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Thread: Zone Blocking Made Easy

  1. #1
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    Zone Blocking Made Easy

    I've heard a lot of things mentioned about zone blocking on this forum. It's something that we use, and a lot of people are wondering why it's not working.

    There's no question that our offensive line play has been absolutely horrid this year. I don't deny. But I have been seeing a lot of blind criticism on this board and a lot of ignorant (but understandable) comments regarding our line's inefficiency. Some people have pointed the finger at zone blocking as a reason that our season failed so miserably. Others have questioned our personnel's ability to play with the blocking scheme. I wrote this post and drew the pictures contained within to help some people better understand what zone blocking is all about and maybe answer some questions as to why we were so wretched. Actually, that's incorrect... I don't know why we were so bad but I do know that a bunch of reasons that people have claimed were reasons for our failure actually have nothing to do with our lack of success. So, let's begin. We need to start out by identifying what a normal blocking scheme looks like. Skip to the middle section if you know your football blocking schemes. This post has been cut up because I'm only allowed so many pictures per post - MODS, if you hate this post because it's so image-y, please just let me know and I'll never do it again.

    I - Typical Blocking

    First off, let's create a simple denotation scheme.



    What you see here represents the interior offensive line and the "interior three" of the defensive line. The red players are the defenders, the black ones are the linemen. On offense two guards and the center are depicted. The defenders are two offensive tackles lined up in a vanilla 4-3 front with the middle linebacker up top over the center but playing a bit off just like he normally would. The offensive tackles and defensive ends are off outside to the left and the right of the boundaries of this picture.



    So, let's say we want to run and we don't want to think hard about it, so we call a simple play - a 22 Dive. This means the halfback is going through the 2 hole - don't think too much about it if you don't understand, the above illustration will help you. The arrow depicts where our running back is going. For all the rest of the pictures, this is the play called.

    So, based on the fact that the back is going through that hole, we need to block the guys up front. The simplest way to do this is below:



    Okay, great. So the center blocks the MLB, and the RG picks up the right DT. The left guard is off play, so all he needs to do is make sure that the LDT doesn't come through him and unless he's a wuss he'll be fine. This is called a straight block, or at least it was at my high school, because everyone blocks the man above their head with their backs to the hole. Looks great. BUT IS IT???

    Suppose that the defense gets any clue what's up. They have a good idea that the play is coming through the 2 hole, so the RDT crashes left and the MLB steps up to fill the hole. What happens now? Since the RDT is headed left, he's going to be in the hole and if the right guard tries to dig him out then he's just clogging up the hole too. What you have here is a blown play. So what do you do if you think that the line is going to try and fill up the hole?

    You X-block your guys. The guard and the center cross paths, each blocking the man that is over the other man's head. This allows the center to hit the RDT head on, blowing the man out of the hole and letting the guard pick up the slack of getting to the middle linebacker, like so:



    But consider - would this X-block work if the RDT was crashing the other way? What if the linebacker wasn't going to fill at all through this hole? No. You'd be better off running the play straight, like we considered before we even talked about X-blocking, right? I mean, all players have better angles that way and can get to their men faster.

    The bottom line is that you don't know. And unless you can know you're not going to be able to block your men with maximum efficiency. And that's where zone blocking comes in.

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    II - Zone Blocking

    We going to run the same play. But this time, we're looking at a team like us that runs a zone blocking scheme. This is the way the blocking would go down with this play in a zone blocking scheme, step by step.

    1.) Off side seals, center and onside guard BOTH hit the RDT.



    This will happen in ANY running play when a team uses zone blocking. At the first step of ANY play, all of the linemen are going to hit some defensive lineman. Nobody's going to start out going for the second level. That's set in stone. But what about that pesky MLB? He's just going to blow up the play if nobody gets him. True. But what happens next is entirely detirmined by what the defense does.

    2.) Key man is detirmined

    The linemen need to figure out whether the center or the guard are going to go off and block the MLB. This is detirmined by where the RDT goes.

    IF HE GOES INSIDE:



    The center controls him and the RG rolls off and goes and gets the MLB, like in the X block, only the RG rolls around the player instead of going through him.

    OR IF HE GOES OUTSIDE:



    The right guard takes him out of the play and the center goes and gets the MLB, like in the straight block.

    So, in summary, zone blocking is a blocking scheme that's designed to do TWO MAJOR THINGS:

    1.) MAKE SURE THAT THE FIRST LEVEL IS CLEAR. All defensive linemen should be accounted for. This operates on the principle that if you don't get anything, at least you won't lose yards. In theory every play will at least get you back to the LOS, because the D-line is guaranteed to be blocked by a player who has an effective angle on blocking him.

