Zone Blocking Zealot Episode 2: More Inside Zone!

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on January 15th, 2014 at 5:47 PM

I’m back with more zone blocking zealotry (see: last week). I’ve decided to make this into a series until all my zealotry for zone blocking has been adequately expressed to all of you. Last week’s diary is thereby retroactively labeled Episode 1.

This week’s episode expands upon some of the arguments made last week about Inside Zone, examining in more detail the various ways teams can use Inside Zone from under center to wreak havok on opposing defenses. To that end, I’ll concentrate on assignments, reads and what options an offense has once Inside Zone has been called.

(Later episodes will tackle, in unspecified order, Inside Zone vs. Power O; Inside Zone from the shotgun and pistol; how to build a coherent offense around Inside Zone; how to defend Inside Zone; how to run Outside Zone better than we did in 2013; and the intricacies of zone blocking technique.)

So without further ado, let’s start with a few elements of Inside Zone that help explain why it is so effective, and why I think it’s the way forward for us (as our base run play).


Inside Zone…isn’t that just another straight-ahead run?

Yes and no. Sure it goes straight ahead, but operates from a different logic and set of priorities from, say, Power O. Power O, as you’ll recall, starts with the mindset that your OL can get at least some push against their DL and, moreover, that everyone is disciplined enough to get to their man and not leave the wrong person unblocked in the process. It’s kind of awesome when it all works as planned, but when that doesn’t happen, you can end up with a TFL (see: 2013).

Inside Zone, by contrast, is specifically designed to reduce the frequency and severity of negative plays. It does this in part by getting the RB to the LOS very quickly, and in part by aiming everyone at the point(s) of attack more or less forward (i.e. no pulling). Even if we don’t end up running Inside Zone as well as Alabama or Wisconsin (and it’s unlikely we will in 2014), eliminating TFLs would itself constitute a net win. I mean, think about how much easier it is to consistently convert 3rd and 4-7 than 3rd and 9-12.

Inside Zone is also incredibly flexible. Though not a true read-option play, Inside Zone also isn’t a scripted play with one basic outcome unless you audible into something else. Rather, it is something in-between the two, and may result in several outcomes without an audible. Under center the primary options are: RB inside, RB cutback and QB bootleg (from the shotgun or pistol these are: RB inside, RB cutback and QB outside).

The decision to alternate from the default (RB inside) is based on three reads. Pre-snap, the OC or QB reads whether to hand off or keep on a bootleg. The second read—whether the RB runs “playside” (i.e. the direction the play is designed to head) or performs a cut to the “backside”—can come pre-snap (by the OC/QB) or post-snap (by the RB), but lot of offenses just leave it up to the RB to make that decision post-snap.

Since the blocking assignments are attuned to the playside, though, the RB has to avoid the temptation to cut backside too frequently. Like the QB bootleg, cutting backside is a constraint or counter play—a way to punish defenses for keying in on the inside run. As such, it works best when the defense is overly fixated on the inside run.

Assuming there’s no cut backside, success on the inside run now relies on the RBs ability to hit the gap at full-speed. The RB is allowed one cut (and one cut only) based on the position of the block on the first defender outside center, relative to his own position. Additional cuts and bounces are viewed, philosophically, as disruptive to timing, generative of negative plays and potentially leading to a breakdown of blocking assignments. As a consequence, your RB must be very decisive—you do not want someone who takes their time getting to the LoS, or someone who never saw a juke or bounce they didn’t like.

But that's not all! Here's a small selection of what you can run out of Inside Zone:

Once you master the techniques of teaching the zone scheme, it really gets fun as a coach.  Off the inside zone action, you have the zone read principle (the QB reads the C gap defender), the orbit reverse principle (slot comes in motion to get reverse or hold C gap defender), the split zone or slice principle (FB or backside motion player seals the C gap defender), the lead zone principle (two back concept, in which the FB lead blocks the front side linebacker) and the bootleg or screen off it. You end up with five plays by teaching one scheme.


How do you block for that?

Without getting into too much detail on technique, here’s a primer on blocking assignments for Inside Zone. If you are lined up right across a down lineman, you block as if it were a man assignment. The rest block in zone, with assignments determined by the position of the OL on the man block. In zone blocking jargon:

Almost all zone blocking follows the "Covered/Uncovered" rule. If a defensive lineman is "covering" an offensive lineman (lined up directly across from him or slightly shaded to the playside), that defensive lineman is the offensive lineman's responsibility. No ifs ands or buts. If all five offensive linemen are directly covered by defensive lineman, the scheme essentially turns into five "drive" (for Inside Zone) or "reach" (for Outside Zone) blocks across the line of scrimmage.

