Gino's Blog

Redefining and re-labeling the Red Zone – part 3

Forty seasons of film study, at our amateur level, has resulted in the following Cage Conclusions that we base our entire inside-the-20 philosophy and strategy for both offense and defense. Here are a few examples of what we teach our players:

  1. How did we get in the cage? Play-calling inside the twenty is contextual. What matters most about calling a play inside the 20 is the recent past. The present is dictated by what just happened – the previous play and the plays leading up to that one. How you got into the cage matters most. Was it a long drives or a long gain? How the ball got there is the number one factor that determines the next play.
  2. Identify MTD. On offense, we play close attention to the opposing defense’s ‘diminished range.’ We strive to identify the MTD – Most Tired Defender. At least one defender will have lost range of motion due to fatigue because of one warp-speed no-huddle. Find which linebacker or DB has lost the most range of motion due to no-huddle fatigue. Then force the MTD to run horizontally in coverage, as far as possible, to cover a pass or pursue a running play.
  3. Prevent our own MTD. Our top priority, through strength & conditioning, is to never have an identifiable MTD. Accomplishing this goal is the difference between a winning and losing season.
  4. Profile the coordinator. Past inside-the-20 plays shows exactly who the opposing OCs and DCs are and what they will call next. Rank their top five formations by quantity and quality – how often they were used and the result. We use a simple formula – add up all the formations from film study and during the current game. Then count: (a) the number of plays per formations that were used and, (b) the plays that worked. Then rank the top five formations and results.
  5. Climb the roof. Stretch the defense by using the top of the end zone, forcing their defense to dedicate defenders to cover the highest point of the end zone.
  6. Stay in the basement. Use the area behind the line of scrimmage, called ‘the basement.’ Force the defense to cover two extremes – top and bottom.
  7. Present the ‘threat.’ A ‘threat’ outside the 20 is not always the same as inside the 20. We define ‘threat’ as the formation that presents a specific strength or challenge by means of a formation that the opponent should have previously identified as what we do best. The purpose the present the ‘threat’ inside the 20 is not to conceal our intention but to reveal intention, in order to get an immediate response from the opponent. It’s vital to match strength versus strength inside the 20 early in the season and early in the game to confirm you game plan and prepare for adaptation, if any. Your biggest threat will become you biggest strength. If the threat is removed, strengths become weakness. This applies to both offense and defense.
  8. Pace and space. Floor plan is essential. Map out the end of a play and work backwards. Fill in the blanks about how you going to get there from as many starting points as possible. The pace has to be furious. High-speed pace creates space.
  9. Master Cover Zero. It’s imperative to become experts on offense beat it and experts on defense to never be beaten by it. Cage philosophy starts at zero – cover zero.
  10. Free release has a cost. No receiver gets a free pass. Free release is a guaranteed touchdown.
  11. Squeeze the tight end. The most dangerous man in the cage is the tight end, as a ball-carrier and a blocker. The tight end has to receive more hits that he gives. On defense, the tight end must be covered nose to nose and attacked at the snap on every play. On offense, the greatest asset is shifting the tight end to as many online and offline alignments as possible.
  12. 3 POA. Our best running attack that has consistently resulted in our goal of Over 80% Cage Efficiency is forcing the defense to defend three potential points of attack. The freeze option has been our most successful way of threatening the midline, stretch-line, and perimeter on the same play with the QB under center or in the shotgun.
  13. Use the entire 53.3 width. It’s imperative that every cage pass play forces the defense to cover the entire width and pursue the entire width. The more width you use, the greater the chance of a pursuit angle mistake.
  14. We have never thrown a fade pass in 40 seasons. Laser shots only. They reduce the threat of interception and require less reps. We teach the least amount of air time possible, whether in the cage or out. Zero reps are devoted to high-altitude passes.

Every trip inside the 20, for both offense and defense, became a laboratory since 1984. Film study became our research center to investigate what works for us in our specific reality and what doesn’t work. Amateur football is imperfect, far more imperfect than elite levels in the NFL and D1 NCAA. The greater the imperfection, the more room for experimentation to find what works.


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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