Previously, we looked at the basics of a zone scheme and the multiple ways a lead blocker can be incorporated into that scheme. This time, we’ll excommunicate the lead blocker if favor of some sort of option read. The option play – often referred to as a read play when the option is performed with a mesh point – is a way of essentially adding an additional blocker to the run game. The defender being optioned off must choose between two options, and either way he chooses, he is theoretically wrong (provided the correct read is made). Likewise, by adding the QB as a viable run threat, another defender is accounted for in the blocking scheme outside of standard play action. This post focuses strictly on outside zone blocking and doesn’t include inside zone (next piece), gap blocking (down the road), or other schemes.
First, we’re just going to look at a standard Outside Zone run play from the shotgun, just to give you a feel for how it works. Typically, if a standard zone scheme is incorporated, the RB still has all three options we learned about in the basics of a zone blocking scheme.
Outside Zone Read
This play utilizes the same blocking as the outside zone play described above, and still provides the three cuts available to the RB. Typically from shotgun, the RB’s aiming point is a bit wider. Here, the QB is reading the backside DE. This read acts similar to the split block we previously discussed (however, we won’t call it that because it’s not typically called that, and we’ll use that split block in a later piece). This is the cornerstone play of many spread-to-run teams, particularly those with more of the “scat-back” feature or speed backs.
With origins within the veer option playbook, the midline read looks to read off an interior defensive lineman in the RBs direction. When under center, it’s essential to give the QB enough time to make this read, so the defender is often required to be in a 3-technique or further outside. However, from shotgun, this isn’t necessarily a requirement (though some coaches still believe in it as a NT can cause some issues). Regardless, in this instance we are going to call it a backside read for an interior down lineman. The OL will bypass this player and go straight to the second level, while the EMOL seals the defensive EMOL outside.
This play takes advantage of fast flowing DTs trying to track down the play from the backside. It also limits the games, such as a scrape exchange, that the defense can run without getting stuck out of position (by not allowing the DE to crash, a gap is opened up in the defensive front).
Similar to the Midline Read, the Wham read will read the frontside interior DL. It is again preferred that the defender is a 3T or outside, but not necessarily required. This looks a bit like what is often referred to as an inverted veer play, and the QB will extend the mesh point by riding the RB laterally while making his read. The read here takes the place of a Wham block. If the DT chases, the QB will pull and run between the tackles, and if he doesn’t, the QB will give to the RB working outside. For this play, it is essential to not allow the backside DT to squeeze the play down, and you even want to widen the frontside DT before releasing to the second level to make that interior gap a bit wider for the QB.
We are going to differentiate this read play from the Inverted Veer (which for BDS nomenclature, will utilize gap blocking) and the Power Read (colloquially known as the inverted veer, but utilizes Power O blocking up front, while the read acts as the kick block). Here, the offensive line is running standard OZ blocking but leaving the playside DE. Preferably, the Y-TE here will work underneath and around the DE and to the second level, as this helps the QB with his read. However, if the DE insists on staying outside, the Y-TE can simply push him down before working to the second level. The QB will extend the mesh point and attack inside the DE if he keeps, or give outside. The remaining blockers need to ensure one of the two DTs are sealed with a double team. Shown below, the playside DT is sealed to allow the QB to run outside of him. However, if the OL is struggling in reaching the MIKE, the backside DT can be sealed with the double team and the QB can have the playside DT be a second read; if that DT wins outside, the QB works inside, and if that DT gets sealed inside, the QB goes outside of him.
This is pretty much the same as the Kick Read play above, but the read is moved back to the second level LB. It should be noted immediately, that while sometimes the fast flow of the LBs can allow for the second level read to be easier, there is also more wash between the QB and his read (making it more difficult to read based on keys (like the shoulder or V of the jersey) and forces the read to be relied more on feel or flow), and more time (because of the distance) for the LB to react to the play.
Anyway, If the DE is causing issues by being able to play both options well, then the read can be moved away from the QB to the LB level. Optimally, you’d prefer your TE plays the DE straight up in this scenario, but it is essential that the TE doesn’t allow the DE to switch gaps. If the DE lines up outside, he must be sealed outside. If the DE is lined up inside, he should be sealed inside. You do this because you don’t want to allow the defense to exchange gap responsibility post snap to make the QB’s read incorrect. Because the SAM, from a similar look, is typically trying to flow outside before the block gets there, this play forces him to remain honest on the frontside of the play. Issues can arise here if the SS starts cheating down, at which point he should become the read defender. This is a great play for teams trying to scrape exchange on the front side or for teams that align the playside DE heads-up or inside the TE and picks on defenses that fast flow with their LBs.