Other than goalline situations, though, it's rare for every offensive lineman to be directly covered. An uncovered offensive lineman is referred to as a "bubble" in the defensive front and those "bubbles" determine who helps double/combo block to the second level…These combination blocks/double teams that occur at the bubbles essentially turn into a game of two-on-two between the offensive linemen and a defensive lineman and linebacker.

To illustrate, consider the following question. If playside is to the left, and your C puts a block on the opposing NG, while your LT puts a block on the opposing DT—where does the LG go? The read is based on where the LG perceives the greatest need for extra protection and/or where he sees the most unblocked shoulder visible. Since the play is going left, but is run inside, the blocks are going to angle ever-slightly to the left. So if the C has that the left half of the NG covered well enough, the LG can double the DT. But if the C doesn’t really have a good angle on the NG, then the LG can double the NG, thus creating space for the RB to run through. If they are both blocked well, he can release to the second level and take on the nearest LB. If they are both blocked poorly, he picks up the one who appears the most imminent threat to the play.

The next question is: which of the OL on the double releases to the second-level defender? In some cases, this will be determined by the nature of the double—if one of the OL has a bad position on the defender, he will release. But if it’s a good double, where either OL could sustain the block, the releasing OL will be determined by the danger posed by the nearest second-level defender.  Take this example from the Jaguars link:


Scripted Uncertainty

As you can see, zone blocking introduces a degree of uncertainty into the play that you don’t really get with more scripted inside runs. This uncertainty can manifest either as flexibility or chaos, depending on how well you run the play. But generally speaking the gap is something of a moving target—and that’s fine, according to Inside Zone’s internal logic. But it also isn’t completely fluid .

Consider the following (illustrated!) scenario of an offense running Inside Zone from under Center, with 2 TEs and no FB, up against a 4-3 Over/Under. The advantage of this 2TE set, of course, is that it doesn’t project a strongside and weakside, and thus doesn’t give the defense any information about which side is playside—a useful mechanism for dealing with 4-3 Over/Under. But you’re also wasting a TE and lose the opportunity to goad the defense into over-committing (a perfect setup for the RB cut backside or a called Counter Trey). But anyhoo, the defense doesn’t know where playside will be, guesses left and thus Inside Zone goes right. The target gap is between the RG and RT; the cutback lane is probably going to be between the C and LG, though it may also be between the LG and LT. A bounce outside is possible but not advisable, given the unblocked FS and C lurking in the area.




As you can see, the blocking assignments are:

  • U-TE blocks DE
  • LT blocks DT
  • LG blocks DT
  • C blocks NG
  • RG blocks NG
  • RT blocks DE
  • Y-TE blocks DE

Note that, because playside is to the right, the WLB on the left edge is left unblocked. Meanwhile, three of the defensive linemen are double-teamed. Depending on the position of the blockers relative to the doubled linemen (that all important shoulder thing again) and the RB, one of the OL on each block can release and move to the second level defender. In the illustration, LG moves on to the MLB and C moves on the SLB (though RG could just as easily release to take on the SLB).

The intended gap emerges between the RG and RT, and with both SLB and MLB held up, the only defenders left between the RB and the end zone are the safeties. The RB can now choose whether to cut left or right—right if the YTE releases and arrives in time to help; left if not (given more space for the SS to make up).

Ross Fulton of 11W explains the significance of this:

By making an offensive lineman responsible for an area rather than a man and having the linemen work in tandem, zone runs allows an offense to better account for the myriad of blitzes and stunts used by modern defenses. Zone run plays are thus ubiquitous for both pro-style and spread teams.


Formations and Wrinkles

As I mentioned in the last diary, one of the advantages of Inside Zone is that you can run it out of almost any formation without changing much about the OL blocking scheme (though of course a speed/spread team like Oregon will emphasize somewhat different things than a power/pro-style team like Wisconsin). That said, the traditional I-Form does pose specific problems for Inside Zone, which may explain why we never ran it all that well (or often) under Borges.

