18 Jan 2013
This article at Grantland is interesting, obvious, and obnoxious all at the same time. The basic idea of the article is that nothing magically changes when you cross the 20. Points don't suddenly become much easier to score, teams don't dramatically change how well they play, and the red zone is a totally arbitrary measurement. In reality, once you pass midfield, every single yard you get closer to a score is more important than the yard before.
And yet... Football people have developed terms like "red zone," and as analysts, it makes it easy to use those terms as a nice shorthand for a more general and vague concepts. Maybe there are old coaches out there who think something magical happens when you cross the 20. But FO writers and probably most coaches know that there is only a small difference between the 19 and the 21. Everyone reading this probably knows this. Most of the people who will see this article on Grantland probably understand this too.
However, we do need a shorthand way to talk about whether certain teams are better or worse than average when they get to the point where the field is condensed. (For example, Baltimore's passing game really struggles down there because you can't throw a deep bomb when there isn't very much field left.) If we want to talk about this in a way that allows us to explain the results to 99 percent of the reading public, we need to pick a well-known yard line as the "starting point" for this zone. And so, we go with the red zone as it is generally understood, starting at the 20. The same goes for pretty much anyone else writing about football.
So yes, there is no red zone. But really, there is a red zone. It just happens to be a general concept rather than a tangible, physical area that exists only between the 20-yard line and the end zone. You can't ask coaches and writers to explain this nuance with a whole paragraph every time they want to talk about teams getting close to a score. Sometimes, it's just easier to have a two-word phrase. Anybody who has a real problem with this -- and I'm not sure the writers of this piece even fall in that category -- is just being pedantic, and holding sportswriting to an absurd standard of strict intellectual rigor.
42 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2013, 2:48pm by Ryan D.
Brian Fremeau is back for his 10th season of college football advanced stats at Football Outsiders, with a lesson on average teams (like Arkansas State) and updated FEI projections for 2016.