Trend #2

Solution to Defensive Backgapping

Adjusting Count Systems and RB Entry Points in Zone Schemes

Thanks to offensive innovators like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, the H/Y off formation (see Diagram 8) has garnered extensive use the last couple of seasons. The reason for this is that it is really a two-back offense in the guise of a spread formation. In recent years, OCs have found innovate ways to move that player around, both pre- and post-snap, to create a leverage advantage. They have created an entire play package (zone, power, iso, counter) around the insertion of that H, who is essentially an additional tight end or fullback.

Diagram 8

Trouble is, defenses have caught on by keying him and adding an extra hat to account for the extra gap he is creating. Whether he inserts front side or backside, there is another defender to account for him. This is leading offensive coordinators to make a choice on two options:

  • RPO that defender by reading his post-snap demeanor for run or pass.
  • Take the zone play to him by accounting for him in the blocking scheme.

For coaches that chose not to put that responsibility on their quarterback to RPO, the latter option is giving them the best bet to run the zone play effectively. It allows offensive linemen to account for the bonus player in their blocking schemes without relying on an RPO tag. 

Why It’s Trending

It’s commonly called “moving the zone play forward.” In traditional zone schemes, the offensive line works off a count system where the play side combination block works to the point or play side A gap defender who is commonly the Mike linebacker (see Diagram 9). The problem is that this may not account for an extra defender, like a drop safety who is creeping into the run box pre or post-snap. It’s an issue that Chris Fisk, offensive line coach at Central Washington University, is having running his divide zone scheme, where the H will come across the formation to cut off a backside C gap defender. 

Diagram 9

“When the H back goes back, teams will insert the safety to where he motioned to and rock all the backers back to account for that extra gap to cover the boot pass or the cutback on the zone play,” Coach Fisk told us. “So now we have a coding for our offensive line that will push the point out a man.” (See Diagram 10).

Diagram 10

How It’s Being Implemented

University of New Mexico lead the country in rushing this season averaging 350 yards per game. It’s the first time since 2013 (Auburn) that a non-flexbone option team lead the nation in this category and they did it by pushing the zone scheme forward to account for the extra run fitter. The play side combo now works to him (see Diagram 11). The same principle can be used from three-back formations, where the H coming from the backfield provides instant misdirection to linebackers (see Diagram 12)

Diagram 11
Diagram 12

But with changing the blocking scheme comes changing the aiming point of the ball carrier. In traditional inside zone schemes, we’ve found that the majority of coaches, 49 percent, use the inside leg of the back side guard as an aiming point for the ball carrier with the potential cutting all the way back to the backside B gap. But against defenses that are “back gapping” the zone and putting another defender to the cutback, the aiming point needs to be pushed forward to the play side A gap with the outside leg of the center being the aiming point. “We needed to start reading front side A, B gap and then cut back side,” Coach Fisk told us. “We are going to press that front side A gap a little better in the spring looking for the front side A or B gap. The back has to have eyes on the front side of the play and feel the back side.”

The clip below from New Mexico is a good illustration of the ball carrier pushing the aiming point wider.

So, now coaches this spring are confronting the dilemma of keeping the integrity of the inside zone concept, which relies on vertical displacement, all while having the linemen work a gap wider, which can disrupt or alter their parallel relationship with the line of scrimmage. “The advantage of changing the running back’s path to more of a play side entry point is because it minimizes the effect of the backside safeties being added into the fit against Y/H off zone schemes,” said Simpson College (IA) offensive coordinator Jeff Judge. “The negative is the offensive linemen’s shoulders turn more at a 45-degree angle to match the back’s shoulders and they are not getting vertical. We may not get the same amount of push. We are looking for four yards a play on this scheme. You have to decide which is more likely to get the markers to second down and six yards or less.” 

Continue to trend #3: Unbalanced Formations in Tempo Offenses

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X&O Labs 2017 Football Trends