The primary reasons for lining up in the I-Form are: A) to send the FB to the LoS in advance of the RB; and B) or to pick up an unblocked defender before he trashes whatever play you're trying to run. In a zone blocking scheme, the FB would either double one of the down linemen (allowing an OL to release to the second level), pick up an unblocked man (either a DE/edge crasher or interior gap crasher) or simply move forward to the second level himself, thus theoretically giving the RB an extra block to work with.

In practice, though, sending the FB to the LoS can create “clutter,” reducing the number of gaps for the RB to choose from and thereby simplifying the decision-making process for opposing LBs. Plus with Inside Zone, as with the Zone Read and Inverted Veer, you really don't really care what the backside edge rusher does--so why waste offensive personnel blocking him? After all, if you run the play as it's supposed to be run, there's little way for him to get to your RB in time to affect the play.

Also remember that Inside Zone depends on the RB getting to the LoS with a head of steam, and trying to do that when there’s a bigger, slower FB in front of you isn’t easy. The result is a play that develops too slowly to do the things it’s designed to do. The RB gets to the line without much momentum, with fewer holes to choose from, and facing LBs more likely to be crashing the one gap left for the RB to run through. It can still work if the OL does its job and gets to the LBs, but the brilliant thing about Inside Zone is that it can still work really well even if they don’t.

Consider this video of Eddie Lacy running Inside Zone for Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, which Ross Fulton featured in his primer on Alabama’s offense for 11W:



Alabama has six on the line, with a U-TE on the left edge and an H-back lined up behind him. Notre Dame is, I believe, in a 4-3 Over with a cornerback aligned close to the LoS. Alabama runs the play and scores on a 20-yard scamper. But pause the video at 0:08 and notice the gaping hole outside—which Lacy ignores. Also notice that the blocking isn’t actually all that good: the RT gets a terrible angle on the DE he’s assigned to block, the RG falls down en route to the nearest LB and there are 3 defenders unblocked and in position to make a tackle--and then remember that Alabama fielded an OL of n00Bs just like we did.

Meanwhile, back at 0:08, the LBs have not committed yet and are holding their zones. If Lacy dithers, they can close the gap. If he chooses to bounce outside, the MLB can probably catch him before he turns the corner, as well as expect support from the cornerback (who is out of our view). So Lacy just flies through a gap that’s near imperceptible from the viewing angle, but which goes right between the C and LT—and also just in front of the LG, who is now occupying the MLB. That gives Lacy one LB (WLB) to beat by the first down marker and the SS in space, neither of who have much of an angle on him, given the kinetic energy he has accumulated by this point. The free safety is too far back to help much.

I remember Bob Diaco’s defenses being hyper-aggro gap shooters, which begs the question: why don’t they shoot the A-gap from the snap, as happened to us so often this year? The answer: because of a few things made possible by Inside Zone and the specific formation Alabama uses. Recall that gaping hole outside that Lacy does not run through, the one between the Y-TE and LG/LT. If the MLBs does shoot the gap, Lacy can perform a cutback. The WLB, meanwhile, is constrained by the H-back, who looks as if he will (and does) run into the flat. If it’s a bootleg or playaction pass, and the WLB shoots the gap, the H-back will be wide open. This isn’t even taking into account the threat that Alabama will call a screen—that whole “constraint theory of offense” thing again—or an Al Borges-style playaction pass, rendered more frightening by the fact that this is Alabama 2012 and not Michigan 2013.

The H-back is also worth lingering on, as I assume Nussmeier will import this position to our 2014 offense. Rather than anticipate the RB to the line, the H-back runs across the LoS to playside, where he either picks up a block or releases as a receiver. This opens up the possibility of a QB run off the bootleg, or a Bo-approved Waggle.

You can think of the H-back as a converted TE or FB—basically a blocky/catchy type. And that’s pretty much what he was under Nussmeier at Alabama. But I like the idea of using a little speedy guy who can block like a mountain goat—someone who can get lost in there, and even take a handoff or two. Think Vincent Smith (but fast!) or Dennis Norfleet (but blocks like Vincent Smith!).

If you add the threat of a handoff to the H-back, then Inside Zone starts to take on characteristics of the Triple Option. (Note: you can do with with a WR as well, a la our paltry attempts to get a running game going against KSU with Funchess, or Texas at 0:48 in this video.)

