Inside The Inside Zone Run: How The Denver Broncos O-Line Can Flourish

Doc Bear breaks down the inside zone.

The Denver Broncos have a zone coach under Jeff Davidson for good reason. Among others, what is and isn't a zone blocking play can be debatable. What some people call a stretch zone is what others call the outside zone run. The Alex Gibbs' full stretch zone is a unique third option.

Although the outside zone and stretch zone look nearly the same, I call one a 'full stretch zone' to delineate the Alex Gibbs version of that same play. It's unique and it's very complex. Gibbs is the former offensive line coach of the Broncos, and considered to be the brainchild of zone blocking. 

There are eight hours of Gibbs' himself lecturing on the run on YouTube, for those with the stamina to watch and understand it all. When performed properly, it's very hard to stop. It's a long install, though, due to the details in the system.

I don't see Denver using it in the future — it's too complex, and the outside zone is nearly the same to the layman or any coach not initiated by Gibbs.

Conversely, the inside zone run is the most commonly run play in the entire NFL's run playbook. It's based on physicality and requires overwhelming the defense's front seven. It's a favorite of Ronald Leary's, whose comment on deciding that you're going to be bullies making everything else easier was a pure pleasure to read. The inside zone run is often based on both tandem and drive blocking. It's a role to which fullback Andy Janovich is essential. Here's how it could be run when Janovich is on the field:

He'd attack by leading through the outside hip of the guard, whether right or left. The fact that the Broncos have good run grades on both Leary and Max Garcia will be very valuable. With nearly equal strength on both sides of the interior, If you run this under center from the I-formation, no one can know with certainty which side the play is going to.

The clue is that the inside zone is usually run to the weaker offensive side — the one without a tight end. Let's use the example of the run going off the right guard. Let's also assume that's Leary, just to have names for the players.

Center Matt Paradis and RG Leary, in this example, are on the side where the running back runs. They'll go with a tandem block on the nose guard (odd front) or NT (even front). On the opposite side, Garcia (at LG), will tandem block with the LT — let's say it's Ty Sambrailo, since John Elway mentioned him this week — to take out the other DT.

This is where Janovich gets to shine. He leads the way off of Leary's (RG) outside hip, clearing the way between Leary and the right tackle — Menelik Watson, perhaps.

The sharper Andy's cut as he leads out of the backfield, the less time the defense will have to respond. His eventual target is the inside or middle linebacker, depending on scheme.

TE Virgil Green would be on the side opposite the run (the left). It’s his job to take away the RDE. If he misses, the defender can attack the runner either backside or by dropping down the line of scrimmage. The RT, Watson, takes out the LDE.

The thing I like most about tandem blocks is that two O-linemen get to attack one defender. Once they have control, one of them peels off and attacks on the second level. In this case, once Ty has control of the DT, Garcia would move to the area between the 'Will' LB and the SS, taking out whichever target presented itself.

Leary also moves to the second level, taking out the 'Mike' or SILB. Other teams would have the center move to the second level — Matt Paradis has a knack for that. Watson would have to fully control the LDE.

What makes this play particularly fun, as we look at 2017, is that Janovich can go either left or right with a nearly equal chance of success. Both Garcia and Leary have good run-blocking grades. That makes it harder to stop.

Paradis had the best run blocking score on the team (PFF - 90.6). It's why I'd trust him to handle the nose defender, once he's achieved control with the guard's help, or go to the second level himself. Listed at 300 pounds but going up against the defense's biggest player in their nose guard, Paradis proves the importance of leverage run blocking.

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As long as Denver takes out both defensive tackles, there will always be a chance for the RB to gain serious yardage on that play. A stronger interior O-line will bear a lot of fruit over the season.

There are multiple variations on this play. Some use less tandem blocking — they ask the center, for example, to wall off the nose guard by himself. Another sends the center upfield, rather than the guard. Each variation has it's own footwork. Even hand placement when blocking on this play varies greatly from team to team.

NFL teams sometimes even disagree about what is and isn't a zone run. The factor that matters most, as far as who blocks who, is whether the O-line player is 'covered' (has a defender directly in front of him) or uncovered (without one).

With regard to the inside zone run, the uncovered players have to move to the playside — in this case, toward the offensive right — to form their tandem/combination blocks. The TE takes the RDE, and the next two OL pairs double-team the DTs. The LT and LG tandem on the DT, the C and RG tandem on the NT/NG and the RT takes out the LDE.

The play can be easily hidden as one out of several that is run out of the same look. Fooling your opponent is rarely a bad thing.

One principle that's from the West Coast Offense system and has become standard around the league is using a single formation for multiple plays, and running the same play out of multiple formations. It still works.

Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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