There has been a lot of talk around here about the condition of our Offensive line. With all the talk about the health and turnover of our line, we need to consider the advantage our Offensive Line will have when compared the opponents Offensive Line and it is a big one. We are running basically the same scheme that we have used for the last few years. The opposition is not. Our opponents have changed offensive systems this offseason (par for the course for that team) to a "West Coast Offensive" (short passing game) with a "Zone Blocking Line Scheme".
Explaining a west coast offense would require about a few fan posts of its own, but the fundamentals of Zone Blocking can be easily grasped. Before that explanation, though, we'll review basic conventional blocking after the break…
The basic technique, when the Offensive lineman is trying to push their man backwards. My Grandpa called this "knock the stuffings out of the guy in front of you".
In this technique, the blockers are trying to force the D-linemen laterally down the line of scrimmage. Note the seals set on the outside. Also note the center, he can free up a guard by taking on a DT; the free Guard can then pull to the play side to block for a ball carrier; using two offensive linemen to set the edge was Vince Lomardi’s innovation that became known as the Packer Sweep.
A variation of the basic drive, but instead of pushing the defense backwards, the Offensive line is trying to force the defenders at the line of scrimmage off their spots and move them in the same direction. Variations of this involve a pull by the Tackle or TE to the direction away from the angle (a "down" block). This blocking scheme is used in trap plays, bootleg or reverse runs, speed options (see the second Denver game last year), and screens.
And now, Zone Blocking
Understanding how this scheme is supposed to work begins with the individual offensive lineman and whether he is "covered" or "uncovered". A covered lineman means that he has a defender lined up directly opposite of him. Conversely, an offensive lineman is uncovered when there is space directly in front of him. In this diagram, both Guards and the TE are uncovered against the 3-4 defense’s front 7.
What the Zone Blocking Scheme is trying to accomplish is to create overloads at certain points along the line. This starts with the first step by a COVERED lineman:
In a traditional blocking schemes, the offensive lineman’s first step is into the defender. With the slide step, the gap between O-linemen extends from the standard 18 inches to a yard or a little more. The defensive end’s natural reaction is to penetrate that gap and disrupt. The scheme plays off this instinct and coaching by giving him a gap right at the snap. But, if things work right, the DE should be stopped with the second step…
Either way the DE has moved, the RT should have leverage to move him further outside or drive him into his Guard help that is looking to create the overload on the right. The uncovered guard has used angle block technique toward the DE:
This scheme requires a LOT of discipline and practice by the Offensive lineman. These men are used to double – teaming a player, but the Zone Blocking Scheme lives or dies on overloading a POSITION on the field. This can be a tough adjustment for an offensive lineman. This also requires EXCELLENT communication between the Guard and Tackle here, depending on how the ‘backer reacts. If he reacts in or to the DE, the Guard must disengage and pick him up. If he goes outside, the Tackle leaves the DE and engages the LB outside. Both linemen leaving the DE usually results in disaster, leaving the LB free probably results in no gain or maybe a yard or two. Whoopee...
Now let’s look at the entire line of scrimmage. Here we have a pretty common defensive look for the Bolts, our base 3-4 with the Sam LB crowding the TE at the line of scrimmage. The "B" in this diagram will be Jarrett Johnson on Monday Night. The dotted circles are pre-snap and the solid circles are after the first step taken at the snap.
Observe that all the covered linemen are taking a slide step in one direction and all the uncovered linemen are all angle blocking in the same direction. Here, the offensive coordinator has created what he hopes will be a 3 on 2 situation to the right, with the G or T looking to disengage and take on the closest ILB when the ILB commits. There is a 2 on 1 that the NT has to deal with and the Left Guard will look to disengage and block the other ILB when he can. So what kind of play does this basic Zone Blocking Scheme set –up for the run?
Now comes the RB’s part to play in this offense – his responsibility is to read where his hole is and get there. The system demands a back with good vision, a measure of patience, good burst, and most of all, being able to cut-back. See the play below:
The back can start to the left side and hit the hole between LT and LG, with the option of cutting back right to go between C-RG hole. A variation is a pitch to the HB for him to take advantage of a seal on the right (if it’s there) or cut back to the C-RG hole. The challenge for the defense is to win your individual battle if you have one, or absorb the double team and keep your LB’s clean. This is not an easy task, particularly if the defensive lineman tries to change direction to make a play. Usually, a change of direction will cause the defender to lose leverage and end up on the ground.
This blocking scheme also lends itself to play action passes – defenders get used to the initial slide steps to one side or another and look to stay engaged with the lineman to free up the LB’s. And the LB's have a tougher time diagnosing the play when the blocking starts off looking exactly like all of the running plays they have seen.
So how does the opponnent playing thir first game using this scheme benefit us? As you can tell, the communication on pre-snap line calls has to be superb. Additionally, the timing and knowledge of which O -Linemen are going to release and hit the 2nd level is a big deal. Finally, McFadden's recognition of where to run has be accurate or the play will fail. The Bolts facing they who must not be named's new scheme for the first time it has been used in a game that matters may give our favorite team the edge they need to win.