ITP Glossary: Split Zone

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From dino stem to fair catch, 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.

Split Zone

The split zone is a variation of the zone run blocking scheme. In the zone blocking scheme players typically try to cut block the backside defensive end or edge defenders to prevent pursuit. In a split zone, the offensive player, typically a tight end or H-back, blocks across the flow of the play to handle the backside defender. The bulk of the offensive line blocks in one direction, and the split zone blocker comes across the flow to the opposite edge to seal the backside.


Using A Tight End

The Miami Dolphins line up with and 12 offensive personnel using pro formation left and a wing-slot look to the right. The Houston Texans have their base 3-4 defense in the game. Miami runs the split zone, with the offensive line blocking to the right. Tight end Jordan Cameron (#84), lined up in a wing to the right, comes across the formation looking to cut block the backside defensive end:NFLR7MiamiStill2

Thanks to the execution upfront, running back Lamar Miller does not have to think too hard about his options, quickly taking his bang read:

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After racing into the secondary, Miller gets a big assist from wide receiver Rishard Matthews (#18) with a downfield block while taking this play the distance for an 85-yard scoring run.

Blocking with the Big Back

Some teams rely on a fullback or H-Back to execute the split zone block. The Northwestern Wildcats utilize “superback” Dan Vitale. Running back Justin Jackson (#21) stands behind his QB, with Vitale (#40) lined up to the left of the quarterback in Northwestern’s “superback” position. The offense runs a split zone play here, using Vitale to trap block the backside defensive end:CFBReview5NWPlay1Still2

Both center Ian Park (#63) and right tackle Eric Olson (#76) are uncovered before the snap, so they immediately work to the second level to take on the linebackers. Watch as these three crucial blocks come together to spring Jackson on the inside:

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For his part, the running back does a good job of setting up Park’s block. After he cuts through the line, Jackson angles to the outside a step, forcing the linebacker to flow to the sideline. The running back then cuts back inside, where Park is waiting to seal off the LB. Jackson puts a move on the free safety and races into Minnesota territory, where he is finally dragged down at the Minnesota 38-yard line.

Building in Play-Action

Because this is a running scheme, the movement of the cross-blocker is a great way to set up play-action. Teams that use zone blocking schemes and split zone designs can use this to set up a throw to the player blocking across the formation. Clemson is one team that incorporates this into its passing game, using the design for a big play to reserve TE Stanton Seckinger (#81) on this play. They line up with quarterback Deshaun Watson (#4) in the pistol formation and the tight end aligned as an upback, behind the right tackle. 

The Tigers show the split zone run design, with the line flowing right at the snap while Seckinger blocks toward the left edge. However, Watson takes the ball and turns to his left, faking an inside zone running play to the running back, and then quickly throws to the tight end cutting away from the flow of the play:


The playside receiver runs a vertical route to occupy the cornerback, freeing up the outside for the tight end’s flat route:

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The reserve tight end races up the sideline before he is knocked out of bounds after a 17-yard gain.

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

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass, The Big Ten Network & ESPN.

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