AbsolutAnalysis: Zone Blocking

.NET's Matt Lathrop takes a detailed look at inside and outside zone blocking, and explains why both work in the NFL.

I hope you all enjoyed yesterday’s column on pass protection concepts, because this time I am going to stick to the offensive line, and discuss some zone blocking techniques and ideas for run blocking.

In the past, there has been some talk amongst Hawk fans in the .NetNation forum about the lack of “power” man blocking, and too much reliance on zone blocking. It seemed to me that a common perception was that zone blocking was a factor in the lack of consistency on the ground. I thought I would present some information that would outline the thinking behind zone blocking, and give you some examples so you can pick up zone blocking during a game and make your own conclusions as to how it affects our running game. A lot of people tend to think that zone blocking is along the lines of “this player has this gap or area” and so on, but what it really is, is more of a tandem blocking concept. For example, a right guard and right tackle may be assigned to block a DT and a MLB on an outside run play. What makes this a zone is that they aren’t sure who will be blocking whom, i.e., the guard isn’t locked on the DT. He may slide off and pick up the MLB, depending on the route he takes.

Let’s take a look at an example of a play that utilizes an outside zone scheme. Below is a favorite of mine, a single back sweep. Seattle uses this type of play often throughout the course of the season, but if you miss a Hawks game and want to see a great outside zone sweep, just watch the Kansas City Chiefs and I can almost guarantee that you will see Priest Holmes scoring on one. The Chiefs run this beautifully.

As you can see in this “outside zone”, the RG and RT are responsible for blocking the DT and MLB. In most cases, the RT will come off the ball attacking the outside portion of the DT, locking him while the RG slides down to pick him up. The RG will aim for the middle of the DT’s belt, initiating contact and working his way around while the RT slides off and picks up the MLB in pursuit. The same concept is working with the LG and C. The green arrows represent that the guard would come off the DT if the MLB played underneath, for whatever reason. These are the ‘patient’ plays, where the running back needs to wait until he finds a crease to shoot through, because the holes aren’t being developed right away. The whole OL seems to take off down the line at the snap, and the running back follows behind, waiting for something to open up.

Next, let’s take a look at an example of an “inside zone.”

The same principles that apply to an outside zone are present for an inside zone, but the philosophy for an inside scheme is slightly different. What I like so much about this, is that the priority is to get a double team at the point of attack to create a pocket for the RB to work in. While it is a zone blocking concept, it is not a ‘finesse’ scheme, as it attempts to power the focused DT back to the second level, making the transition for the guard or center to slide to a LB much easier. More importantly, it creates a seam for the RB and forces a defensive player to work through a double team to stop the play.

Now that we have the basics for inside and outside zones, I’ll present a few more zone techniques that can be applied to any blocking scheme.


Here are three outside zone schemes that you will see on any given Sunday (or Saturday for that matter):

Zone 1 has the guard drop stepping and squeezing between the tight and tackle, in order to get to the MLB on this sweep\toss play. The reason is simply because a guard will almost never be able to get the MLB by taking a direct path, straight out of his stance. By utilizing this method, you are giving the guard time to get to the linebacker by giving him an angle that will allow him to get to the second level while sliding outside at the same time, rather than pulling him behind the OL as a lead blocker for the RB, which doesn’t allow the guard to get to the next level.

Zone 2 is a similar concept to Zone 1, as it has a player moving around the player next to him in order to get to a linebacker that is out of immediate reach. The center and guard tandem the DT and ILB while the tackle pulls outside to the OLB. This scheme could be applied to an inside zone by tandem blocking the DE and OLB with the tight end and tackle.

Finally, Zone 3 utilizes what is sometimes known as a ‘fold’ block between the guard and tackle. This inside zone has the tackle down block to the DT while the guard wraps around him to a linebacker. This is a little tricky, because if the DT slants inside, the guard must blink down as he comes off the ball, and pick him up if he does indeed slant inside. A hard inside slant would be too difficult for the tackle to pick up, so a quick adjustment must be made, and the tackle must reroute up field to the next level. Meanwhile, the center and backside guard are doubling up on the NT and sliding off to the ILB to protect the midline.

That does it for this week, I hope you enjoyed the zone blocking concepts. As always, if you have any questions or comments please email me. If you want to tear someone a new one, email my boss. Until next time, good day.

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