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Browns' X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #8: Outside Zone

After analyzing the Fade/Stop combo off play action as Part 7 of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series, we go back to the ground to break down one of the most popular run-game concepts executed at all levels of football, Outside Zone.

Play #7 Recap

Down/distance - 1st and 10

Field Position – Left hash of the Browns’ 27-yard line

Formation – Gun Trips Closed Back Strong

Concept – Play Action Stop/Fade Concept

Result - Incomplete Pass to Marvin Jones

Bengal's offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's aggressive nature and love of personnel mismatches were put on display for a third time this drive, aligning wide receiver Marvin Jones over embattled Brown's cornerback Justin Gilbert, going for the jugular with a Fade/Stop concept off play action. Jackson maximized the chance of single coverage on the targeted receiver by placing A.J. Green as the #2 receiver in the Trips set and running play action to force the deep safety's eyes away from the fade route.

The play-caller will often 'hide' Green inside Trips or Trey sets, forcing the defense to guard him with a slot cornerback. Through eight games Green has run a variety of routes from this alignment, including shallows, outs, corners, posts, and seams. The Browns' defense knows this from film study, so they likely have some type of 'alert' call on to remind the nickel and free safety that the Bengals' show a tendency to target Green here, particularly on vertical routes. Jackson takes it a step further by running the concept off  play action, forcing the safety to read his run/pass key accurately, get eyes back to the Trips-side when he reads run, determine the most dangerous target in the route combination, and react accordingly. This puts ALOT of stress on the deep defender as he must correctly process several pieces of information almost instantaneously in order to be in the right place at the right time.

The play action proved to by a moot point as the Browns' defense ran a run stunt (expecting Inside Zone with a possible quarterback bootleg), guarding the #3 receiver with the deep safety (former Brown Tashan Gipson) in man coverage, taking any possibility of deep help out of the play.

Browns' cornerback Justin Gilbert did a good job staying on the hip of Bengals' wideout Marvin Jones, breaking up the pass in the end zone with a nice swipe of the inside hand (although he did wrap his off-arm around Jones' neck a little early; he could have been flagged for pass interference).


Some trends we see through seven plays:

  • The defensive front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Hue Jackson has attacked the outside gaps two out of four running plays with the Counter OF (C-gap) and Pin-and-Pull (D-gap).He has also attacked large interior run bubbles with the Iso/Lead on the previous two running plays  
  • The offense has consistently created numbers at the point of attack via well-designed blocking schemes 
  • NT Danny Shelton has yet to prevent a scoop to the second level when he is combo-blocked (three plays). As a result, the Browns' linebackers are unable to freely scrap to the ball, leading to solid gains on the ground.
  • Hue Jackson is now attacking match-ups through the air. In three of the previous four plays he has schemed one-on-one coverage in space via alignment and concept for Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, and Marvin Jones. The aggressive coach is creating opportunities to get the ball out in space to his skill position players.


Play #8

Down/distance - 2nd and 10

Field Position – Left hash of the Browns’ 27-yard line

Formation – Trey Right Closed

Concept – Outside Zone Right

Although the offense is facing a 2nd and 10, Hue Jackson's entire playbook is available here: the ground game, the passing game, play action, and vertical routes are all viable option due to field position and down/distance. Many offensive coordinators will go to the ground here hoping for a 4-yard gain to set up 3rd and medium, while others will throw the ball because the defense expects the ball to stay on the ground (play tendency will vary coach-to-coach, but in a vacuum the play-type tendency is run).

Jackson elects to keep the ball on the ground, likely due to the success of his ground attack this drive. A five-yard gain is very realistic in light of the defense's numerous run bubbles, the offense's ability to create numbers at the point of attack, and individual execution. We've seen outstanding individual effort by Brown's defenders to prevent explosive plays so far, but defenders making plays on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage will only go so far. If things continue as is, a Bengal will make a play of his own with disastrous results for the defense. 

The offense elects to break run-direction tendency here, running Outside Zone to the field (wide-side) after running the previous four ground concepts to the boundary (short-side). Jackson likely chose to break tendency here for two reasons:

  1. When the offense has used personnel groupings with two tight ends the defense has responded with split safeties, using the weak safety to guard the tight end (rather than the cornerback. This coverage responsibility will keep the weak safety out of the box as a run defender, reducing the number of defenders at the point of attack.
  2. Outside Zone is a perimeter-based run, so by running to the field the tailback will have more space to work in if he can get to the alley.

