Friday, August 2, 2019

Defending the Green Zone

There are many ways to define field zones and use that information for game planning purposes. When an opposing offense crosses midfield here are the field zones we use.

Goalline - 1-3 yard line

Lo-Red - 4-10 Could push past the 10 if the offense's breakdown data dictates a change. For example if a team has similar tendencies from the 4-12 we will define the lo-red as being 4-12 yardline instead. On other teams where I have worked we called this area the hot zone.

Hi-Red - 11-25 The range will be adjusted and could be shorter or longer than the 25. The adjustment is based on our special teams scouting report. The range of the kicker determines the Hi-Red for us. If the kickers range for makeable FG's is out to the 30 the hi-red will extend to the 30 for example. Also game day may alter the hi-red. A windy or bad weather day, poor field conditions for footing, or struggles by the kicker may result in game day alterations to the hi-red's definition.

Green Zone - 25-35 This zone is adjusted based on the hi-red and offensive philosophy. This area is the Green Zone because the offense is more likely to go for it on 4th down (Green means Go). The special teams scouting report plays a role in this area as well. If a team has a great directional punt they may punt in this field zone and play field position. However many teams have opted to instead be in a go for it on 4th and not punt in this area. A touchback on a punt in this range does not net much field position advantage. Also there is analytic data about going for it on 4th down being effective. This is an area where going for it on 4th down has many upsides. The game state matters as well. Game state is our term for the category of factors that affect play calling in general. The time, score, previous drive outcomes, etc. alter a team's philosophy generally and also apply in this area of the field. This zone is the most interesting area to call plays in my opinion. The complexity is very high. 

Team could call normal 3rd down and follow up with a specialized 4th down play (think 2pt type play).

Team could call normal 3rd down and follow up with a 3rd down call on 4th down.

Could play 3rd down like 2nd down and try to stay on schedule. Then call 4th as a 3rd down.

Could play 3rd down like 2nd down and take a more aggressive shot knowing 4th down is going to be available.

Offense can call two plays at once and go tempo. Allows the offense to try to steal a 1st down by getting on the ball and rapid fire running the 3rd and 4th down calls.

Offense can go into a 4 down mode but stop and re-evaluate based on 3rd down outcome. 

There are many strategies for the offense and defense in the green zone. It is also challenging because this is an area with a lack of data. How many plays does the offense/defense have in a scouting report in the green zone or 4th down? It is a fascinating play calling situation.

Managing the green zone can directly lead to wins and losses. A couple season ago a team I was coaching with was in a dog fight game. We were up by 3 with the ability to run the clock out on our final possession assuming we got 1 more first down. Our offense had the ball and drove across midfield into the green zone. Following a 3rd down that set up a 4&4 the head coach told the offensive coordinator we were in 4 down territory. This was not a great game management situation for our team. The :40 clock was already running. The OC had not treated the 3rd down as a 4 down play call. His assumption was play it safe and we will punt and play defense with the lead to win the game. This was also my assumption. The go for it on 4th decision came as a complete surprise to everyone. Now the OC had likely misused his 3rd down play call and was rushed into a poorly called 4th down. After the game he was not happy with his 4th down call. Also this was not a situation we had invested enough time on in practice.

We did not convert, turnover on downs. The opponent crossed midfield and kicked and made a FG over 10 yards past their kicker's typical range. Tie game and off to overtime and an eventual loss.

New team but that green zone lesson has stuck with me. Now green zone is a situation we practice particularly against our offense. This area is not as dynamic to practice when scripted. Similar to 2 minute, a scout team cannot give you a green zone situation look like your offense can.

We start off and it is known the offense is going for it on 4th down. Later we do it where the offense is either in 3 down or 4 down mode but the defense does not know which. This forces the defense to make calls using judgement and adjust on the fly. Other days we will start a move the ball period on the negative side of midfield. If they get across midfield, they can play the green zone with the possibility of 4 down play calling. We will also use green zone as the start to a red zone period. If they get out of the GZ the RZ plays start. Another practice period is just a move the ball scrimmage type period only the offense has to go for it on 4th down. The 4 down play calling can have situational application for in game defending 4th down and 4 down mode 3rd down play calling. These situations can also help inform play calling in 2 minute, green zone, and 2 pt plays where 4th down and must convert situations must be defended. Some interesting practice periods can be built around the green zone. These periods help both the offense and defense call and play better situational football. 

These situations have lead to growth in our philosophy on green zone play calling, handling 4 down situations and have helped us develop our green zone/4th down section of the game plan/call sheet.