Baltimore Ravens Fans: This is Football 101 : Zone Blocking
In 2013 John Harbaugh hired his old Eagles friend, Juan Castillo to be the offensive line coach. Everyone freaked out that we hired a defensive coordinator to coach the offensive line; though it slipped their minds that’s what he has done his entire career. Andy Reid made him his defensive coordinator in 2012 for some reason nobody really understands. Castillo brought a much more intense focus on the zone blocking scheme.
The offensive line struggled in 2013 and many Ravens fans blamed Castillo and his “new” blocking scheme. Then Gary Kubiak (who is practically a zone blocking professor) came to town in 2014. Kubiak’s one season as the offensive coordinator resulted in the Ravens having one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Many of those same fans who were galvanized against the zone blocking scheme were now praising the Ravens for it.
Obviously there are a ton of people who don’t know what’s going on. So I thought it was a good idea to give a quick run down of what we’re really talking about. The zone blocking scheme is really simple. It is within all the little nuances that it can get tricky. Today let’s just go over the basics.
Whenever you don’t get how something works, ask yourself what the objective is. This is just a good rule to life, not just football. The zone blocking scheme is trying to produce multiple options for the running back and provide blocking in the first and second levels of the defense. That’s the long answer to, we’re trying to get more than a few yards per rush.
The glorious “Parks and Rec” character, Ron Swanson has a saying about fishing. “I like fishing, it’s like yoga but I still get to kill something,” he says in a hilarious episode. With zone blocking it’s kind of like synchronized swimming, yet the offensive linemen still get to plow 300 pound men out of the way. Okay now we’re moving out of the charming metaphors and into the gist of it.
Two offensive linemen will block a defensive tackle. One of those linemen will then chip off and block a linebacker in the second level of the defense. The running back can now chose to cutback into the lane that is created by the initial double team, or it can follow the chip block to the open field. The offensive line moves in unison the same way, creates double teams, splits these double teams which gives the running back options.
The reason it is called zone blocking is that you’re attacking an area. It is not lining up saying you get him, you get him and you get him. It’s knowing where you want to attack and moving together in an effort to make it work for the running back. If you remember three words from this post, the message has sunk in: double team, chip block, cutback.
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This is the system that made Justin Forsett (and countless running backs over the years) so successful. Forsett is a perfect running back for this blocking scheme. He is a down hill runner, he makes one cut and he goes. He is patient enough to let the play develop, but he is a quick and effective decision maker. This makes him a dangerous weapon in an offensive philosophy where he is given two choices on every carry.
It is not a knock to call Forsett (or any other running back) a system back. Many running backs struggle with the zone blocking. Some running backs prefer a pulling guard, a lead blocker and a definitive point of attack. Forsett just happens to have the skill set that works so well with the Ravens philosophy.
The bottom line (to use Ray Lewis’s favorite phrase) is that the zone blocking scheme is just a concept. It is only as good or as bad as the team executes it. It’s not rocket science, it’s football. Now that you know the basic concepts of the scheme, you will be able to see it for yourself. Go find a highlight of one of Justin Forsett’s best runs. See if you can identify the concepts of the zone blocking scheme. It’s amazing when you put it all together.
The beauty of football is the game’s simplicity. Football is made of easy to understand parts. It’s putting them together that is hard to do. When you put all the simple pieces together in a fast moving game, it gets more complicated. That’s why every Saturday I will try to have a Ravens 101 post. Many of you don’t need to brush up on your basics, but this is for those who want to.