Once upon a time, there was a little girl with hair wings the color of goldish yellow, kind of like corn, or maize, or maybe the 14th most populous city in Texas if that makes sense. (She also had a phase where she dyed it neon. A lot of people bitched about what color this was, actually).
Anyway, one day she went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon the house where lived three bears. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.
Earlier this week I went over what a reach block is. There's actually a play where they're trying to reach block all three relevant linemen. It's called a zone stretch, also known as outside zone. And no, it doesn't actually rely on everyone getting reached; in fact all sorts of things are expected to go wrong, with guys getting help and offensive players coached to react to defensive reactions.
Those links cover what the offense does, but how should the defense play it? Indiana ran a lot of zone stretch against Michigan in 2015 and on one in particular I thought we got a nice example of the actions and reactions that go into these plays.
Zone blocking asks the OL to get the best block they can based on what the defense does, and as you might have guessed a reach block is the best block you can pull off. On a stretch play the OL will ID the defender they need to get playside of by how the D aligns, and the way they play the block is determined by how the guy getting block reacts. The RB then picks whatever hole materializes.
There are three different reach attempts going on here:
- The LT (Jason Spriggs) will reach/cut Godin (top)
- The LG (Jacob Bailey) will try to reach Willie Henry (middle) with a minor assist from the C (Jake Reed) as he releases.
- The RG (Dan Feeney) and RT will try to scoop Chris Wormley.
A scoop is a combination block where the OL lined up outside blocks the defensive player until the guy doing the reaching can get in position. Once they've got another guy around, the outside man releases to block someone else. Teams that run a lot of zone will get good at combo-ing with each other, and it's rare that any reach block is purely the work of one man. Even in our last example Braden lent Mason Cole an arm.
[After THE JUMP, too soft, too hard, and just right]
Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Thanksgiving? I'm trying not to accidentally have a war on Christmas here. Whichever Thanksgiving greeting you feel is appropriate appears in this space along with a reminder that Matt's good at making mortgages happen and a solid all-around dude, so if you're in the market you could do a lot worse.
FORMATION NOTES: Standard stuff from Michigan to the point where I forgot to take a screenshot. Here is a picture of Hackenberg getting swarmed instead.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Charlton moved to buck/WDE. With him there it's WDE. RJS backed him up an got a healthy number of snaps. Hurst, Henry, and Wormley got the vast bulk of the remaining DL snaps. Strobel got in for a few. Godin had a little bit more playing time than Strobel but maybe a dozen snaps total.
Gedeon rotated in for both Morgan and Bolden periodically. Bolden seemed to get more rest than Morgan. Gedeon might have been in there a quarter of the time. Ross played a reasonable amount as a SAM in 4-3 sets.
Secondary was as per usual now, with Hill the dime back behind Thomas. Stribling got scattered snaps. In the 4-3 Peppers and Lewis were the corners.
[After THE JUMP: diatribe! Three plays that went poorly! And then good stuff!]
After getting stretched time and again by Indiana, one of Penn State's first plays sprung excellent freshman RB Saquon Barkley for a 56-yard gain. Terror struck. Michigan then proceeded to hold the Nits (shout-out to RoUMel) backs to just 17 yards on 15 carries. What happened on that one run? Did it happen again? Did we learn to stop this all of a sudden, or maybe Franklin shelved it the rest of the game because it wasn't sporting? Let's find out.
What were they doing?
he can cut into any gap
And to zoom in on the important part:
Zone stretch or outside zone is a basic part of any zone running offense. Teams that use it most effectively are those with nimble offensive linemen. Where inside things are about blowing the defense back to make holes, stretch plays try to flank the defense.
For the OL it starts with the same rules as inside zone: if you're "covered" by a defensive lineman you block that guy, if you're not you release to block a linebacker, and if you're lined up playside of a DL you combo then release. Then you block depending on what those defenders are trying to do: if they shoot inside you seal, if they slant away you shove and make them over-slant—they'll really have no choice but to try to ride you and stay playside. Then the RB picks his hole based on whichever block went the best.
[After the jump: Michigan had a solution, which had a problem.]
Hey man you never know when something that looks good is going to suddenly disintegrate into a pile of sawdust or like the Fed is going to say "rates are now a billion percent" so get a mortgage with Matt. I may be overreacting to the content of this post. It's probably going to be fine if you don't refinance or whatever. But it could also not be fine and you could get stuck on the field for ninety mortgages or something.
FORMATION NOTES: When I say "nickel under" I do mean a 4-3 under with nickel personnel.
Bolden is standing up on the LOS as the SAM with Hill filling in as a second ILB. Wilson is off the screen as a very deep S as per usual.
M occasionally tucked a linebacker inside one of their DEs, which is a "bear" front:
Nickel buck denotes the buck LB right behind the nose. This was rare.
Ross got in as a buck and stood up and I'm just pretending he's a DE, okay? That's what I'm pretending.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Michigan spent almost the entire game in a nickel aside from some goal line sets and a few dime packages. With Glasgow out, Hurst started. Strobel was his backup at first. He got two or three stretches of playing time and did poorly. Late Michigan started playing Henry at nose a lot. There was palpable frustration with Hurst on stretch plays. Godin also returned, though he had a very bad day.
Bolden/Morgan at LB except for two drives with Gedeon replacing Bolden and one with Gedeon replacing Morgan.
The secondary saw Thomas start over Hill again. When Thomas was hurt in the first quarter Hill got the bulk of the game. Clark and Stribling are still splitting time but it is increasingly clear that Clark has won the job.