Does that sound tempting, Brady Hoke? I bet it does! After all, you get that whole flexibility and constraints thing that differentiates the modern from the paleolithic offense, but you still get to push people around at the LoS like big, bad Alabama does. Come to think of it, that's probably the exact thing you had in mind with this whole Nussmeier hire...


Next Time on Zone Blocking Zealot…

That’s probably enough for this week. Next week I’ll compare Inside Zone to that other base inside play: Power O. I will elaborate on the distinctions between these two staple plays, both in theory and practice, while expounding on the case for Inside Zone as the most functional approach for Michigan 2014. See you next time!




Ron Utah

January 15th, 2014 at 6:38 PM ^

I like that you not only talk about the strengths of IZ, but also the challenges in running it effectively:

  • OL has to be able to identify (target) well
  • OL has to be able to combo block well
  • RB needs to make quick, one-cut decisions and cannot afford to "dance"

Also, I love the ND clip.  ND has 8.5 in the box and a good play called to stop IZ.  The keys are the combo block that take out the WLB, and the athelticism of Lacy, which gets him by the SS (who took a bad angle and really should have made the play).

I'm not sure our 2013 OL could have run this play all that effectively, given the above requirements, but the thought of Green and Smith barrelling at top speed into the secondary makes my mouth water.

I also think it's worth mentioning that this scheme is basically perfect for Drake Johnson, IMO, and if he fully recovers, he could factor-in to Nuss' '14 plans.  Drake is a strong, fast, one-cut runner who powers through arm tackles and was coming into form before his injury.  Watch this tape, and you'll see a guy who is well-suited for the IZ:


Ron Utah

January 15th, 2014 at 6:43 PM ^

Nearly every good IZ run requires the RB to do the following:

  • Get to the LOS as quickly as possible with eyes on the hole (or cutback)
  • Slow down just a bit to make your cut to and through the hole
  • Accelerate through the hole with good pad level

Watch zone running highlights.  The RB almost always slows down just before the LOS and picks his hole, then explodes through it.


January 17th, 2014 at 10:56 PM ^

is a great one to watch.  He is the perfect zone style running back, makes decisions quickly, gets up field in a hurry and the first guy rarely brings him down.  His absence is a big reason why Houston sucked so bad this year.


January 19th, 2014 at 9:11 AM ^

and Schuab is an avg QB at best who needs a running game to be effective.  Plus Kubiak's playcalling is predictable that defense were able to pick 6 Schuab 4 weeks in a row because they knew PA bootleg was coming which made it easier for CBs to make a read that he's going to TE all the way.

Texans defense wasn't very good either.


January 17th, 2014 at 10:56 PM ^

is a great one to watch.  He is the perfect zone style running back, makes decisions quickly, gets up field in a hurry and the first guy rarely brings him down.  His absence is a big reason why Houston sucked so bad this year.

Eye of the Tiger

January 15th, 2014 at 10:00 PM ^

...that even if the SS plays it right, Alabama still gets the first down. Once the blocks are in, the only thing ND can really do is crash the gaps at the LoS, and if they do that, a smart RB will know to cut outside.

In terms of how well we would have run it in 2013, well, that's moot because Alabama reps Inside Zone to hell from day one. But assuming we do that in 2014, I think it's plausible to expect us to run Inside Zone to the same level of profiency of, say, Iowa. That might not be a thrilling prospect, but it's also improvement of exactly 62 rank positions among FBS schools. Given our dual-threat quarterback and our potentially explosive playaction game, I think that's enough to produce major dividends in the relatively weak Big 10.

...oh, and yeah--Drake Johnson could be really effective. I guess I'm just not sure where he's at in terms of rehab, and I have high hopes that Green and Smith will develop into a one-two punch, kind of like Yeldon and Drake at Alabama this year. (I guess that could make Drake Johnson our Derrick Henry? I'll take that!)


January 15th, 2014 at 7:33 PM ^

So how do we get there? What are the characteristics of the personnel to make this work. Of course we will need to hear from someone on how this is defended

Eye of the Tiger

January 15th, 2014 at 10:46 PM ^

First, Inside Zone isn't as personnel-specialized or as reliant on as either Power O (bigger, stronger + pulling guards) or Outside Zone (leaner, quicker). So it should work out just fine with the guys we have--provided they can learn the system. But I don't think that will be a problem. Consistency and comprehensibility in playcalling, combined with inexperience in the interior, was our big problems in 2013, and this year we'll have a more experienced interior OL who will almost certainly spend their time repping a smaller repertoire of plays and formations. Practice makes perfect and so forth. 

