Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Teams That Establish The Run In The Red Zone

Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones

John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we know which NFL teams establish the pass inside the 20 yard line -- and more importantly, inside the 10-yard line -- let’s look at which play callers want nothing more than to pound the rock into the painted area at any and every opportunity.

Knowing play caller’s tendencies in the red and green zones can help us gage which players have sneaky touchdown-based upside. Last year, we saw Justin Jefferson used as a green zone (inside the 10-yard line) weapon for the first time in his pro career, and he came through with five touchdowns on nine green zone receptions.

Jamaal Williams, meanwhile, was the poster guy for running backs seeing a truckload of valuable red and green zone carries. Williams defied the regression-obsessed analytics geeks time and again in 2022, turning a league-leading 57 red zone rushes into 16 touchdowns. Williams logged 12 more inside-the-10 carries than any other running back last season. He kept getting away with it, and for good reason.

Below are teams that operated the most run-heavy red zone schemes in the league last season. Some of these teams have new offensive coordinators or head coaches or quarterbacks -- changes that might make this data moot. There are some important and informative takeaways, however. We want to know who’s establishing the run like it’s 1972.

red zone rushing

red zone rushing

The Overlooked Mr. Jones

Daniel Jones probably isn’t all that good. I know he won a playoff game and got paid and all that. And really, good for him. But he’s a below-average passer who is best used as a dual-threat game manager -- a fancy Alex Smith, if you will.

None of that matters for fantasy purposes. His rushing opportunities in the New York offense give Jones tremendous touchdown-based upside. Jones’ 24 red zone rush attempts last year ranked third among all quarterbacks. His 14 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line were just one fewer than Justin Fields. And Jones turned seven inside-the-five carries into three scores. Brian Daboll and the Giants are ready and willing to use Jones’ wheels where it counts the most.

Jones’ high-value carries really ramped up at the tail end of 2022. Tyler Huntley and Jalen Hurts were the only QBs to log more rushes than Jones from Week 12-17, and in the Giants’ playoff win over Minnesota, Jones had 17 rushes for 78 yards. Jones is one of the league’s few quarterbacks who could regularly trot into the end zone in 2023. I’m not sure his redraft ADP reflects as much.

The Eagles And Their Upside

The Eagles trending ultra run heavy inside the 20 is hardly a surprise seeing that Jalen Hurts is the most unstoppable player in the NFL near the goal line. Hurts was second among all players -- not just quarterbacks -- with 20 rushes inside the 10. Eleven of his 13 rushing scores came in the red zone. Hurts’ role as Philadelphia’s primary red zone rusher gives him as much scoring upside as any player in fantasy. It’s why I break out in a cold sweat when I don’t roster Hurts in best ball drafts.

Fantasy managers can safely assume that the highly-concentrated Eagles offense did not, in fact, hit their statistical ceiling in 2022. Not at all. After getting out to huge leads throughout the regular season, the Eagles often took the air out of the ball in the third and fourth quarters of blowout victories. Get this: Philly averaged 12.3 second half pass attempts per game last season. In a whopping 14 games, the Eagles threw the ball five or fewer times. They recorded exactly one passing attempt in the second half of their NFC title game victory. You know this if you rostered Hurts or A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith last season. Mind-bending first half numbers wouldn’t budge in the second half of lopsided Eagles wins. You took what you got, but you know there was so much more to be had in a neutral scoring environment.

Miles Sanders and his 45 red zone rushes -- third most in the NFL last year -- are now in Carolina. That leaves a big heaping of scoring potential for someone in the Philadelphia backfield. Rashaad Penny would seem the most likely to inherit that kind of role, though we can’t discount Kenneth Gainwell or (maybe) D’Andre Swift getting in on that run-first red zone scheme. The team’s rushing prowess and the presence of Hurts in the backfield is why we should be aggressive on Eagles running backs this summer, however much uncertainty might haunt the team’s backfield distribution.

Arthur Smith‘s QB Will Never ‘Throw A Touchdown’

You might want to make a citizen’s arrest of Falcons head coach Arthur Smith when he runs the ball on second and 14 from the 19 yard line, but we must accept that Mr. Smith is bound and determined to establish the run -- both inside and outside the red zone.

Tied with the Eagles for the NFL’s second highest red zone rush rate, the Falcons managed 111 carries inside the 20 despite trailing in most games. Where the Eagles ran to kill the clock, the Falcons did it on purpose. Probably that’s excellent news for Bijan Robinson, unless, of course, the bulldozing Tyler Allgeier becomes a thorn in Robinson’s statistical side as a goal line option for Smith and the run-first Falcons. It should be noted that Allgeier didn’t have much success as a goal line threat in 2022: Just one of his seven carries inside the 5-yard line netted a touchdown.

Back to Robinson: His red zone role might be underestimated as we head into the season. Atlanta backs lost out on valuable inside-the-20 rushes with Marcus Mariota under center early in the season. Mariota had 17 red zone rushing attempts in his 13 games, and his four rushes inside the five resulted in three touchdowns. We likely won’t see that kind of usage for Desmond Ridder in 2023. Ridder logged five red zone rushes in four games as a rookie. He had a meager two rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line. Those opportunities should belong to Robinson -- or, annoyingly, Allgeier, this season (it might not hurt that Atlanta has one of the two easiest schedules in the NFL).

Nonstop rushing in the red and green zones obviously means decidedly bad things for Kyle Pitts and Drake London. Pitts in 2022 had all of four inside-the-10 targets, as many as all-time great Brock Wright, who is, per my interns, a real NFL player. London had nine green zone looks; most of those came after Pitts’ season-ending knee injury. Barring a radical philosophical shift for Smith and the Falcons, touchdown scoring near the end zone will belong (almost) exclusively to Robinson and/or Allgeier. I am pro-Pitts and take no pleasure in reporting this.

McCarthyism Rears Its Ugly Head

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is on record saying he wants fewer explosive plays this season. He has criticized former Cowboys OC Kellen Moore for trying to score too many points. McCarthy, who lost his job last time he had play-calling duties, sees the Dallas offense as nothing more than a means for providing rest for the team’s defense. If they happen to score a few points, so be it.

Probably that backward philosophy will generate quite a few red and green zone opportunities for the Cowboys running backs, especially since Ezekiel Elliott‘s team-leading 35 red zone carries are gone (for now, at least). One would think that would be welcome news for Tony Pollard in his new role as Dallas’ lead back, or something akin to a lead back. Pollard, to no one’s surprise, was highly efficient in the red zone last year. He took 22 carries for 99 yards (4.5 YPC) and six touchdowns.

It would be stunning if the Cowboys weren’t among the 10 run-heaviest red zone teams this season, as McCarthy looks to control the clock rather than score points. Maybe fantasy managers aren’t considering this kind of approach when they value Pollard as the eighth running back off the draft board.

That CeeDee Lamb was a superb green zone target in 2022 likely won’t phase McCarthy and his anti-analytics mission from God. Lamb caught four of his measly six green zone targets for three touchdowns last year. Teammates Dalton Schultz and Michael Gallup were among the receivers with more inside-the-10 targets in 2022.