In the age of the spread offense, the Inside Zone play has become a staple in every offense. Inside zone is easy to run and easy to install for an offensive lineman.
Inside zone can be run out of spread formations or under center, it all depends on the coaches preference.
In this article, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about Inside Zone and why it’s one of the most effective plays in football.
What Is Inside Zone In Football?
Inside zone is installed by high school and college coaches all around the country because of how easy it is to install.
Why teams will choose to run inside zone as their base run play is because of the complexities that can be run off it.
Inside zone is useful because of the double teams the play demands, which can get vertical and horizontal leverage in the offense’s favor. Inside zone is a great alternative to running outside zone (which we detailed in this article).
While inside zone isn’t going to hit for a touchdown every single play, it’s will tire out defensive lineman and force them to fight through double teams.
View our complete guide of spread offensive run plays here
Inside Zone Run Blocking Rules
Inside zone can be run at any level, whether it be youth, high school, college, or the NFL. The key to running inside zone is the double teams that occur at the line of scrimmage from the lineman, and the running back being patient.
Before we introduce the blocks themselves, it’s important to create a counting system, that way the center knows exactly who he is doubling to.
Coaches will typically use a number identification system, so the center knows who he is doubling with.
For example, if the center has a defensive player covering him, he will designate that player as the “0”. From here, the offensive lineman will count who is the + and who is the -.
The center will verbally or will signal who the “0” (Or the mike) is on every single play. The 0 is the first player that is in the play side A gap. The center will always be working a double team with the guard.
Depending on which side the play is called, the center will double team with the guard.
For example, if the defense is playing an even front, the center will double team with the guard and try to get vertical movement from the defensive player. They are trying to move him off the football to slide off to the linebacker.
This play is effective if the center and guard can successfully remove the defensive tackle from his starting position.
After the center and the guard has officially secured their double team, both players will keep their eyes up to disengage whenever the linebacker commits. It’s important both players don’t bury their heads, as one of them needs to release to block the linebacker.
Next, the guard and backside tackle is working the second double team. Similar to the rules of the center and guard, the double team will try to remove the defensive lineman from the line of scrimmage.
The guard will step toward the defensive lineman (in the example above is the 3 technique). Once the guard is engaged, the tackle will try to double team with the guard, hoping to take over for the guard ultimately.
The key to running a successful inside zone play is to displace the defensive lineman and get the linebackers blocked downfield. This opens up running lanes for the running back.
The play-side tackle that is not involved in the double teams will make a hinge block. This means they are going to block the defensive end or linebacker out toward the sideline. The defensive end mustn’t move across the face of the tackle. If he does, he could affect the play.
Next, the quarterback will put the ball in the stomach of the running back. The key to a successful inside zone play is making sure the unblocked defensive end makes the wrong decision.
If the defensive end crashes toward the running back, the quarterback will pull the football and try to get as many yards as he can. If the defensive end stays on the quarterback and doesn’t move, then the quarterback will hand the ball to the running back.
Last, the running back must read the offensive lineman blocks to move the football effectively.
If the offensive line can successfully win their double teams, the running back should run straight with no issue.
What will more than likely happen, is only one of the double teams will be won.
From here, the running back’s responsibility is to read his blocks. He needs to take a jab step towards the line of scrimmage, and depending on what he sees in front of him, and he’ll either cut it upfield or bounce out to the play side.
The key is to make sure the running back only takes one cut. If he moves side to side for too long, the defense will rally to him and eventually tackle him.
Benefits Of Running Inside Zone
The benefits of running inside zone in football are the simplicity of teaching the offensive line and running back to be an athlete.
The offensive line will look to double team and move to the linebackers, no matter what the defensive front is. This makes the play very flexible against every type of defensive front.
The other benefit is the play isn’t always going to hit in the same spot. While coaches would like for it to hit from the front side A gap to the backside B gap, it could hit different areas.
That’s why zone blocking is so popular among spread teams, due to the variety of outcomes in one play.
Inside Zone RPO
Teams who run inside zone can also run an RPO off of it (if you don’t know what an RPO is, we recommend checking out this article).
Inside zone RPO’s are popular because teams can keep their inside look, but add a tag to throw the ball if necessary.
The most common type of RPO is inside zone stick RPO.
All this means is the quarterback is going to read the linebacker instead of the defensive end. Once the linebacker commits to the run, the quarterback will pull the football from the running back and throw it to the slot receiver.
This puts the linebacker in conflict because if he attacks the run, the ball will be thrown to the receiver. If he covers the receiver, then he will be late to tackle the running back.
Here is a breakdown of inside zone RPO’s and how you can install them into your offense.
What Is The Difference Between Inside & Outside Zones?
The difference between inside and outside zones are the aiming points of the running back, as well as the footwork of the offensive lineman.
Inside zone is meant to be hit between the B and A gaps. Outside zone will be hit in the C, D, or even B gaps. The footwork between the two plays is different.
When running inside zone, the players are looking to create double teams to displace the defensive lineman off the football.
When running outside zone, the offensive lineman is simply cutting off the angles of the defensive lineman, which creates running lanes for the running back.
Inside zone is a popular play run by many teams because it keeps the defense honest. It allows the offense to use a variety of blocking schemes, which gives them more versatility.
If you run inside zone out of your spread offense or from your pistol formation, it’s important to coach your players on footwork, aiming points, and how to read their blocks.
The simplicity of the play allows for a high success rate, while also keeping the defense on their heels.
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