The Denver Broncos were the masters of taking an unknown running back and turning him into a pro bowler. Mike Shanahan and his OL coach Alex Gibbs loved to run, zone running plays. Now Shanahan has moved onto Washington and still running those same plays with Alfred Morris and Gary Kubiak his former assistant has taken those schemes with him to Houston and using them there with Arian Foster. Both teams are outrageously successful with them… but what exactly are they?
1st and 10 from the Baltimore 25. 2TE’s lined up to the defense’s left
The Texans are running an outside zone to the defense’s right. This picture illustrates an important concept of zone running in that the OL will step in unison to one side, depending on the coach, some teams will have their lineman take a “bucket step” almost backwards to help them get between the defender and the sideline.
This picture shows the blocking assignments pretty well. Covered lineman (lineman that have a defender over them) will block the guy in front of them. Uncovered lineman will double-team first and then slip off to the 2nd level defender. Here the Texans C and LG have 1 double team, while their RT and TE have another double team. The RG has the toughest block here as he has to reach the DL in front of him who is in the gap he has to protect.
This picture also gives a good view of Foster’s aiming point on the outside zone… the outside leg of the OT
Here you can see how the blockers have come off their double teams and have gotten their 2nd level defenders. Notice how the OL is continuing to push the defense to their left (defense’s right). This is because one of the big features of a zone running play is the cutback. If the defense over pursues and does not keep it’s gap assignments, it will open up seams in the defense. Shanahan and his disciples are always looking for that 1-cut runner. In that they run hard, make their 1-cutback and go. RB’s have to be decisive and hit the seam when it appears.
Here you can see Foster making his 1-cut to the huge seam. The Ravens DE #90 started the play lined up on the left hash, now he is past the right hash. This is the over pursing that the zone running plays kill.
Even though play-side the Ravens did a great job stuffing everything, the cut-back is there and Foster is able to gain almost 10 yards. Just one defender not doing his assignment can really cause havoc if the running back sees the seam.
It’s really a well choreographed dance between all of the blockers and the running back. Everyone goes one way and the running back just waits for 1 defender to lose his gap and then off he goes up field. A quick cut, a good eye, and decisiveness is what is needed for a RB to be successful in a zone running scheme.
I found this youtube video that illustrates zone blocking well
Even more information can be found at the links listed below