Monday, December 15, 2014

Football Fundamentals: Zone Running Scheme Variety Utilizing Multiple Backs

Previously we looked at the basics of the zone blocking scheme. To do so, I drew up the plays in 12 personnel. While 12 and 11 personnel served as the catalyst for many of the early success of the zone blocking scheme, many teams began adding complexity and different looks to the scheme by implementing variety through the use of FBs and H-backs. Previously, in man/gap schemes, FBs used as lead/kick blockers or as deception for the backfield flow was deemed as a near necessity to run the football. Zone offenses saw this advantage, and as the scheme has developed, many of these advantages have been implemented into a zone based scheme as well. In this post, we will look at how tags can be used to modify the zone blocking scheme and attack defensive strengths and weaknesses and provide various looks for the opponent.

The player identified by the red box will be the player the back is attempting to block. I don’t show all the multiple options and formations (obviously) that you can run these plays from, but instead have tried to provide a variety of 12 (with an H-back) and 21 personnel from a variety of offset formations and looks to provide a feel for what you can do.

Split Zone
Split zone is the foundation for most current inside zone based teams. Using either a FB or an H-back, the split zone works in a variety of ways. First, the back flowing the opposite way in the backfield gives a false key for defenses reading OL to FB, as many teams do, particularly against man based schemes. The flow pulls the defense away from the run, or at least forces them to delay. A second advantage is that it tends to look a lot like another base scheme: Power O. Inside zone blocks initially look like down blocks to the defense, and the FB or H-back running to the backside initially looks like a standard kick block. In this way, Split Zone and Power O work in tandem to give a similar look but attack opposite sides of the LOS. Lastly, the back flowing opposite helps seal the backside defender. By allowing him to have momentum going into the block and being able to alter his path to meet the backside defender, the split zone blocker opens up a wide cutback lane for the RB.

This can be used for Outside Zone as well if the bend option becomes readily available because the defense is overflowing. This helps seal the backside similar to as with inside zone.

Also known as cut zone, this provides a great play action element to an offense.

BOB Zone
A variant, typically for inside zone, BOB stands for Big-On-Big, Back-on-Backer. This means that, rather than the FB or H-back kicking out the backside player, that the EMOL (either online TE or OT) will handle the DE while the back blocks the second level.

There are several reasons for doing this:

  1. If the backside DE is crashing hard and immediately (for example, on a twist such as a scrape exchange) such that the back can’t get into the block before the backside is squeezed
  2. The back is having trouble handling the defender due to the defender’s size
  3. The alignment of the backfield blocker (such as offset away from the playside) doesn’t provide an adequate angle to seal the backside
  4. The backside LB is slow to react down, thus allowing the backfield blocker to act more like a lead blocker on the cutback and catch the LB in the 2nd level
  5. The LBs are fast flowing and the safety is filling down; thus putting a FB or H-back on the quicker/faster safety rather than forcing an OL to have to pick him up in space.

This can be used for Outside zone as well, though the angle of attack will be more playside (thus not necessarily giving the opposite flow it would for an Inside Zone run) if the Bend becomes a more obvious option due to defensive flow.

Is the MIKE LB the most dangerous defender on the field? Then identify him and assign a backfield blocker to get him. Often times on zone plays, the OL struggles to get out into the MIKE fast enough and adequately seal the first level. To get to the 2nd level quicker and get a quicker player into the 2nd level, you may identify the MIKE LB with the backfield player and simply block him immediately. By doing this, you tend to force the MIKE to commit quickly, and you better handle the first level, which can help declare run lanes for the RB.

Lead Zone
Lead Zone the nominal scheme for Outside Zone, however, it can very easily be incorporated into Inside Zone, particularly when it is run to the weakside. Lead Zone, can behave similar to MIKE zone described above, but more likely will identify the playside LB inside the tackle box. But it isn’t really about identifying a specific player as much as it is knocking out the first off-color jersey that isn’t occupied. Many OL have trouble gaining ground on LBs that are quickly diagnosis zone plays.

To combo into the 2nd level before the LBs can fill down can be difficult to handle the first level adequately and get into a position where you can do anything with the LB. To make it a bit easier for the OL, you can use a lead scheme to allow the OL to block a LB closer to the backside of the formation while allowing the FB or H-back to take care of the playside LB. This is also a good scheme for short yardage, as it provides a thumper with momentum through the hole (whereas the OL wouldn’t have time to handle the first level and get off the combo block with any momentum, therefore catching the LBs rather than knocking them out) and provides an additional blocker at the point of attack. Likewise, with defenses reacting quicker in that situation and the first level needing to be secured, the lead zone can assist in handling the NT while accounting for the 2nd level.

Boss stands for Back-on-SS. Mostly used for Outside zone, this is often used to really help the run play get to the edge. You can use this strictly identifying the SS as an alley support defender, or this can be used to get outside the defense and block the first off-color that flashes back inside. Especially when you have multiple extra blockers playside (for example: 12 or 21 personnel with FB/HB aligned outside the TE) where the SS will be utilized to force the play back inside, this can be used to seal the defense inside while getting a quick player out on safety support.

Also known as Arch Zone (because the FB is arch blocking)

Power/Belly Zone
This is a scheme that can be used to handle the frontside DE with a lead blocker. In this way, it acts as a kick block (similar to a kick block in a Power O scheme), or more accurately, it works similar to the kick block in a Belly Series playbook. This allows the OL to focus on more on the interior defenders rather than having to work so much to get playside. Likewise, it can allow a TE to work quickly to the second or third level defender. It should be noted that this generally will be a very quick hitting zone run (think of the belly run play) but can be utilized against teams that like to shoot LBs down immediately at the snap by allowing OL/TEs to immediately release the DE to get to the playside LBs.

Wham Zone
Great DTs are extremely difficult to handle with blocking alone. Sometimes, accounting for them simply with blockers is not enough, so instead of simply blocking them straight up, you can generally lure them into a trap. Trap blocking was one of the most successful schemes for a long time, but doesn’t necessarily fit directly into a zone scheme (though using short and long traps can be a nice gap/man counter to zone blocking). So to make up for this, you can use a Wham block to lure the DT into the backfield and then seal him away from the play with a hard hitting H-Back/FB. Often times in today’s game, particularly in a zone scheme, the DT is not feeling free release and immediately thinking “IT’S A TRAP!” but they are instead thinking that the OL messed up and he has a free run into the RB. This can be utilized as a designed cutback or a quick hitting straight forward run play, but more often than not it is a 3-technique (possibly a 2-Technique) or further outside that will be kicked out. This gets the OL immediately into the ILBs and doesn’t let them crash down, and generally puts a wide gap into the staggered defensive front for the offense to split and get into the third level. Note that initially it also looks like split zone, which is an added advantage for the offense, particularly when designing it to cut back.

As this shows, depending on the defensive threat or weakness or goal of the offense, variations with the backfield blocking can give an increased advantage to the offense. Other than the NT, each defender can generally be attacked by a back, and many of these plays are designed to allow the NT to be doubled at the POA more easily, as the other defenders are accounted for with the backs. So in this way, you can generally use the same blocking scheme and add quite a bit of zone run scheme variety to play to your strengths and toward the defense’s weaknesses.
Next up, we’re going to look at in shotgun and utilizing a “Read” as the extra backfield blocker. First we will look at what is typically considered an Outside Zone alignment (directly next to the QB) before doing something similar for an inside zone or pistol variation (with the RB aligned more behind or directly behind the QB).

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