Everything gets tried to win in the NFL, be it uncommon or flexible personnel groups. Ryan Dukarm looks at the San Diego Chargers‘ fullback lead zone run to boost their rushing attack with Melvin Gordon.
There are two basic types of running plays in football: Power and zone. Power running is associated with larger, less athletic offensive linemen who can move defenders with strength, while zone running is often associated with undersized but athletic linemen who can use angles and positioning to win against defenders. Power football often uses heavier personnel, such as extra tight ends and fullbacks, while zone running can be run from single back sets or out of a shotgun and spread offense. While these are not at all set in stone, they are basic outlines to the ideas of power and zone running.
The San Diego Chargers have mixed these two concepts in 2016 when running the ball with second year back Melvin Gordon. Most notably, they’ve run both an outside and inside zone run with a fullback lead, mixing key characteristics of power and zone football.
The Chargers run this from a variety of personnel packages, using 21, 22 and 23 personnel to run a FB lead zone run play this season. A basic look at how they run this can be seen below, using i-formation and 21 personnel, which is their most common way of running this play.
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The Chargers have run this play with Gordon for mixed success. I have charted all of Gordon’s run this year and he’s been involved in eight FB lead zone runs, for a total of 23 yards or an average of 2.9 yards per carry. However, one of these carries came from the one yard line for a one yard touchdown run, which does drop the possible average a bit.
One example of the Chargers running inside zone with a FB lead comes from their Week 3 game against the Indianapolis Colts. With 6:21 left in the second quarter and facing 1st and 10 at their own 19, the Chargers have 22 personnel on the field and will run inside zone to the offensive right of the formation.
At the snap, all of the offensive linemen and tight ends begin moving to their right, clearly indicating a zone run. Fullback Derek Watt (#34) leads Gordon to the break point of the zone run, where Gordon is aiming to make his choice of a bounce, bang, or bend read on a zone play. Watt is leading Gordon to the right A gap, but Gordon correctly reads that a bend read back to the left is the best choice, and he quickly cuts into the B gap opened up by left guard Orlando Franklin (#74) for a gain of four on the play.
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Using FB Lead Zone on the Goal Line
The Chargers would again use a fullback to lead a zone run, this time against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. With 17 seconds left in the second quarter, and facing 1st and goal from the one yard line, the Chargers line up with 23 personnel in an i-Formation with tight end Henry Hunter (#86) to the left, and tight ends Kenny Wiggins (#79) and Sean McGrath (#84) to the right. Watt and Gordon are again in the backfield behind quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Chargers run inside zone to the left (weak) side of the formation, with the play side offensive linemen flowing in that direction and the backside linemen chop blocking. Saints outside linebacker Nathan Stupar (#54) gets around Henry to break into the backfield as Gordon is receiving the handoff.
However, because the Chargers used a fullback lead on this play, Stupar gets picked up and accounted for by Watt, which allows Gordon to take his bang read up the middle for the score. Running zone near the goalline is very uncommon, but incorporating a FB lead into the play takes the defense by surprise and works to perfection.
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The Chargers have gotten very creative in 2016 with Melvin Gordon, using him in a variety of zone and power running schemes. The fullback lead zone run has become a small but important part of the San Diego running game, and should increased use in 2016, especially near the goalline.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work, including covering the UCLA Bruins’ use of Spot Concept, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ end around rush, and Buffalo’s double track block scheme and deep passing game.
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Editors Note: A reader pointed out that Derek Watt was identified as Chris Watt. The article has been updated.