As far as defending Inside Zone goes, I know a lot less about defensive than offensive schemes--so someone please step in and correct me if I'm wrong here. But Inside Zone tried to give defenses an impossible choice, so the best defense will be one that improves the choice. AFAIK, the most effective defense is to do that would be to play Quarters (Cover-4) with highly disciplined LBs who time their gap shooting (zone blitzes) perfectly, and aggressive, WR-mugging corners who disrupt route timing and thus reduce the potential of both playaction and bubbles as constraint plays. Like the Seahawks. 

It's less common in FBS, because defenses often can't pull it off. But MSU does this really well. So does Alabama. Interestingly, Saban was one of the guys who developed the system (when he was with the Cleveland Browns).

Just to underscore, Inside Zone isn't a panacaea; it won't solve all our problems, as if by magic. Tough defenses will still be tough defenses. But even that MSU game looks a bit different if we get another 50 yards from our RBs (better field position for us, worse for them, more converted 3rd downs, fewer obvious passing downs, more real threat of playaction, etc.).


steve sharik

January 16th, 2014 at 3:03 AM ^

as the base play is b/c Power (O or other) and other man/gap schemes don't take nearly as much time to teach and rep.  Therefore, you can practice IZ, power, and iso and determine which play you're best at to be your go-to run.  In other words, it gives you more flexibility.  If you start with power and you're not good at it, now you're trying to add zone during the season, and there just isn't enough time to rep the techniques to get good at it.

I think the biggest decision to be made is which zone scheme to rely on, inside or outside.  In my personal opinion, a non-NFL team can do one of three things:

  • inside zone & power/iso
  • outside zone & power/iso
  • inside zone & outside zone

Some OL gurus believe if you coach it well and rep it enough, zone blocking is all you need.  Others believe that if a defense is well schooled at defending zone, man/gap schemes (e.g., power, iso, trap) are a good answer.  I fall in that latter category b/c, as a defensive coach, it's easier to coach the DL if an offense doesn't pull linemen.  All I have to teach the DL is to not get reached and not allow a free release to the 2nd level.  I don't have to worry about being down-blocked or back blocked, or how to spill a trap (hardest techniques for a DL to learn).

I also believe that option football is a great complement to any of the above.  You can run the read off any scheme and option either the backside DE, OLB, or ILB.  You can add pitch or quick throws as a 3rd option, as well.

As far as which zone to go with (inside or outside), it depends on your philosophy.  Do you want to be a pure smash-mouth team, or do you want the flexibility to be both downhill and get to the perimeter with your run game?

what would Bo do

January 16th, 2014 at 8:30 AM ^

In HS everyone in our conference ran inside traps.  We were tought to "wrong shoulder" the trap to keep our inside shoulder in the whole the play was designed to go.  My ability to take on traps was the only reason I started, so I very much enjoy traps.  High speed collisions were way more fun than low speed collisions. 

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2014 at 9:05 AM ^

A pure zone scheme is too easy to win across the face and anchor, DL, LBs, etc can immediately react if you are purely a zone team, so I like to counter inside zone with power/iso. I do still think you need outside zone though, because there really isn't an effective way to get the edge otherwise (I don't believe you'll teach inside zone and so GO sweep, though you may I guess). Outside zone can be just as much of a constraint as a counter, because it initially looks the same to the defense that is looking for IZ (it doesn't look the same if they are looking at it objectively, but if IZ is your base, they won't).

I also think trap blocking is the most underutilized scheme in college and NFL teams today. Teams have been using Wham blocks a lot more in recent years, which is nice, as I think both of those blocking types are great ways to counter many of the gap-attacking, pass-rush friendly DL types these days.


January 16th, 2014 at 10:01 AM ^

I like having some sort of gap scheme play to go along with zone whether its Power O or Counter. But some believe zone is all you need. One of those people is Alex Gibbs who was the o-line coach for Broncos during the Elway/Davis years when zone became so popular due to their success. He believed in having no zero yardage or loss plays in the running game. He felt there were already enough those plays in the pass game. And the gap scheme plays could hit big but they also had so many moving parts there was a chance for -2 type plays. He felt zone was always good for 2-3 no matter how bad the play was.

