Outside zone is one of the hardest plays for the defense to stop, simply because it takes the element of power completely out of the situation.
Outside zone is run strictly off of leverage and cutoff blocks.
In this article, we’re going to show you exactly how to run outside zone and how you can install it into your offensive system.
Outside Zone In Football
Outside zone is a run play that takes advantage of the cut-off blocks and leverages the offensive line to get an aggressive running attack that will wear down the defense’s pursuit. It’s a great compliment for teams that run inside zone, as we detailed here.
The outside zone concept is simple, but it doesn’t need to be run only by multiple-back formations. In fact, it’s best used as a base play for your offense if you’re running three wide receivers and a tight end or two wing-backs.
It can also easily be run with one back, which would still give you the advantage of the leverage on the defense based on what you put into their gaps on either side.
Outside zone is a play that aims to attack the edge of the defense but utilizes backside cutoffs. If the defense has a bigger, slower defensive lineman, this is great to get them running and ultimately tired out.
View our complete guide of spread offensive run plays here
How Do You Run Outside Zone In Football?
Outside zone is a concept that can be used as a base run play (Similar to how we detailed inside zone in the article).
The main philosophy in outside zone is to cut off every single defensive lineman. This means simply getting in front of them and cutting off their angle to the football.
Cutting off offensive lineman requires no size or strength. It requires speed and technique. Teams who run outside zone must have athletic linemen that can cut in front of the defensive lineman.
If you have an offensive lineman built more for a power game than a zone game, we recommend you forego outside zone.
Starting with the center, the philosophy is to cut off the person in your next gap.
The benefit of cutting off defensive lineman is that it naturally opens up running lanes for the running back.
The center should start by working flat down the line of scrimmage to position himself in front of the defensive lineman. His main job is to cut off the player in his gap toward the play side.
Next is the play side guard. His job is to secure players in his gap so that the center can overtake him. Once the guard has slowed down the man in his gap and the center has overtaken him, he will then move to cut off the linebacker.
The backside guard will step toward the play side to ensure no penetration from a blitzing linebacker or backside lineman.
Once his gap is secured, he will continue working up to the linebacker to cut off his angle.
The backside tackle is looking to cut off the defensive lineman to his play-side gap.
Like the center’s technique, the tackle is responsible for cutting off the angle of the defensive lineman by moving horizontally.
Last, the play side tackle has one of the most important blocks in the entire play. These are the rules of the play side tackle:
- Try to cut off the defensive end, so the running back can get to the edge
- If the defensive end widens and you’re not able to cut him off, then try to run him to the sideline
It is up to the play-side tackle to take the end where he wants to go.
Outside Zone Running Back Aiming Point
Last, the running back needs to be able to read the block of the play-side tackle. There are 3 main rules that the running back has; bend, bang, and bounce.
Once the running back reads the tackle, he will bend it back toward the middle if he sees him pushing the defensive end to the sideline.
If the defensive end has the play-side tackle in a stalemate, the running back will bang it next to their block to recoup some yards.
Last, if the tackle successfully cuts off the defensive end, the running back will bounce the ball to the outside, hoping to outrun the rest of the defensive backs.
These are the primary rules for outside zone. If you have an offensive lineman that can move and effectively cut off the defensive players, outside zone is a perfect install. This is similar to the philosophy of pin and pull, which we wrote about here.
Outside Zone Vs Wide Zone
Outside zone and wide zone are often related to one another because of where they play hits.
Teams may have outside zone hit a bit wider than wide zone, but outside and wide zone are the same at its core fundamentals.
Teams who use outside zone as a primarily outside zone run play may have their running back trying to get to the edge no matter what. This eliminates any rules for the bend bang or bounces from the running back.
Outside Zone Variations
Outside zone can be run from different formations, depending on where the coach wants the play to hit.
For spread teams, having the running back at an offset alignment or a pistol alignment gives the running back enough room to make a read off of the play side tackle.
Teams who run outside zone from under center typically require the running back to make a quicker decision, as the ball will be in the hands of the running back closer to the line of scrimmage.
One of the more popular variations of outside zone is the outside zone RPO. Teams will use their H back to block outside out but then release him for a pop pass. This forces the safety to hold back and not come downhill for the run fit.
To see examples of the pop pass, watch the video below for full in-depth detail.
Outside zone is a simple yet effective running play. Teams that can effectively execute outside zone will have success.
Any team running a “pound-it between the tackles” power offense should consider implementing outside zone. It could help your offensive lineman with their footwork and open more holes for your running back to hit.
Using outside zone as a base run play opens up other concepts like play-action plays (where you fake the outside zone handoff and throw it deep outside) or gap schemes.
If you’re interested in learning more about other base run plays, we have blogs detailing inside zone and other plays here.