What Is the Red Zone in Football? Your Personal Guide

A college football player makes a one-handed catch in the red zone.

One of the most unique and traditional terms associated with American football is that of the “red zone.”  The term is widely used among coaches and players and you’re likely to hear it used by television broadcasters and radio hosts alike when a team enters the red zone or when a team is pushed out of the red zone.

So, what is the red zone in football?

The red zone refers to the area of the field between the 20-yard line and the goal line/end zone. Teams who enter the red zone are likely to score points via a touchdown or field goal. The more times you reach the red zone on offense, the more likely you’re going to win the game.

Below we’ll talk about where the red zone is located on the field of play and whether or not it’s indicated with field markers. Additionally, we’ll look at how the offense and defense each have a unique experience in the red zone, and how often a team is likely to score from the red zone.

Where Is the Red Zone in Football?

The 20 yards before the goal line on the football field is referred to as the red zone. While the red zone can technically be located at either end of the field, the term is generally used when the team on offense is nearing their opponent’s goal line/end zone.

For example, if you were watching a televised broadcast of a football game you may hear Troy Aikman or Tony Romo suggest that “the offense is in the red zone and has 15 yards to go.”

You may be surprised to learn that the red zone in football is a reference to an imaginary space on the field. While some college and professional teams have added lines or hash marks on their fields to indicate the red zone, it’s usually absent from the collection of field markers.

It’s important to keep in mind that the red zone is infrequently painted into the standard field of play but may be indicated by lines or overlays provided by a television broadcast. Coverage of both professional and college games is likely to include red zone indicators to help viewers identify the offense’s proximity to the goal line.

Why Is it called the Red Zone in Football?

The phrase “red zone” was first used in 1981 by Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the then titled “Washington Redskins,” now known as the Washington Football Team.

In an ESPN Insider article written by Brian Fremeau, the origin of the red zone stems from Gibbs recognizing that his team was on a losing streak, with a majority of plays failing within the 20 yards before the goal line/end zone.

Colorado University, home of the first sports article to analyze red zone stats, suggested that the phrase “red zone” comes from the military reference to “being within striking range” of an opponent.

Considering football is intended to be a “war” between both the offense and defense, this reference to being within striking range is perfectly translated to scoring a touchdown in football.

Nowadays, the term red zone is ingrained in the culture of American football – being used heavily by coaches, broadcast announcers and fans alike. The term has become so popular that even the National Football League has a television channel dedicated to football analysis named NFL RedZone.

Make sure to read through to the end of this article to learn more about NFL RedZone and related programming.

Offense in the Red Zone

Because the red zone is so near to the end zone, the types of plays run by the offensive team are generally shorter. Teams may prefer to take advantage of their running backs or call a quarterback sneak, with short passes also being an option.

Not only do teams have a short distance to cover by the time they’ve reached the 20-yard line, but the other defensive team should make it more difficult for them to complete a pass or gain yardage with a run.

Let’s take a look at the Los Angeles Rams for an example of what an offensive play might look like in the red zone in football.

In the 2018 season, Michael Thomas led the league in red zone receiving yardage. In the September 09, 2018 game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Drew Brees threw two red zone passes to Thomas, one resulting in a touchdown. The passes together only totaled 12 yards but heavily influenced the result of the football game.

Alternatively, in 2018 Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams led the league in red zone rushing yardage. In the September 16, 2018 game against the Arizona Cardinals, Gurley ran three times in the red zone, the first for 5 yards and the second and third for 4 yards each – none were scoring plays.

How Often Do Teams Score in the Red Zone?

A college football player attempts to make a catch in the end zone.

Teams are likely to score points if they successfully made it into the red zone. While some plays may begin outside of the red zone and result in a touchdown, many teams find themselves in the red zone before they complete a play that results in a touchdown.

For example, the statisticians at TeamRankings.com suggest that the Kansas City Chiefs had the highest red zone scoring percentage of the 2003 season. During the 2003 season, the Chiefs were successful in scoring more than 76% of the time when starting play in the opponent’s red zone.

TeamRankings also suggests that in 2010, 21 of the 32 professional teams had an average scoring percentage from the red zone of more than 50%.  The same year there were no teams with an average red zone scoring percentage over 70%.

To some, 70% might sound like there’s room for improvement but this is a rather steady statistic. The NFL reported that out of 1230 touchdowns in the 2016 season, more than 900 of them, or 74%, originated in the red zone.

Defense in the Red Zone

Although a great majority of broadcaster commentary in the red zone focuses on the offensive play, the defense must also prepare plays and strategies for defending against a flurry of touchdown attempts.

Teams who are defending in the red zone in football tend to tighten up their formations because there is a smaller area of the football field to defend.

Teams on defense tend to use zone coverage in the red zone over man-to-man coverage because of the closeness between players on the field. When the offense has a long distance to cover they are more likely to throw the ball downfield – requiring the defense to pair a defensive player with each receiver.

Alternatively, when the offense has a shorter distance to cover on the field, they may consider passing the ball to a wider variety of receivers or run the ball over the goal line and into the end zone.

When this is the case, the defensive team will usually spread their players out and run a zone defense. Zone defense refers to a defender keeping watch over an area and the players in their area, as opposed to trailing one player around the field.

What Is the NFL RedZone?

The NFL RedZone is a television channel owned by the National Football League’s television network. RedZone allows viewers to watch up to eight games at a time within a viewing screen built around eight squares. The channel is dedicated to sharing coverage of football teams who are in the red zone or who are on the move.

If you’re the type of football fan who’s all about player stats, team highlights and fantasy football, then this channel might be perfect for you! RedZone is offered as an available channel in advanced cable packages by most service providers and can be a part of most subscription-based streaming packages, such as Hulu and Sling.

How Much Does the RedZone Cost?

As of the 2021 season, NFL RedZone is currently available in the following packages: Fubo TV, Hulu TV, Sling, YouTube TV, Cox, Dish Network, Verizon’s Fios, Optimum, Xfinity, and Spectrum. The cost of these packages (which usually include RedZone as an add-on channel) range from $40-$80.

f you aren’t currently a cable subscriber and you’re not interested in signing up for a streaming service, you can always download the NFL application to your phone. Once you have downloaded the NFL app you can subscribe to NFL RedZone Mobile, a purchase currently priced at $34.99 USD per month.

How Long Is the Red Zone Each Week?

NFL RedZone offers viewers 7 hours of live red zone coverage. The red zone broadcast itself is commercial-free but once the Sunday coverage ends there’s a static screen to fill air time.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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