IZ has for the most part has stayed consistent in approach but OZ has developed a few different styles. Gibbs called their plays Wide Zone (OZ) and Tight Zone (IZ). And their base was wide zone.  But contrary to popular belief their wide zone wasn't really a "get to the edge" play. The aiming point was always the TE or imaginary TE's ass. The RB always pressed this aiming point in a hurry. His 1st read was the EMLOS that was a defenisve lineman (LBs do not count). This read told him when the play was hitting inside or outside. But they really wanted the play to hit inside of that read. The man or men blocking that first read really wanted to force that guy out or at the very least force that guy to give the RB a read. The worst thing that could happen was for that guy to anchor down and stay square to the line. Then the next read was the next dlineman inside whether it was a 3tech or 1 tech. And that was the cut read. The RB got one cut. 8 of 10 times their wide zone play came inside of the 1st read, thus was not really an edge play. Tight zone was really only used when a defense aligned wide on both sides. He did not believe in the stretch or bounce (depending on your terminolgy) style of OZ. By this I mean the uncovered man blocking down and covered man pulling around. Some say pin and pull some say horn. He didn't like this because it took the RB off his aiming point and he was no longer pressing the line.

They key to their offense was that the formation, personnel and movement always put them in a position to run wide zone strong, wide zone weak, tight zone strong, tight zone weak and bootleg out of any look. And their favorite way to do this was double TE or I form with the FB aligned weak.


steve sharik

January 16th, 2014 at 5:48 PM ^

utilized OZ as the base and ran no IZ. The way the banks read the OZ is to key the play side EMLOS block on the force player. The back sprints with the idea of going wide. If the EMLOS doesn't reach the force player, the back makes one cut inside that block, assuming the text of the OL has cut off the rest of the front. If the EMLOS reaches the force player, the back takes the ball to the perimeter and reads the block on the secondary force player in the same manner.


January 16th, 2014 at 7:54 PM ^

The difference between what you described and what I described is the Broncos wide zone was not trying to reach the EMLOS, in fact they actually prefered the opposite.  I believe the fear was that a good EMLOS could just string the blocker out and fall in or out at the last moment while at the same time the rest of the defense was flowing that way. They wanted the back to press the LOS as fast as possible not head horizontal towards the sidelines.

I am not saying one way is right and the other is wrong. The purpose I guess was just to point out there are several styles of OZ and the Broncos (who popularized zone in the mid-late 90's) wide zone play was not really a perimeter play. It hit inside the TE most of the time and they wanted it that way. 


January 16th, 2014 at 11:48 PM ^

This is where it really hurts you. I agree with all the commenters that it's good to have bread and butter; once you have a more experienced line you can implement the play that stacks up best both from a personel point of view and Opponent D  tendencies. When our O was mostly upperclass linemen on my team we could run a mix of all the man/zone blocking schemes as well as play action pass off them and a little option (but not zone read, this was the 90's). That is when we had our best offensive output across most of the key metrics (YPP/QBR/RedZone/3rd).

Also sadly, this would be where an experienced poet like Borges would feel most comfortable; writing with a diverse vocabulary. From this diary and the 'bama UFR as well as my years watching 'Nuss improve the Dawgs O here on Montlake I'm extremely psyched due to the youth we have and hopefully an upgrade game day coaching and recruiting.

Also IZ was best result vs. NU and first half IOWA+OSU? with the dudes firing off and Green/Smith making their "one cut"...


January 16th, 2014 at 9:07 AM ^

I wonder -- do O-linemen communicate post-snap?

Looking at that Jaguars link pic, yeah, with the RB behind the double it's hard for the blockers to tell which direction he's going to go (given the circumstances the LB is in perfect position).  Some of this decision-making strikes me as intuitive:

1) If your angle is terrible, you're not doing any good, so just release and go find a linebacker.

2) If the other guy is donkeying his man, you're not needed, so just release and go find a linebacker.

But if two guys are holding the point of attack, I'd do something like a "guard option" for lack of a better term.  If the guard wants to release, yell "got 'im?" and the other guy can yell "yeah" or "no".  If "yeah", release.  If "no", maintain the double.  I don't play O-line so I don't know if they already do stuff like this or if this is the dumbest idea since mushroom-flavored Dr. Pepper.

I just remember all the ARGH ARGH freshman combo-blocking (more like combo-whiffing) BS last season where one guy would just chip a defender then release clearly before his teammate had anything close to control of the block.  Defender basically gets through with nothing more than a subway station bump of the shoulder and TFLs.  If you're not sure, why not ask?  It may not be perfect and could result in some sluggish combo-blocking, but I'll take it over complete busts behind the LoS.

