Punch Drunk Wonderland

The Zone Blocking Scheme is the new Black

Houston Texans, Arian Foster, Zone blockingIn the NFL everyone is trying to get the edge up on the competition, and it is and always has been a copycat league. Coordinators have looked at teams such as the Houston Texans and have seen huge run success behind their zone blocking scheme, so many have decided it’s time to give it a whirl. Going into the 2013 season, the latest team to jump on the zone blocking bandwagon is the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a copycat league it seems the zone blocking scheme is the new black.

In principle, zone blocking is a very simple and effective approach to creating running space for backs. The basic goal is to create motion in the defensive line to give the running back options for lanes through which to run. This differs from the man-blocking scheme that involves focused blocking at the point of attack to create a specific hole for the back to hit, and it puts the pressure on the athletic ability of the line and the decision making of the running back. For the linemen, it is all about motion and coverage. They are required to identify whether they are covered or uncovered by a defensive linemen. If uncovered, the linemen will assist play-side on a double team. The resulting double team then reacts to the movement of the defensive linemen and linebackers and as the blocking play evolves, cutback lanes are created. The running back then must identify the lanes and play opportunistically. Simple, right?

The scheme creates a personnel tax because it requires linemen to be athletic and quick rather than the typical big and brawny prototype you usually see on the offensive line. It also requires a smart running back with good decision making and vision for the approach to be successful. Sometimes it isn’t so easy as flipping a switch to move to zone blocking, and it can often be a big adjustment for both linemen and running backs new to the system. For example, the previously prolific back, Darren McFadden, suffered terribly in production when the Oakland Raiders made the switch in 2012. Whether the issue was with his ability to make the correct decisions and cuts or with the line, it was a clumsy mess for a good deal of the season. It will be interesting to see how the personnel requirements are handled by the Steelers as they move to the zone blocking approach in 2013. Will they be doing big moves on the O-line? What will it mean for their running back situation?

Zone blocking joins The Pistol formation as 2013’s fad favorite in place of the Wildcat and its derivatives. I wonder what the new black will be in 2014….


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...