The Seattle Seahawks plan on switching to more of a zone blocking scheme heading into the 2009 season, so I thought it would be good to take a look at what the benefits are to switching to the zone blocking scheme, and how it will improve the team's running game.
As far as I can tell from the research that I've done, zone blocking originated with longtime offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. He's considered the father of the zone blocking scheme, first implementing the system while serving as the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos.
In terms of concept, think zone defense in basketball and you're on the right track. At the snap, the offensive line moves in the direction of the play call, and then blocks the closest defensive threat in that particular area they are moving.
So if an offensive lineman is covered, he'll block the guy in front of him. The uncovered lineman will move in tandem and get a piece of the defensive lineman until the defender declares which way he is moving, and then move to the next level to pick up the linebacker. Take a look at this video for an explanation.
The key to zone blocking is to stretch the defense horizontally, creating vertical seams at the point of attack which allow the running back to quickly get to the second and third level of the defense. That's why it's important to have a one-cut guy at running back who sees the hole and runs downfield quickly instead of hesitating at the line of scrimmage. Both Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett fit that description.
You also need offensive lineman who are fairly athletic, can move and get a push. Big, slow plodders won't get the job done.
Here are four benefits the Seahawks should experience with the switch.
A simpler scheme – Switching to a zone blocking scheme should make line calls easier because it doesn't matter what kind of defensive front or movement is happening. Offensive lineman simply step to play side and read what's happening in front of them. It allows for players to play more aggressively and not have to react to what the defense is doing.
A solid foundation – The zone blocking scheme also translates to power and man blocking, so the Seahawks can still use power running plays like lead and blast, along with running counters or other misdirection plays while using the same teaching.
Shorter learning curve – Because the scheme is easier to learn, younger players or players new to the team can come in and pick up the system easier. Also, with the proliferation of the spread offense in college, many young players already are familiar with the system, providing an easier transition from college to the pros.
Wildcat in Hawks future? – With the zone blocking scheme a natural addition is the zone read option, which would allow Seneca Wallace to get on the field more. With Greg Knapp's experience working with Michael Vick in Atlanta, I'm sure he could devise a set of plays for Wallace to be successful on the field.
The Broncos have executed the zone blocking scheme with much success over the years. NFL Network analyst Brian Billick takes a look at why the Broncos have been so successful with the zone blocking scheme.
For more information on the zone running scheme, here's a good primer on how zone blocking works.
Gibbs is now the assistant head coach/offensive line coach with the Houston Texans. In just a year with the Texans, Gibbs has helped elevate Houston to one of the top running teams in the league.
Take a look at some of the offensive lineman for the Texans talking about the change to zone blocking here.
Cut blocking has been a controversial part of the zone blocking scheme over the years because defensive linemen at times see it as a dirty play. Cut blocking is illegal when two offensive players are engaged with a defender.