Blocking the Modern Man/Zone Run Game

In the run game it doesn’t make much sense to call some plays “man” plays and others “zone” plays, since in both styles the majority of plays involve most of the blockers going after predetermined defenders, i.e., what sounds to most people like man blocking, before moving on to more flexible assignments to take on potential players in a given area, i.e., what seems more like a blocking a guy in a particular zone on the field.

I think it’s more helpful to define football schemes by what they’re trying to achieve.  A fair number of coaches agree with me on this and use slightly different terminology.  In their parlance, they use either zone-scheme plays or “gap-scheme” plays.*  The zone plays try to weaken a wide area of a defense, while their gap plays are designed to open up a single gap for a back to run through.  These schemes work different ways that you can pick up in from the stands or from watching the television.

Let’s look at two outside runs to help illustrate the difference.  I’ll start with a generic Power-O play, where a backside guard (or offside guard, hence the “O” designation) pulls and leads through the hole.

Typical Power-O play.

Notice that players to the left of the hole block down, while the players who end up on the hole’s right side block out.  I recall at least one coach likening it to “parting the Red Sea.”  The idea is to first open the hole, and then seal off the defense on either side.  It’s almost like a set of double doors swinging outward and pushing aside anything in their way.  If the defense moves to close in on the runner, they’ll meet a wall of defenders.  The play’s biggest advantage, to use an old cliché, is that it “outnumbers the defense at the point of attack.”  By pulling the guard, the offense suddenly has extra blockers.

Here’s how the Chargers run it…

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