ITP Glossary: Zone Blocking

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From split zone to down block, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Zone Blocking

Zone blocking is a running scheme in which the offensive linemen block gaps, rather than a power blocking scheme where each lineman is responsible for a specific defender. The offensive line typically flows to one side of the field in unison, with blocking responsibilities developing as the players move in concert. A staple of this design is the cutblock along the backside of the play to prevent defenders from pursuing to the football, and to create potential bend, or cutback, lanes. outside-zone-run-diagram

While the concept dates back to the Vince Lombardi‘s 1960s-era Green Bay Packers, it is most identified with the 1990s Denver Broncos with OL coach Alex Gibbs and maintained by the Mike Shanahan coaching tree. Gibbs taught four basic runs: outside zone and inside zone, which can be run to either the right or left. By keeping the number of concepts down, the unit can master these four runs against a variety of defensive fronts.

Outside Zone

Here, the Pittsburgh Steelers face 1st and 10 on their own 47-yard line, and put 22 offensive personnel on the field with quarterback Michael Vick (#2) under center. Running back Le’Veon Bell (#26) and fullback Roosevelt Nix (#45) line up in an offset i-formation with the fullback to the left. Tight end Heath Miller (#83) sets up in a wing alignment just outside the left tackle. The San Diego Chargers have their base 3-4 defense in for this play with safety Eric Weddle down in the box outside the outside linebacker and to the outside shoulder of Miller:NFLPreview10SDPlay3Still1

The Steelers run an outside zone to the left. The linemen fire out in unison, using a series of combination and reach blocks, allowing Nix to lead Bell to the edge:NFLPreview10SDPlay3Still2

The blocking is properly executed, allowing the RB to bounce to the outside unscathed:

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Inside Zone

On this inside zone running play the Philadelphia Eagles have 11 offensive personnel on the field, with tight end Zach Ertz (#86) in a wing on the right side of the line, and slot formation to the left. Atlanta has its 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, with the secondary showing Cover 1 and an under front:NFLReview3EaglesPlay1Still2

Philadelphia runs inside zone left on this play, with the offensive line moving in unison off the snap. Because both right tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce (#62) are uncovered, they move to the second level, looking to block the linebackers. The rest of the unit is supposed to block left, but it does not go well:

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The outside linebacker, O’Brien Schofield (#50), gets inside of Ertz and blows this play up. 

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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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