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2014 at 9:23 AM ^

Much of the stuff is happening too fast, quick, and intensely to really communicate a whole lot post snap. At that point, almost all of it is done off of feel, rules, assignments, etc. There may be some communication, but there is a lot more grunting, huffing, puffing, blowing of houses down, and things of that nature in the trenches.

Now, certainly other positions, like DBs, have more communication post snap, as they work in more space.


January 16th, 2014 at 9:34 AM ^

Agree there isn't much verbal communication but in some cases you can push your combo partner off the double.  If you are the inside man on the combo block and the LB plays over the top you just push your partner off of the D-lineman. If you feel that push you know to snap your head up and get that LB.


January 16th, 2014 at 11:10 AM ^

I was a DB in my amateur "vacant lot league" days (now a soccer defender) so yeah, I'm more used to working in space where there's a lot of yelling and pointing.

I grok what MVictors97 is saying. . . There's no time to communicate verbally, but if you HAVE control of the situation and assert it, you can change the situation in a way that's easy for your buddy to read.  From there it's basically chemistry and rules.

Lemme try again, because I'm the sort of guy who learns from being wrong:

Looking at the pic again it looks like the guy on the left has better leverage, so the guy on the right (sixtysomething) should release or, if he doesn't like the feel of the situation, maintain the double. If he releases to go after the linebacker from where he's at it's likely he'll be completely useless considering I believe the blur to the right is the RB just past the mesh point going behind sixtysomething's back to follow his lead blocker, so the linebacker will probably go to his right -- giving sixtysomething an impossible angle.  (If he tries to be cute and knows where the play's going he could go around his buddy's back to his left, but the danger I see is crashing right into the RB.)  But that's the thing about OL -- the ball is behind you until you know whether you've done something right or busted.

steve sharik

January 16th, 2014 at 6:00 PM ^

but they know who is going to release to 2nd level by scheme and technique. Each OL has their outside, play side gap, so the DL/LB combo decides for the offense. The center has play side A gap; guard, play side B. They are responsible for the play side DT and ILB. After the initial double, the guard will block whoever ends up being the B gap defender, be it either the DT or the ILB.


January 16th, 2014 at 9:17 AM ^

I have a question.  What happens when the DL players are moving around pre snap and do not let OL players to figure out who is covered and who is not? Or what happens if the DL players move and stunt after the snap?  Wouldn't these make it difficult for OL to do zone blocking?

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2014 at 9:25 AM ^

You aren't blocking a man, remember, you're blocking a zone. So if a DL stunts away and out of your zone, he's no longer your responsibility. Same with defenders moving around and what not. They move into your zone late you need to pick them up, if not, you're uncovered and get to the 2nd level. But decisions need to be made very quickly and on the fly. This is why IZ must be repped a lot to be as effective as you've seen it in other places, because if that feel and decision making isn't second nature, then the OL is working too slow and penetration kills any zone scheme.


January 16th, 2014 at 11:09 AM ^

A stunt is the first trick in the book to try against man blocking, but against zone I think it'd be a slant.  You start out in one guy's zone and quickly move sideways so:

1) The guy you line up against passes you off to his buddy, and

2) The guy's buddy doesn't see you coming.

Meanwhile, the linebackers read the blocks and flow to the gap.  Somebody gets 2-3 guys in his zone that weren't there at the snap.  If he's quick to make a decision he can take one guy out and hopefully someone else can release early; if not then TFL.

But these are classic tricks so I think the key to making IZ work is to rep all the various ways DLs try to beat it.


January 16th, 2014 at 11:31 AM ^

I do remember in mid 2000 we switched to zone blocking (correct me if I am wrong) with good success but also do remember a game against OSU that we could not do anything, even with Hart and Long.  I thought OSU was doing a lot of pre snap movements, stunts and slants.  If not, then what is the DL plan to counter IZ?


January 16th, 2014 at 10:24 AM ^

Excellent write up, thanks for posting. One question:

In your diagram, why did you label the linebacker who is aligned to the outside shoulder of the UTE as a Weakside LB? I'm no football genius, but I feel like if that were Michigan's defense, that would be the spot on the field our SAM would align to. Is there a 'strongside' in this offensive formation if there are two TEs? 