    2.) DON'T CLOG YOUR OWN HOLES. With a zone block, you never have to "reach" to block a guy who's trying to penetrate past your face into the hole that you're supposed to be clearing out. This may be difficult to understand if you never played football, but the idea is that in theory with zone blocking a running back won't run into the backs of his own O-linemen.

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    III - So What Does it All Mean?

    Well, it means that you know about zone blocking now, for one. But it also means another things.

    DENVER IS NOT DOING SOMETHING ULTRA SECRETIVE AND BIZZARE. Zone blocking, while pioneered to open up holes for Jim Brown, came into mainstream vogue after the Broncos had massive success with just about any running back. Denver's success lies not only in their scheme, but in their coaches that well understand the scheme and in their understanding of exactly what type of linemen they need to run their scheme. But if Denver is doing it right, why aren't we? It just might be because...

    ZONE BLOCKING IS A SIMPLE BUT DRAMATIC DEPARTURE FROM ORDINARY BLOCKING. If your linemen aren't used to the system, you're going to have guys who are confused as to where they should be going. This will lead to, oh, say, low rushing totals? Like we have? We need time to develop players who are skilled in this type of offense.

    WE ARE NOT DOOMED BECAUSE OUR OFFENSIVE LINE IS VERY LIGHT. Remember, lighter equals faster with most NFL linemen, and that's exactly what you need for this system. Because you might have to have any linemen block any defensive player on any particular play, you can't get away with having someone with molasses feet on your line. Besides, look at Denver's line. They had massive success with smaller linemen.

    WE MIGHT NEED NEW PERSONELL TO GET THIS THING WORKING. Just because they're fast doesn't mean they're the whole package, however. You need smart linemen to run a zone blocking scheme, because as a linemen you have to quickly assess whether you need to bulldoze a defensive tackle or whether you have to clean up on the second or even the third level. Mawae seems like a good fit, but are the others? And does he have enough time to adjust before retirement? Time will tell.

    I hope this cleared up some things? Questions? Concerns? Comments? Post away.

    Also, if you think I got something wrong, please let me know! I'm not an NFL coordinator, not even a high school coach (but I hope to be!). I just love the game.

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    Great Post, understood it completly. Secondly, it seems on any dive going through A gap that the X block seems possible.....but only against slow teams......

  5. #5
    wow... lotta effort, appreciate it though but i'm not educated enough in this game to comment on this yet...

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    Z- Blocking requires a smart RB aswell right....I mean if the DT is moving in, going to B gap would be a better option as the RG can pull and basically pancake the LB trying to go through......

    If the DT moves out move in and the OC has a clear block on the MLB.

    My main question is, what if the whole line slides to the right. The LDT blocks the C, the RDT hits the RG. Does the RB cut back on to the left side A?

    The LG technically wont be covering anyone.....but now we have to worry about the LDE and the MLB and OLB. This seems to be a huge problem? What do the lineman do know?

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    Quote Originally Posted by arsenal1189
    Great Post, understood it completly. Secondly, it seems on any dive going through A gap that the X block seems possible.....but only against slow teams......
    I understand what you're saying, but if you're trying to X block and the RDT decides he's going to cut out, all your center will be doing is chasing the tackle around, if that makes any sense.

    At the NFL level, all of the DTs are quick enough to evade the X block.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arsenal1189
    Z- Blocking requires a smart RB aswell right....I mean if the DT is moving in, going to B gap would be a better option as the RG can pull and basically pancake the LB trying to go through......

    If the DT moves out move in and the OC has a clear block on the MLB.

    My main question is, what if the whole line slides to the right. The LDT blocks the C, the RDT hits the RG. Does the RB cut back on to the left side A?

    The LG technically wont be covering anyone.....but now we have to worry about the LDE and the MLB and OLB. This seems to be a huge problem? What do the lineman do know?
    Well, it's important to remember that smart running backs are always important no matter what scheme you use. A running back always has to know when the sh!t has hit the fan and it's time to improvise. If the hole's filled it's filled - no way around it. I don't necessarily think that you need to be any SMARTER of a running back because of zone blocking, but you're right! You definitely need a good head on your shoulders.

    To answer your question about a line shift, that's always troublesome. You probably already know that that's why D-lines shift - to really mess up the blocking scheme.

    If the line shifts to the right (in this case), a couple things might happen. The first and most obvious is that the quarterback might audible. The scenario you're describing is more of a "pinch" because you're talking about the DTs being over the center and right guard and that's much closer than they'd normally be to each other. Considering that they're both right over the hole, it's probable that the quarterback will decide to change the play around.

