To the untrained eye, hitting pay-dirt once you’ve reached the red zone seems like a trivial matter. The term “red zone” itself lends towards that notion, as it refers to the area of the field — the 20-yard line and up — where points are most commonly scored from.
That reputation is deceptive though — just because it’s where the most points are scored doesn’t necessarily mean it’s where the most touchdowns are converted, especially the further back you get from the goal line. If you start a red zone visit inside the five? It’s more likely than not you’ll come away with six. Starting a visit from the 15 or the 20? Not so much of a guarantee.
The explanation behind why that is has two different perspectives. At Wednesday’s media availability with Michigan Wolverines coaches, assembled media members heard both.
On the defensive side of the ball, not much changes in the way of play calling. The key difference, Michigan co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale said, is in the way the personnel use their physicality.
“The closer they get to the goal line, the less room they have, so you can be a lot more aggressive,” Clinkscale said. “You can tighten up in coverage, you can move closer to the line of scrimmage versus run, and really in that sense it gives the defense a slight advantage and the offense a little less. We just try to take advantage of those situations; they let us play a little more physical down there.”
For the offense, while there’s certainly an escalation to the physicality, particularly in the trenches, co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss acknowledged there’s a fundamental shift in play calling that plays a key role.
“It’s harder to run the ball because there’s constricted space; all the defenders are closer to the point of attack. It’s also harder to throw the ball because you don’t have the ability to stretch the field vertically,” Weiss said. “So it’s harder to move the ball in general, and certainly that takes away a lot of things you can do, both run game and pass game, and so you need a red zone specific offense.”
These perspectives did not come without context. Red zone frustrations have been made a key point for Michigan the past two weeks and have shaped the perception of how its games have played out.
When asked about the frustrations, Weiss and Clinkscale both defended their team’s record.
“We’re really just talking about a couple drives,” Weiss said. “Really specifically, two drives inside the 10 where we need to score touchdowns in the last game that we didn’t. Credit to Michigan State, too — they did a good job and they had a good plan. But we need to coach better, it starts with that, and we need to play better.”
“Our offense has done a really good job,” Clinkscale said. “They had a couple situations last week — those coaches are great coaches, they’ll get it where they want it”
While the frustrations haven’t boiled over yet, improving their red zone visits is certainly a point of emphasis moving forward. Iron sharpens iron, and the staff will work together in tandem to improve the team’s red zone approach.