Again we see two weaknesses within the defense's structure and run-fit integrity:

  1. Large run bubbles
  2. Lack of defenders in the box, allowing the offense to create numbers at the point of attack.

Alex Gibbs (the godfather of Outside Zone) required his tailback to make two reads (most offensive coordinator still use the same coaching points):

  1. The tailback will start with the EMLOS. If the blocker is able to seal the edge defender inside the tailback will ‘bounce’ the ball outside into the alley, likely leading to a solid gain. If the EMLOS is not reached and sealed, the read then moves to the next defensive player on the line of scrimmage.
  2. If this player is reached the tailback will plant his foot and ‘bang’ the ball past the defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender is not sealed, the tailback will ‘bend’ the ball, taking it away from the pursuit looking for a cutback lane.

Tailback Giovani Bernard will likely make a similar read here, starting with the EMLOS (Paul Kruger) before moving inside to the 1-technique or linebacker. Without knowing exactly how the read is coached, it's impossible to say for certain (although most coaches will teach the progression EMLOS/next down lineman) how he is coached to make the second read.

Outside Zone requires the linemen to take lateral play-side steps. "Covered' lineman ("is there a defender aligned from my nose to the nose of the adjacent play-side blocker?") will use a lateral step while aiming for the defender's outside armpit. The blocker wants to keep his shoulders as square as possible while moving his feet to create lateral movement from the defense. This movement will create running lanes for the tailback to press based on his reads.

'Uncovered' (no defender aligned over the blocker or in the adjacent play-side gap) linemen will immediately jump through to a play-side linebacker and work a scoop (combo) block with their partner, looking to take over the block on a play-side lineman so the initial blocker can climb to a linebacker.

On the play's backside the left tackle will reach block the 3-technique while the left guard 'check climbs' by delivering a solid punch to the 3-technique with his inside hands as he climbs to a linebacker. The tight end will 'hinge' block the EMLOS by taking a hard inside step to prevent penetration and then walling off the defender from the play.

The key blocks here are the right tackle/tight end combo on the SAM, the right guard's jump through to the MIKE, and the center's block on the 1-techniuqe. If these blocks are executed (and the wide receivers block their men) it does not become a question of if the defense gain yards, but how many (Offense has a 4-on-3 advantage).

Let's see how it plays out:

The large B-gap run bubble creates a simple jump through for the right guard (seeing a trend here?) allowing an easy peel back on the WILL (who is playing the cut-back here). 

The right tackle and tight end get their combo block on the SAM but Dansby's 'fast flow' forces the tight end to come off the block early, allowing Kruger to continue fighting a single blocker. Ideally, the right tackle would overtake the tight end's defender so he (the tight end) can climb to the linebacker at his own pace, but Dansby's quick reaction outside forces the combo block to an early end. This will be important later in the play.

We finally see some solid play from the nose tackle position here. Watch Jaime Meder use a quick second step, violent hands, and leg drive to push the center into the backfield, disrupting the tailback's path to the hole. This play is not Meder's to make; if a 1-technique is making tackles in the backfield on Outside Zone it's time for the Bengals' to throw  out that page of the playbook. 

Watch Bernard widen his path as he hops over the center's foot. Meder's penetration is an often-overlooked small detail that keeps the play from hitting for more yardage than it ultimately did. Bernard likely wants to hit the C-gap ('bang' read) between the right tackle (#73) and tight end (#89), but Meder's play forces him to take extra steps and creates a tougher cut up-field. The little details add up quickly; unfortunately, all too often it is the offense getting the little things right.

Both Kruger and Dansby do a good job fighting and shedding their blocker to stop the ball for a 4-yard gain, but again we see the offense creating numbers at the point of attack. The run bubble makes it very difficult for the defense to achieve penetration at the line of scrimmage and creates an easy combo block on Kruger via alignment, leaving no defenders to attack the ball at the line aside from the 1-technqiue (who shouldn't be able to chase down Outside Zone from behind). We are seeing Hue Jackson continue to ruthlessly exploit schematic weaknesses in the Browns' run defense.

After a 4-yard gain, the offense will face a 3rd and 6 in field goal range. Will Jackson play it safe to gain a few extra yards for his field goal kicker or air it out for the first down? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

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