Join Date: May 2004
Former NFL Olman breaks down zone blocking versus man
The zone scheme involves a lot of movement from the offensive line's perspective. It works really well to get those defensive linemen moving and then use cutback lanes to essentially cut the defense. I was very familiar with the zone blocking scheme because we did it at Wisconsin.
In the NFL teams have to use both the man blocking scheme and the zone blocking system. You can't just plan on blowing people off the ball one-on-one. You have to be able to down block and do different things to keep defensive linemen off balance. You're talking about targeting guys that can be as big as 350 pounds. If you go one-on-one with a defensive lineman and they know every play is a zone block and that they have to split the double team it makes it kind of easy for the defender.
In college, if you have a big enough, strong enough and swift enough offensive line you can just blow people off the ball. In the pros, that's probably not going to happen. So what you have to do is implement the zone blocking scheme so you have that movement and bring in some other man blocking where you can cut the edge. The key to offensive line play is how can I cut the defense? Where can I get flow out of the front side and find the place where my center, guards or maybe even my tackles can stop the flow where we as an offense can run the ball up in there?
Sometimes that can even be on the backside. If someone is over pursuing heavily on the backside what's nice about the zone scheme is you can let the defense make mistakes and the running back can feed off the mistakes the defense is making. With man blocking, you're literally making it happen, like a tackle blocking down on a three technique and the guard may pull to kick out the end and the tight end might go up on a front side linebacker. Everybody has to execute that perfectly to make that play effective. But if you can run both then the defense doesn't know what is coming on any given play. In the NFL you definitely have to have a mix of it. Even if you run zone blocking and then mix in one power blocking run, that can really confuse a defense.
I did more man blocking in the NFL with the Buccaneers and Seahawks, and it was primarily because of the nature of the beast. We still did our basic zone blocking because the more you can throw at the defense the better off you'll be. I wouldn't say any team I ever played for was completely zone blocking. In fact, Bill Callahan and Jim Huber were my offensive line coaches and implemented the man-on-man blocking scheme after leaving Wisconsin, and worked it in with the zone blocking scheme they already have. They have been successful offensive line coaches in the NFL, and they realized quickly in the NFL that you have to be able to cut the defense by throwing them off their game. You can't show them the same look every time or they'll eat you up.
Which is better - the man or zone blocking schemes? I can't really say one is better than the other. A combination of both is really the best recipe. Zone blocking is certain situations allows the offensive line to pick up anything, so if you're expecting a creative blitz you step into your gap and take whatever comes to you. It can be a very safe play. If you're doing man-on-man blocking and they run the right blitz with a run stunt it can really screw you up and actually lead to a loss.
So, it's third-and-2 - what do we want to do here? What are the defense's tendencies? There is a lot more that goes into that decision, not just, "Hey, let's zone block this." If you look at different tendencies of teams you pretty much know that, "Okay, in this particular situation this defense is going to pinch on third-and-2 inside the 30-yard line, so we might want to run a regular power play and pull the guard around. If we know they're going to play head up they might do the "G-play," which would allow the tight end to get a good block on the defensive end and either the guard or the offensive tackle pick up the end."
Is there a perfect one in the whole grand scheme of things? No, I'd say a culmination of both is the way to go and the best thing to do. If you can get your players to do that you've got so much in your arsenal that it will allow you to be successful at any point. The basic man-on-man blocking has its positives, but it can stall you at times if the defense is bringing very extensive and hard blitzes. The best way to answer it is zone blocking is kind of basic, but it can be kind of hard to learn if guys haven't done it before because if kind of breaks the rules of what you've been taught before. If someone knows you're a complete zone team they know they have to beat the double team, and if they beat the double team they win. In a man-on-man scheme it gets harder to pick up extensive blitzes or "bring it," which is basically taking the whole offensive line and bringing it to the right to pick up whatever comes to you. If you don't understand those concepts and are just man-on-man you won't be able to pick up those blitzes to help in a zone-type scheme.
There's no doubt that changing offensive coordinators and schemes during the season hindered Tampa Bay's offensive line last year. If you don't know exactly what you're supposed to do or where you're supposed to be then you can't go full speed. If you have any kind of doubt in your head it's hard to fly around. I think you saw a lot of that last year from the Bucs offensive line. You saw guys not finishing, and the reason was because they were still unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. Even if the coach is coaching it, without having the time to coach it and properly implement it, it's going to be very difficult.
The talent along Tampa Bay's offensive line is very solid. There's no doubt about that. They have the ability to be a dominant offensive line. It's just a culmination of being able to put everything together and spend the time together to get the feel for how everything works. I compare it to when we changed offensive coordinators a few times under Tony Dungy. It was like starting over every year, so we had to pick up continuity all over again because we had changed offensive coordinators again. I can't even imagine changing offensive coordinators in the middle of the season.
There is a lot of time and effort needed to get that continuity along the offensive line and get to the point where as an offensive lineman you know exactly what the guy next to you is going to do on a given play. If you're changing the system and coordinator you'll never get that continuity, and the most important word for an offensive line is continuity. You can take a bunch of average football players that have great continuity and they can become a good offensive line. You can take a great offensive line and put them together on Sunday and it's going to look horrible if they don't have the continuity. It's much like a football team, but it really shows up along the offensive line because guys are getting sacked and tackled for a loss, and guys are standing around looking at each other like, "I thought you had that." That's why you see those types of mistakes. It's the changing of offensive coordinators from season to season, or in the Bucs' case within a season.
It doesn't just seem like I was talking down to people, I was. (Runner 8/4/09).