labeling the Red Zone – part 2

The best training ground I’ve experienced to learn the science of playing inside the 20 started in 1989 as defensive coordinator for an AAU-style 22-&-under post-secondary summer team, a job that supplemented my high school head coaching position. The job of defensive coordinator taught me more about offense than actually coordinating an offense. Learning how to defend different offensive styles week-by-week was the strongest influence that changed my entire offensive strategy both outside the 20 and inside the 20. Our ‘Cage’ Philosophy was never the same after my first experience as defensive coordinator because closing the door teaches you how to open the door, not vice-versa.

The following is a summary of the basic introductory Cage Lessons that we teach both defense and offense about playing inside the 20:

  • Playing inside the 20 is a change agent on both defense and offense. The two biggest changes that affect both units are the limitations of: (i) pass routes (ii) pursuit angles.
  • The pass tree is cut down inside the 20. The vertical length of pass routes shrinks the closer the ball gets to the goal line. Pass routes available to the offense diminish, inch by inch, inside the 20. The passing tree on the 19 is not the same as the ball on the 9-yard line, 9- foot line, or 9-inch line. We designed a short passing tree for tight spaces, to supplement our long tree, and it eventually became the foundation of our outside the 20 passing as well. The key to coordinating a defense inside the 20 is to identify every route that no longer is possible and customize coverage accordingly. The limited pass routes limit how many coverages we install inside The Cage.
  • Pursuit angles change radically inside the 20. The backside pursuit angles are not the same inside the 20 as they are outside the 20. This impacts both defensive and offensive strategy. Coordinating a defense inside the 20 starts with a base of pursuit angle rules that are adaptable from every yard-line inside the 20. In my rookie season as high school head coach in 1984, I made the mistake of not designing and not repping pursuit angles from different places inside the 20. We got clobbered. Winless season. Coordinating an offense inside the 20 starts with exploiting the limited range of defensive pursuit angles. The closer the ball gets to the goal-line, the greater the chance of defensive mistakes when pursuing a running play or pass reception because of bad angles. Pursuit angles outside the 20 become hardwired in muscle memory. Without the correct quality and quantity of reps for inside the 20 pursuit angles, you run the risk of defensive chaos with every wrong degree of pursuit angle.

Part 3 examines a list of inside-the- 20 conclusions we have reached during 40 seasons of film study for both offense and defense.


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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