    If the QB decides to keep it, then both men will block HEAD UP and try and seal a crease for the running back to get to. REMEMBER - THE FIRST LEVEL MUST BE CLEAR BEFORE WE WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE. If there's a fullback his job will be the linebacker, but we're getting too far into the playbook. The bottom line is that each man would block head up and try to make whatever they can out of the bad hand they got.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Paranoid Jet
    - MODS, if you hate this post because it's so image-y, please just let me know and I'll never do it again.
    MODS, I sure hope you don't hate this post. I think it is great.

    Thanks, Paranoid Jet! A good education, at least for me.

  10. #10

    good p[ost and explanation. kind of reinforces what i've

    been saying in that all of the nfl teams have about the same talent level but don't necessarily put their players in te right position to succeed. the jets line has been fairly small and seems to need zone blocking to succeed. but the problem is that they haven't played as a unit for a very long time so when the players start being shifted from their normal positions everything goes out the window.

    but this stuff also falls very heavily on the coaches for not adapting to the players they have, not being able to teach the players they have, not getting the players they need etc. maybe these kinds of situations are the main reasons why herm should be let go.

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    this was an awesome post, great job Paranoid

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauliec
    this was an awesome post, great job Paranoid
    Nice informative post. What makes team good or bad at zone blocking(inparticular) is the little things. Taking the correct angels may be the absolute most important. Timing is second or 1a, knowing when to slide off the double, and which player should slide, Its not always the guy on the side of the run. Also getting your blocking to mimic your pass blocking is huge.

    That said , I am sure every Oline runs it with variations.

    I said this yesterday and got blasted for it, but IMO the reason the Broncos are so amazinly sucessfull at this is because they chop/cut block all the time. They practice it, when to do it , when not to , how to get away with it, etc. They are notorious.

    A HC like Herm will never allow this kind of play, I believe it is partly why Mawaes play has slipped. Honorable Herm got to him.

    Just lke Joe, Herm MUST GO!

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    this is a great damn post and should be preserved in the football 101 forum

    nice work

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    Quote Originally Posted by bitonti
    this is a great damn post and should be preserved in the football 101 forum

    nice work
    Good idea, bit. After it fades back a couple pages I'll relocate it to the 101 Forum.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sameoldjets
    been saying in that all of the nfl teams have about the same talent level but don't necessarily put their players in te right position to succeed. the jets line has been fairly small and seems to need zone blocking to succeed. but the problem is that they haven't played as a unit for a very long time so when the players start being shifted from their normal positions everything goes out the window.

    but this stuff also falls very heavily on the coaches for not adapting to the players they have, not being able to teach the players they have, not getting the players they need etc. maybe these kinds of situations are the main reasons why herm should be let go.
    I see what you mean about coaching being the primary reason behind the lack of success since that explains the lack of familiarity with the system, but what I'm arguing is that it takes more than one year. It's like learning a new language, or, a better analogy - to do whatever you do at your current job except using only your left hand.

    It's tough. I think we'll get through it.

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    we ran zone blocking in high school.....very simple if you ask me

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArmyJet
    we ran zone blocking in high school.....very simple if you ask me
    I suppose that's your point of view. But at the same time if you grew up with the system, you're probably going to transition well.

    I don't think it's any reason to make excuses about this year, but it's difficult to transition guys to the zone blocking system at a higher level, I'd assume.

    Look at the difficulty some NBA teams have had developing zone defenses after the NBA started allowing it - everybody plays zone even when they're small, but it's a whole new thing to learn when you're with the big boys.

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    Paranoid Jet -- very impressive. Nice work.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by ArmyJet
    we ran zone blocking in high school.....very simple if you ask me
    We also ran zone blocking in high school my senior year. We had a 5'9" 160 lb center become an All-League Selection with this scheme.

    It's very simple so long as everyone is CLEAR about their roles and every player gets REPS in practice.

    The most important thing with zone blocking is the running back and full back has to know where to go. Really, this isn't so hard on the running back as others have suggested. The real cerebral role belongs to the fullback who leads the way for the running back. The running back then only has to make two reads: (1) is the hole open where the fullback is going (2) can i get a cut-back if I wait for my o-line blockers to get to the second level. cutback lanes open up when that happens because linebackers have a harder time scraping back through the traffic at the second level to cover the open cutback lane.

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    Good point about the cutbacks. They're very important in a zone blocking scheme. That's why Curtis had such a bad year- he's a notorious cutback runner so Dinger implemented it as a good way to get the system going. But, he got hurt and couldn't cut back with a bum knee.

    It's a good move for the future, because the results in Denver speak for themselves. If you plan with direction eventually it will catch on and be good and who knows, it could do to offenses what odd-front defenses did back in the 60s and again recently with their rebirth.

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