Like the Lead Read, now we are reading the MIKE LB. Typically, this would be used with a fast back that can beat the DE to the edge and for LBs that are very fast flowing. If you’re having trouble reaching the MIKE on the Lead Read, you can move it back inside and give the interior combo block a little help by allowing them to block back to the backside LB. Here, a double team on the NT isn’t required to be sustained; instead, the NT should be washed whichever way he wins. So if he wins playside, the QB cuts behind him, and if he’s sealed the QB cuts upfield. This allows the OL to get to the second level WILL fast enough to provide a wide opening to run through. If the MIKE charges down on a frontside blitz (through the A-Gap for instance), the read can move further backside to the WILL, as the C will have to pick up the blitzer. This is a good play with a powerful RB in short yardage situations as it provides a straight ahead runs scheme with fast misdirection to pull the defensive front (or if they don’t flow, to reach the edge and have a big gain).
A lot of teams like to make a BOB read away from the TE side if the DE is very athletic and can attack the mesh point extremely quickly. Likewise, teams that like to run a wide-9 can see a BOB read worked against them to seal the DE outside. This is also a great counter to potential scrape exchange games from the defense. Optimally, you’d prefer your OT plays the DE straight up in this scenario, but it is essential that the OT doesn’t allow the DE to switch gaps. If the DE lines up outside, he must be sealed outside. If the DE is lined up inside, he should be sealed inside. You do this because you don’t want to allow the defense to exchange gap responsibility post snap to make the QB’s read incorrect.
If your team has a fast RB that can beat the DE to the edge, or if the opponent is trying to constantly win playside of zone blocks, the Switch Read is a great way to counter that. In fact, because of the OL flow, the switch read acts as a great counter play without changing up your blocking scheme at all. The switch read gives the QB the zone blocking, while allowing the RB to try to get the edge. Note here that the slot receiver is blocking the WILL LB, as there cannot be two free defenders to the RB side. But similarly, any defender chasing flow will easily be caught on the backside of a QB keep, and by not chasing flow you are putting the RB in more space. Great if you have a very good QB run threat. Can be paired with IZ if the QB isn’t fleet of foot, but with fast QBs, the OZ works great to attack both edges and give a different look from the OL and backfield flow. Just note that the QB must extend his mesh a bit because his read comes away from the RBs alignment (similar to how Kick Read works).
Switch BOB Read
Similar to the Switch Read, but now moving the read to the second level. This works great if the backside is trying to fast flow to catch up to the play or is shooting gaps (either inside or outside) from an apex position. Also, if the DE is athletic enough to stop the RB reaching the edge, this puts a blocker on him to maintain that block long enough to allow the RB to reach the edge.
Switch BOB Crack
Toward the QB run direction, we are still looking at Outside Zone blocking. However, on the backside of that, we are now cracking the DE. This doesn’t work quite as well for your standard switch read (though you could use it by cracking the WILL) because the pull from the OT would want to get outside the DE and would more or less draw the DE to the play (allowing the play to be stretched out rather than having the OT act as a lead blocker). But here, it does allow the OT to act as a lead blocker, but the DE can’t stretch the play out because the slot receiver cracks him back inside. In fact, by pulling underneath the DE, the OT is pulling the DE toward the crack blocker to better set him up. The same read on the WILL can be made as before, but now the QB has a little more leeway. This is because the OT can still theoretically block the WILL if he adjusts to the handoff. If he doesn’t, if he stays home, the QB can keep and has plenty of zone blocking for himself. Again, this is great for putting athletes in space, and in this case can be paired with OZ with an athletic QB to attack both edges.
The Speed Option can be run with a lot of different blocking schemes, but OZ blocking is often preferred. This pairs great with read option because now the DE is forces to play being optioned off of differently. Instead of being read for a crash/stay, he is being read for staying home or widening out. This puts a lot of mental strain on the DE to consistently play sound football. I’ve discussed the speed option more in detail here.
Speed BOSS Option
Have a SS filling down fast? Have an athletic QB and a TE that is quick enough to not allow the DE outside immediately? Then you can read the SS rather than the DE on the speed option. If your QB is athletic enough to get outside the DE, this is a great way to run the speed option against alley filling safeties, particularly to the wide side of the field. By optioning off a different player and blocking the DE, you force the defense to adjust how they account for the speed option based on your blocking scheme, and now put more stress on the back four in the run game.
By using Outside Zone blocking, the offense can read any defender in the front 7. This forces every defender to remain accountable in the option game, and in that way, keeps each defender on his heels. Likewise, by utilizing the switch scheme, you alter the backfield flow, giving the defense another thing to worry about and another reason to play sound responsibility-wise, and there for slower. Add in the speed option game, which puts two run threats to the same side, and you’ve very much stressed the defense from sideline to sideline and between the tackles with one blocking scheme.
Up next, we’ll look at pairing Inside Zone from Gun or Pistol to work in the read option game. After that, we’ll explain how you can use a single RB as a lead blocker for the QB in a zone based scheme, and then how a second backfield player can be used in combination with the read concept to add an even more multiple zone based scheme. Then we can begin to look at keeping defenses honest with gap/man schemes and play action.