Offensive Line: Man-to-Man vs Zone Run Blocking

A significant component of an offense’s ability to run the ball is based on it’s ability to block out the defensive players and make lanes for their runner. Blocking is such a fundamental aspect of the game that it is often the determinative factor of the success of a play.  It is primarily carried out by the offensive linemen. Their job is to always to block. In fact, they are not considered eligible receivers unless a defensive player first touches the ball. [Please note that in the NFL a player can notify the referee directly prior to the play that he is an eligible receiver.]  In addition to the offensive linemen, the tight end is also used in a blocking role.  But unlike the linemen, the tight end is permitted to touch the ball and is often used as a receiver.

There are two strategies on how to open up space for the runners and block the opponent from getting to him: man-to-man and zone. (This may sound familiar because that is the same terminology used in determining the two types of pass defense schemes).

Man-to-Man is self explanatory. Each player is assigned a designated opponent based on the blocking play that is called and his battle is with that player alone.

Zone is somewhat more complicated. Each player has responsibility for a certain area or gap, which is the space to either his right or his left and is responsible for blocking whoever comes into his designated area. While some players may have two-gap responsibility (usually because of their relatively large size and strength), the other players know which side they have to defend based on the play that is called. For instance, if the scheme is an “Inside Zone” to the right, this means that the ball is going to the right side of the field. Thus the very first step each lineman should take should be to his right. The runner carrying the ball is going “inside” meaning that he is going between two of his teammates on the offensive line.  The players on the offensive line will also need to know which two of them he is going through so that each one knows which side of his body to keep his opponent on.

Another thing to notice about blocking is that the player will never try to take another player directly on, but rather looks to control half of the defender.  Football is a game of leverage and the blocker is looking to have either inside leverage or outside leverage, depending on which side the ball is going. Once a lineman knows if the runner is going to his inside or outside, he then can determine which of his opponent’s shoulders to attack.  If the play above had been to the outside, the lineman would have attacked his opponent’s outside shoulder (the one farthest on the edge) to keep him to his inside and allow his runner to go around the outside.

Read more about Offensive Linemen here

Read The CFB Girl’s interview with NFL offensive tackle Orlando Franklin here