And I promise I wont complain about Eli Manning this time.
Before we look at the inside zone you need to have read the article on the outside zone, as references will be made back to it. The reason for this is because the plays are so similar.
Really the big difference between the two is the intention of where to send the running back. In the outside zone play, the running back uses the position of the tight end as his aiming mark. He makes a mental note of the spot where the tight end is lined up, and at the snap of the ball is running towards that spot. The goal of the offensive line is then to get outside of the defense and pin them in, allowing the back to get around the end of the line and upfield. Really, if the back has to cut inside then it's sort of a "plan B" situation, often as a reaction to the end tackle having been beaten to the outside.
The inside zone does kind of the opposite. Now the goal is to attack the gap between the offensive guard and the offensive tackle. At no point really should the back find himself running outside of the tackle. He has to get inside and get penetration through the middle of the defense. This play compliments the outside zone for precisely that reason; when the defense starts to cheat and overplay the outside zone, it makes it easier to block them with the inside zone.
The inside zone also shares many of the benefits that the outside zone does in terms of being 'Front Ambiguous', that is to say that it can be used against a wide variety of defensive fronts without the need for any major changes in the way the play is blocked. This helps to reduce the number of plays in the offense, which in turn permits greater repetition of the remaining plays in practice, honing the skills of the players to a finer edge.
To start with then we need to look at the rules that the offensive linemen use. The good thing about this is that they use precisely the same rules as they do with the outside zone. If you have a down lineman covering any part of your body then you are "covered". If not, you are "uncovered". And just like in the outside zone the linemen will decide whether to work together or whether to work alone based on these rules.
The uncovered linemen must work to their playside, helping their covered team mate if necessary. The covered linemen must check their team mate to the backside (or non-playside, if that makes it easier for you). If that man is also covered, you're on your own. If he's uncovered, he'll help you out.
And this is where the main difference comes in. In the outside zone, the preference was to get covered linemen who had help to come out of their stance, hit the defensive linemen over them, and then work up to the linebacker level, letting their backside team mate take over the block on the defensive linemen. The covered linemen with help only really stayed on his original man if that defender made a hard move to the playside.
Now we want our offensive linemen to focus a little more on blocking the defensive linemen. There is no major rush to get up to get wide or to get up onto the linebackers. The uncovered linemen in the outside zone would take a very much horizontal first step, looking to get across and cut off the D-line. Now all our linemen can afford to take a slightly shorter, more controlled first step that goes up towards the D-line, as opposed to laterally across their face.
At this point we'll do a diagram review, just so we can get a better idea of what we're looking at;
Hopefully now you have a better idea of what the offensive linemen are doing and what they're looking for.
The key to this play is double teams on the defensive linemen, then working up to the linebackers. If the D-lineman goes inside then the backside linemen will take over the block and the playside linemen will work up to the next level and get the linebacker. If the D-lineman goes outside, then the playside linemen stays on him and the backside guy will go up to the linebacker. And if he tries to stay head up on the playside linemen, then the two will work together to drive him back, until one of them can come off and get the linebacker, depending on how things pan out.
The next thing to look at is the running back. In the outside zone, the running back was using the tight end as his original land mark and then he made the decision to cut based on a read of the second defensive lineman to the playside of the center. If that guy went hard outside then he switched his read to the first down defensive lineman and read that guy.
Now with the inside zone we want the running back to start off by aiming at the "B" gap between the playside guard and the playside tackle, using that as his landmark. Some teams like the running back to make a more specific read of the defensive front and then aim at either the inside hip of the tackle or the outside hip of the guard, but I personally find that cumbersome and largely irrelevant for this discussion.
The decision as to where the running back will end up cutting is based on the first down defensive linemen to the playside of the center (remember in the outside zone he read the second man). If this defender works his way to the outside (playside) then the back cuts inside of him. If he tries to drive inside then the back works to get outside of him.
Here's what it looks like;
So in this case the running back reads the block of the defensive tackle and cuts off of him. If that man presses to the playside then the back cuts up inside. If the man presses inside then he cuts around him and up through the resulting wide gap between the guard and the tight end. The block on the "Mike" middle linebacker is determined by the actions of the Nose Tackle. If he drives hard laterally and blocks off the center then that will leave the backside guard with the opportunity to go up and get the backer. If the guard and center can pin him and stop him moving, that will allow the guard to take over the block and the center can go up for the Mike.
There are also two more things we need to be aware of here. First, if the Nose tackle does press hard across the face of the center then that would give him the opportunity to tackle the running back if the back tries to cut inside. For this reason, the back has the option to read the nose tackle after making his first read and to then cut behind him.
This is doable, but risky, as it presents the opportunity for the back to end up dancing about behind the line of scrimmage when really one of the mantras of zone running is "one cut and get up field!", the idea being to remove the chance of negative plays. How much freedom the back has to cut behind the nose really depends on the coaches and their judgement, which will likely be influenced by the quality of the back.
A bigger, slower running back is unlikely to be given too much leeway, especially if he's young and/or inexperienced in this system. A smaller back, with much better cutting ability and/or more experience in the system is likely to be given the green light to cut back as far as he sees fit.
The second thing of note is that some teams have tried to completely avoid the situation above where the back has to potentially read the Nose Tackle by devising methods for making checks at the line of scrimmage to change the play a little.
The first of these methods is to ask the playside guard and tackle to execute a "fold" block. This is where the offensive tackle blocks down on the defensive tackle who is covering the "B" gap, and the offensive guard pulls back off the line and goes around the block of the tackle and up to get the Sam linebacker. The second solution is to simply run away from that defensive tackle, flipping the play as it were, by the quarterback making a check at the line.
The best method I've seen of doing this is to use a "Red/White" call. Obviously you can use any two names you like, but the Red/White concept seems to have gained some traction with many coaches at all three levels. The basic explanation of this is that when a "B" gap is covered (even if just partially) with a defensive tackle, that's referred to as Red. When a "B" gap is uncovered (there will still be a linebacker lurking about 5 or so yards back), then that is referred to as White. Ideally you want to run to the white side and away from the red side. Here's how it looks when you run away from that covered "B" gap;
As you can see we now get the full back going up to get the Will linebacker and we now have two double teams right up the middle of the defense. Now the running back would read the Nose tackle as his first read. If he has to cut back inside of him he'll have a much easier time of it, thanks to the double team on the other defensive tackle.
So there you go, the inside zone. Coupled with the outside zone and a few other runs you can actually put together quite a formidable rushing attack without having to have a hundred different ways to run the ball. The play action possibilities are also pretty good, especially when you substitute the Fullback for a second tight end and start messing around with things like lining him up on the playside and having him run all the way across the formation to block the back side of the play.
Maybe next week we'll take a look at just that?
Tomorrow I'll be back to look at Tom Brady and hopefully I can dig out some video clips to show you what I was talking about with his vision. Till then, enjoy your day.