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2014 at 1:53 PM ^

But, technically, that's an under front with the LBs rotated like an Over Squeeze to pinch the DE inside. Now, in fairness, it's a balanced offensive formation, there is no strength, but teams generally will align to the right of the offense in that case. Meaning the Y-TE side is typically the strongside of a balanced formation (though, that tendancy will change depending on if the ball is on a hash or not, type of base defense, etc).

Also, Y-TE is typically an in-line TE, which often denotes strength. U-TE is typically an off TE, so let's assume he started off the LOS and then moved the X-WR (typically a WR on the LOS) off the LOS. So that would be why whoever drew that diagram did it the way they did.

What Michigan would typically do is rotate the LBs the other way, and have the SAM have outside leverage on the Y-TE side, then the MIKE move to where SAM is and WILL where MIKE is, but for whatever reason the LBs are rotated contrary to that, perhaps because the CB or FS on the right is a better run support defender.

Now, this defensive formation can work just fine assuming the CB or FS have outside leverage to the right. If we really want to dissect the diagram, note that the CB on the left has outside leverage, hinting he has inside help, meaning it's likely a form of cover 2 on that side. On the right side, the CB has inside leverage, denoting he doesn't have inside help. This likely means the defense is in some sort of hybrid coverage, where the SS is helping over the X-WR rather than playing center field.

That's all looking way too much into it. It's really just a weird formation that someone probably drew up to make diagraming the play easier.


January 16th, 2014 at 10:53 AM ^

I can't find a picture to back me up. But I believe LSU runs an Inside Zone toss or quick pitch where the QB pitches the ball to the RB, but the play is designed to go thru the A or B gap instead of outside. I love that play. It seems the RB is at the line so much faster, and seemingly always goes for positive yardage.

Any chance we would be able to get that installed, if M does go with an inside zone scheme?


January 17th, 2014 at 9:34 AM ^

Great diary.

Great comments.

One question for Sharik/Cowboy/Utah/RDT: what else did Bama run? If zone was their base play, what did their tendencies look like elsewise? I remember seeing quite a bit of power O, replete with the crossover step pulling technique which I hate but which seems to be taught by a lot of zone teams. 

Just trying go get an idea of what we might look like next year. I do think that teaching our guys to crossover step on their pulls could slow their development, seeing as they've been in a power offense that tought the rip and run (or whatever the hell you coaches call it these days) technique, so that could be something to watch for in the spring.

Eye of the Tiger

January 17th, 2014 at 10:37 AM ^

And, of course, being 'Bama, run them both well. But in this case everything is set up by Inside Zone. Wisconsin does the same thing.

I'm going to talk about this in detail for my next diary, but suffice to say, there's a version of Power O that looks like Inside Zone at most points of attack, so if you're selling Inside Zone well ennough, you can goad the defense into reading the play incorrectly.

Space Coyote

January 17th, 2014 at 1:22 PM ^

It does seem like more teams are using the cross-over step more than not these days, which is interesting. I think there are positives and negatives to it.

Positives: keeps eyes down field; easier to get and keep shoulders square to the LOS.

Negatives: slower; because it's slower you tend to have to squeeze the Power O play, making it harder to bounce or spread the box with the run.

steve sharik

January 18th, 2014 at 9:43 PM ^

And I'm not convinced that would tell us a whole lot, either.

First, I think Nussmeier will have more freedom here than he did there.  Second, I think he and Hoke will discuss what schemes they think will accomplish what they want to be philosophically, which, according to Nuss at the presser, is, "tough, physical, explosive."  Well, I think we all can agree that doesn't mean diddly from a schematic standpoint, except to eliminate run 'n' shoot and air raid, and you'll see a vertical passing game.

Nuss loves IZ and Brady loves Power, and I think they can easily co-exist.  But, for that to work, it's going to have to be IZ as the base play and Power as a change-up.


January 17th, 2014 at 12:53 PM ^

Posts like this and the discussion in the comments really are a big part of what sets mgoblog apart from other sites.

Much appreciated to all contributors.


January 27th, 2014 at 7:35 AM ^

Been waiting for the next episode to come out. Hope it is soon. I have thoroughly enjoyed your last 2 articles and was looking extra forward to your next one involving man-blocking which is the school of blocking I've been around since I started coaching. Your articles on zone have given me some insight I never had before.