If you’ve been following this series, you know that in the last couple weeks I covered offensive positions, formations, and pass blocking. Today I’ll get into run blocking, which is a central yet complex part of football games. Understanding blocking will help in understanding why plays (and games) went right or wrong.
There are two main types of run blocking that I’ll get into. Zone blocking and power blocking are both employed in different degrees by every team in the NFL, but many teams can still be described as either “a zone team” or “a power team”. Each blocking scheme has its own strengths and weaknesses, performing well with some players and play calls and poorly with others.
In zone plays, offensive linemen aren’t assigned specific defenders to block. Instead, the line as a whole blocks toward the specified direction. This creates a wall of blockers that ball carriers can follow.
Zone runs can be aimed inside or outside, both of which operate around the same principle. The difference between inside and outside zones is the angle at which the blockers move off the snap. In both, the wall of blockers moving in one direction forces defenders to make a choice: move the same way or try to go around the backside of the play.
If defenders try to go around the backside of the play, the ball carrier can simply keep heading in the direction of his blockers. If they move with the blockers to deny the edge, the ball carrier can cut back and use his blockers as a wall between himself and the bulk of the defense. And if some defenders move with the play and some go against it, a hole will open in the middle of the play. Cuts into these holes often lead to the big highlight runs that are so exciting to watch. Patient running backs with the ability to redirect and accelerate quickly can make big money off of zone plays.
There are many different power blocks, but in general, they involve offensive blockers taking on specified defenders. This results in designed holes for the ball carrier to run through, rather than having him run in a general direction and taking holes as they open (as is the case in zone plays). I’ll cover the most common power blocks here.
Base blocking or drive blocking is the simplest, yet perhaps toughest, kind of power blocking. To execute a base block, the blocker engages with his assigned defender and maintains contact. He drives his feet, seeking to push the defender away from the designed hole. This is extremely difficult to perform against strong, heavy defensive linemen.
Combo blocking is used to achieve the push of base blocking while making it easier to move defensive linemen. The most basic combo block is a double team, where two blockers take on a defender. This is usually used on big, tough-to-move defenders lined up between two offensive blockers.
Scrape blocks are a type of combo blocking, where two blockers will engage a defender before one of them disengages–“scrapes off” and moves to block another defender. Usually, blockers engage a defensive lineman and then scrape off to deal with a linebacker or safety once the lineman has been neutralized.
Pull blocks are the hardest block to execute but have a high payoff. In a pull block, the offensive lineman quickly moves back and turns down the line of scrimmage, running laterally before engaging his defender. Pull blocks can be used in short spaces almost like a scrape block (a “pin and pull” or “pencil” block), to send a lead blocker into a hole, or to seal off crashing defenders as in trap plays. The biggest advantage of a pull block is that it allows a blocker to get momentum and avoid being disrupted by defenders.
Power running plays can involve all types of power blocks, and blockers can move either playside or backside to engage defenders. These plays require a high level of coordination between blockers, which makes them difficult to execute. Strong, decisive runners are prized by teams that use mainly power blockers. A solid power running attack can wear down defenses over the course of a game, opening the playbook for the offense.
All NFL teams mix power and zone concepts, so no offense is truly zone or power exclusively. Since Andy Reid became a head coach, however, the Chiefs have been a strongly zone blocking-reliant team. Big blockers who can move in space are the archetype of the Chiefs offensive line. This season, watch for zone-based takes on power plays from the Chiefs.
2019 NFL Draft Board
Welcome to NFL Draft week! Here is the downloadable version of Ryan’s 2019 Draft board laying out the prospects round-by-round as Draft fits. Chiefs will be drafting some of these players. Check them off as they come off the board and highlight your targets!
Click image to download the .pdf and follow along on NFL Draft weekend