You may have heard announcers talk about the red zone as they’re talking about the game. The red zone refers to the last 20 yards before the end zone on the football field. Offenses change their plays and defenses change their strategy based on several factors that change when you’re in close. Here are some important things to note about the game of football in the red zone.
For an offensive team, many things change when you get in the red zone. For starters, you obviously don’t have as much field to work with. If you’re on the 20 yard line, your receivers have only 40 yards of field to feasibly work with. This reduces your playbook based on the depth of the routes. Secondly, barring any penalties, you only have 8 downs to get in the end zone or kick a field goal. The strategy changes when you know you’re plays are finite. Finally, there’s an intangible pressure that is put on the offense when you know you’re so close, and you just have to score. The letdown of getting that far down the field and coming up with no points is a tough blow to deal with.
For the defensive team, the pressure rises as well. You've heard the old adage of “bend, but don’t break,” and that comes into play in the red zone. Though ideally, you don't want the offense inside the 20 in the first place, you’re pretty happy to come up with a stop, or hold them to a field goal. Your defensive strategy may change based on the offensive scheme that you’ve studied ahead of time. There’s also the 12th man (relax Aggie fans, not that 12th Man) that becomes a reality, in that the offense is limited by the boundary of the back of the end zone. Good defenses know this, and adjust their coverage and zone drops accordingly.
Red Zone football makes for some of the most exciting football to play and watch. It brings out the skill sets of some of the greatest players. It also capitalizes on the weaknesses of some others.