# When calculating red zone efficiency, does a team need to have a first down in the red zone?

An NFL team's red zone efficiency/percentage is calculated by taking the number of touchdowns scored in the red zone and dividing it by the number of trips to the red zone. (A team is in the red zone if they are at their opponent's 19 yard line or closer. [Source 1] [Source 2])

Let's say a team gets a 1st-and-10 at their opponent's 21 yard line. On their next play, they gain 2 yards to advance to their opponent's 19 yard line, so that they are technically in the red zone. Let's say on 2nd and 3rd down, they fail to gain a first down, and they settle for a field goal on 4th down. Does this count as a failure in the red zone? Or would it count as a failure in the red zone only if the team had a first down at their opponent's 19 yard line or closer?

• So far the closest thing I can find to an answer is this tweet. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 8:20

After Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season, a web site says that the 49ers have a 25% red zone TD scoring percentage.

I looked at the play-by-play of their Week 1 game against the Cardinals, and they had the following trips inside the Cardinals' 19-yard line:

• 1st and goal at the Cardinals' 10-yard line, which ended with a failed 4th down attempt.
• 1st and 10 at the Cardinals' 14-yard line, which ended with a successful field goal.
• 1st and goal at the Cardinals' 10-yard line, which ended with a touchdown.
• 1st and 10 at the Cardinals' 21-yard line, which ended with a failed 4th down attempt from the Cardinals' 16-yard line.

That last set of downs started outside the red zone and ended inside the red zone, without a first down in the red zone, and it was still counted as a failure in the red zone.

First and foremost, the term "Red Zone" is not an official stat. It has origin stories that originate from either a former head coach, or a broadcast director depending on who you ask Source of Red Zone.

The definition of a team "in the red zone" is that they ran a play within 20 yards of the goal line (a touchdown).

When teams are positioned anywhere within 20 yards of the opponent's goal line, they are said to be in the red zone, a place on the field offering high-percentage scoring potential. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football

Therefore in your example, any play snapped from a spot inside 20 yards (regardless of which down it is) would be considered a red zone play and count as a red zone visit for the team.

However, there is some statistics that point to a lack of correlation between red zone efficiency and total offensive performance:

On average, NFL teams ran 132 plays in the red zone and converted just over 20 percent of said plays into touchdowns, for a league average of about 26 red zone touchdowns per team. Overall, there was a .595 correlation between red zone touchdown percentage and offensive scoring, which should come as no surprise to most football fans. Scoring touchdowns as opposed to field goals in the red zone will lead to more points, but there are obvious outliers such as big plays and long touchdowns. A .595 correlation isn't outrageous by any means (if it had been 0.7 or higher we'd really be in business), but it's positive enough to draw the rather obvious conclusion that it'd behoove us to lean toward drafting players who could have increased opportunities in the red zone in more efficient offenses. Quote Source

• You have no source to back your supposition of the stat he asking about. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 18:52
• So if a team has 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down at the 21 yard line, and on 3rd down they gain 2 yards to move to the 19 yard line, that means they are in the red zone only on 4th down, and it is considered a failure in the red zone if they kick a FG? Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 18:59
• @pacoverflow there are stats for both field goals in the red zone and TDs in the red zone. Yes, in your example this would hurt their TD red zone success rate. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:03
• @JasonPSallinger I added a reference for the red zone visit definition. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:03
• @Chrismas007 It still does not help answer the OP's question. The definition of Red Zone was never in question. This answer is useless unless you can source whether Red Zone efficiency takes into account that the offense has achieved a first down in the Red Zone. Until then this is purely opinion-based. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 18:37