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Different Blocking Schemes in Football

by
author image James Roland
James Roland started writing professionally in 1987. A former reporter and editor with the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he currently oversees such publications as the "Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor" and UCLA's "Healthy Years." Roland earned his Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Different Blocking Schemes in Football
Different blocking schemes are designed to open up holes for the running back or help protect the quarterback. Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

The offensive line in football has the task of creating holes for running backs to gain yards or to keep defenders away from the quarterback on passing plays. Complex defensive plays mean that the offensive line has to be ready to react quickly if the designed blocking scheme won't work against a particular defense. The offensive line is usually composed of the center, two guards, two tackles and a tight end, though teams can make changes in that arrangement, such as adding a second tight end.

Man-to-Man Blocking

This is the most straightforward blocking scheme, because it simply requires each offensive lineman to block a specific defensive player. It can be used for running or pass plays. For pass plays, the offensive linemen try to keep defenders from getting to the quarterback, but running plays are designed to open up holes for the running back. Man blocking might open up one or two holes the runner can choose to cut through because the offensive linemen will try to block their men in a certain direction to create space for the ball carrier.

Zone Blocking

An alternative to man-to-man blocking is zone blocking, in which the offensive lineman work as a unit to block a certain area rather than have each lineman take on a particular defender. Zone blocking often results in a defensive player being double-teamed, which gives the offense an advantage, presuming the defense doesn’t anticipate the scheme and take advantage of two offensive linemen blocking a single defender. Zone blocking is used primarily in running plays. The offensive linemen working in tandem block on the side where the ball carrier is headed. It requires excellent communication among the linemen and superior athleticism.

Zone Blocking Variations

Many types of zone blocking schemes are used but all are variations of three main types of zones: Inside, outside and stretch. An inside zone play is designed to have the running back run between the tackles. An outside zone is meant for the runner to go just outside one of the tackles, and a stretch play is designed for the back to run just inside the last offensive player on the line of scrimmage, such as a wide receiver.

Play Action Pass Blocking

The term “play action” refers to plays that are set up to look like running plays but wind up as passing plays. The offensive line must help “sell” the idea that it is trying to open up a hole in the defensive line, and the quarterback must do a good job of faking a hand-off to the running back, who starts toward the line. The quarterback then drops back to pass, and the running back picks up any defenders who break through the line. The offensive linemen, who are in a man-to-man blocking scheme, must keep their heads down and not stand up tall as they would in normal pass blocking.

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