[After THE JUMP: seriously, Kevin Wilson, I hate you]
FORMATION NOTES: Hello tiny TEs. Michigan used a lot of formations where they would bring a wide receiver tight to the line to act as a blocker. Here's Chesson in what I called "pistol biggish," because it's only big-ish.
For its part, Miami ran an under front whenever presented with seven blockers for the opposition, and about 90% of the time brought a safety down late or just lined him up in the box.
This press look was not common.
Miami would roll that safety down before this snap, FWIW.
Michigan used a lot more under center stuff in this game. Under center stuff was approximately 55% of the offense after being maybe 20% against ND, and there were a lot of tight ends. Only about 40% of Michigan's snaps had 3 WRs, again way down from ND.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line static: Cole/Magnuson/Miller/Glasgow/Braden. I saw Kalis in for the last drive, and I thought I saw him earlier in the game live but either I missed it in the film review or my mind was playing tricks on me. 61/67 are not easy to distinguish. Burzynski got in at the tail end at left guard.
Gardner QB; RB mostly Green, with less Smith and Hayes relegated to third down duties and some late stuff. Johnson did not appear. Mo Hurst(!) got a goal line FB snap. Showy, but a dollar says Kerridge is more effective. At TE, Butt got a little bit more time but it was still mostly Williams and Hill, with Heitzman again appearing sporadically.
Without Funchess, Darboh and Chesson were the main guys at WR, with Norfleet marginalized with a ton of 2TE sets. Damario Jones got about as much playing time than Canteen, making the first catch of the game.
[After THE JUMP: yards, eventually, and yet more infinite RB discussion.]
This is a companion piece to last week's refresher on inside zone, Michigan's new base play. Outside Zone, also known as the Zone Stretch, is one of two very common complementary plays to IZ, because the technique for the offense isn't very different, but the way the defense has to defend it is (the other complementary play is Power-O, Michigan's extremely nominal base play the last few years).
Outside Zone Defined
The difference, as made obvious by the name, is the point of attack. Inside Zone blocks "downhill"; the running back aims for the first line defender past the center, and picks a lane to either side of the guards. In Outside Zone the back is running to a point outside the five linemen. Some coaches say run to the back of your tight end, others say run to the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS); it comes to the same thing.
Here's Alex Gibbs (from the Elway-era Broncos), via Smart Football:
This is another "base" play. If the defense plays sound against it, the success of the play comes down to execution and talent. As with IZ, if the defense gets too aggressive the reaction to that is built into the play.
This isn't a play that attacks multiple sides; it threatens outside and can come back inside if the defense overreacts to that. Since we're coming into this from a fan perspective I won't get into the footwork you can't see, but you'll recognize Outside Zone immediately because the linemen start out by moving sideways.
As you can see, reps, reps, and more reps turn this into a possibly devastating play. The more you run it, the better the team will react to various things defenders do. In the video above Gibbs talks about the guards "making the read for him [the RB]". The big breaks from OZ come when a guard or center sees a defender reacting too aggressively, let that guy run himself out of the play, and then destroy a back-filling defender.
Like inside zone, the offensive linemen have to read the defensive front to decide before the play begins who they're blocking. The "covered" rules still apply: if someone's lined up over you, you're covered; if not you're uncovered:
The general rule of coveredness still applies: if there's a guy lined up over you, you have to block him. But the whole idea of a zone stretch is it slides the line, so if you're uncovered that means you have to reach the next defender to the playside of you, and if you're covered you're looking to 1) get playside of that dude and 2) combo block him with your uncovered buddy, and 3) release and get downfield.
Combo blocking is one of the things that takes lots and lots of reps. The essential blocking rule is don't let anybody cross your visor, and block the guy in your zone. Outside Zone's strength against a base defense is it creates double-teams at the point of attack
How It's Defended
Outside Zone pairs well with Inside Zone because a defense used to IZ can get caught inside, but that should be rare with a well-coached defense because the play is quite obvious from the first step by the offensive linemen, and from what's going on in the backfield (the RB isn't coming downhill). As soon as the defense realizes this they have to get on their horses and prevent the offensive linemen from flanking them, but because of the threat of the cutback, the defense also has to maintain gap responsibility.
There's gonna be a huge temptation for the EMLOS, with the play headed right for him, to square up and end the play right there, but the most important thing (unless they've given him extraordinary safety help) for him is to keep the play inside. The offense knows this, and a good tight end who can get that EMLOS skating wide can create a big hole to run through; a bad tight end will let the EMLOS get leverage and hold him inside, squeezing the hole shut.
Keys to Success
Every little thing the offense does has a potential to make or break this play. The faster the RB makes his cut and accelerates through the decided hole, the bigger this can break.
A fleet-footed, quick-thinking, tough sumbitch of an interior lineman can really make this go. David Molk could consistently get playside of a guy lined up shaded strong on him, and could react so well to defenders that he'd often make the RB's job easy, abandoning a defender running himself out of the play to catch a chasing linebacker and create a gaping hole.
Outside Zone is where a great running back can really shine and a just-a-guy can make the play barely more than a side show. Mike Hart, with his great vision for a developing hole, his super-quick and decisive cut, his great acceleration, and his tiny stature in comparison to the mountain of flesh in front of him, was an awesome Outside Zone running back; if only he had stayed healthy the one year he got to run it consistently.
[One sample play and more coming, after the jump]