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Stop throwing the red zone fade

The fallacy of the fade and other musings from +5

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Some call it a fade, others a jump ball or “fifty-fifty” but the fallacy is that it’s much less than a fifty-fifty throw. Collecting the empirical data is difficult because of now many NCAA and NFL teams there are, and how many trips to the end zone they have. However, cornerbacks have gotten extremely adept at leveraging receivers out of bounds and getting their arms in between the receivers to knock the ball out of their hands. That said, the red zone fade isn’t the best choice, especially not on 3rd down, for the offensive coordinators.

The data

Back in 2013, Jason Lisk and Michael Shamburger wrote the piece “Fade Into the Red Zone: A Look at Hot and Cold NFL Pass Plays Near the Goal Line.” In that article, they stated the assumed fades, which were throws to the sideline zones into the end zone, were only completed 24.5% of the time. In fact only 33.8% of all throws into the end zone while in the red zone (a lot of zones) were completed versus 66.7% of all throws from the red zone that weren’t thrown into the end zone were completed.

With this data we can see that the best option is to actually throw short of the end zone and have your skill player work their way in for a score. Half of the completions short of the end zone scored, just the same as half of the completions into the end zone.


If the ‘Canes are going to throw the fade, they need to do it from further out than the +5 territory where they’ve ran it seemingly too many times, but also take advantage of height mismatches. Sub six-foot receivers like Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas are not the guys that I would focus my red zone fade on. However, Evidence Njoku, Lawrence Cager and Brian Hightower are all six-foot-three or taller and are threats to score on a jump ball.

Miami needs accuracy from Malik Rosier where the football is put in a place where the cornerback can’t intercept but also isn’t throw too far out of bounds where Miami’s receivers can’t reach it as well. It’s dubbed an easy one-read throw but the fade requires proper loft and velocity as well as placement when cornerbacks are expecting the fade on 3rd down.

What works in the red zone

Lisk and Shamburger like the shovel play. I think it’s a great choice as well as in the college game if the ball is dropped it’s an incompletion and not a fumble. It can be ran with a variety of players from different formations, motions, shifts and personnel groups which works as a smoke screen against defensive coordinators.

Matt Canada ‘brought back’ the shovel and it worked at Pitt in 2016. I wrote the piece, “The Shovel Option is Back!” in 2016 for my coaching blog and Miami has a slew of players that can be shoveled to and score including Brevin Jordan, Deejay Dallas, and Mike Harley if you’re looking for a speedier option. Jordan, who I have extremely high expectations for, would mix size and athleticism as would Dallas. Harley would be a shiftier option that’s harder to see behind the pulling guard.

I personally would like to see the Ohio State version with Dallas lined up in the slot, motioned back into the backfield, and serving as the shovel read while using Travis Homer as the pitch man or incorporating a bubble RPO on the outside as the “pitch” play.

Going midfield

I’m sure a few of our weirdo commenters (I love you, though) will hate that I’m using Florida State as a reference but they were notorious red zone rub route coaches under Jimbo Fisher. I’m a huge fan of ‘slant-arrow’ as a passing combination in the +5 field zone.

To roll or not to roll

Some coaches love to rollout or sprint out in the red zone and others think it cuts the field down and allows the defense to only defend half of the field. I like running a sprint out in the +5 territory of the field or at the five yard line or closer. Any distance where my quarterback can pull the ball down and dive into the end zone. Aaron Rodgers loves to sprint out and for an older cat he’s quite mobile.

Lyon College assistant head football coach Mike Gregory said, “I love to give the quarterback the option to run in the red zone.” Gregory, the former head coach at Tampa Catholic High School, also likes to half-roll and have a throwback option away from the roll.

Winning the red zone

Scoring touchdowns isn’t just a schematic issue it’s also a mentality. Teams like the Navy Midshipmen, the Clemson Tigers and even the hated Florida Gators circa the Tim Tebow era refused to be shut out of the end zone inside the five yard line. Eventually, the offensive line and running back or quarterback have to know they’re going to score and punch the ball into the end zone. Hopefully the Miami offensive line, new fullback Realus George, and the triple threat of Homer, Dallas, and Lorenzo Lingard will have the confidence to score.