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Administrator Emeritus
O-Line Schemes: Zone Blocking vs. Drive Blocking
written by osugrad21 and exhawg (6/7/2004)

The main difference between Drive blocking and Zone blocking is that with Drive blocking you are trying to open a hole in a specific place and with Zone blocking you are putting bodies on bodies and let the running back find the whole. The zone allows a cutback runner the opportunity to slash his way through whatever seam may appear. However, the Drive blocking scheme does not allow for this type of creativity. The back must hit the designated hole in order for the play to work successfully.

Zone Blocking-

There are 2 type of Zone blocking schemes but they both revolve around the same rules.

  • If you are covered you are responsible for the man on you.
  • If you aren’t covered you double team with the next person play side


In the above diagram you can see how these rules apply to an inside zone scheme against a basic 4-3 Under defense, and a 3-4 defense. The TE is responsible for the man on or outside of him. The RT is responsible for the man on him. Against the 3-4, the RG isn’t covered so he double teams the end up to the MLB. Depending what the MLB does this could be a long double team or not more than a jab and go. The center and LG are the same as the previous 2 but they are doubling to the PLB (we called the second MLB Peg in college so bear with me). Against the 3-4 The LT is responsible for making sure that the backside end doesn’t cross his face. Driving him off the ball is nice but he HAS it cut him off a the very least. Against the Under the LT steps inside and works his way up to the WLB. The outside man on the back side is either the responsibility of the FB, or a WR in motion. Another way to handle that is to have the QB boot out to that side after the hand off. The outside man is responsible for contain so if he starts making the play on the hand off you can burn him with a naked.

The RB’s rule on an inside zone is to key on the front side guard. If he is covered go to the opposite side of where his man goes. In both of the above diagrams the man that the RG is blocking is outside him so the RB will start looking for a hole at the right side A gap. If the man over the RG stunts inside then the RB is taught to plug in the front side B gap to outside.

The goal of the O-line is to double the D-line into the LB’s and make them declare their gap responsibility. When done properly, the LB can’t make the correct choice because the RB can go to the opposite gap than the one the LB chooses and run free into the secondary. On any handoff, the defense has two players that the offense cannotaccount for, so it is up to the RB to make the safety miss.

The second type of Zone scheme is Outside Zone. This follows the same rules as inside zone but rather than try to push the defense up the field the offense tries to get the edge on the D and cut them off laterally.


The Outside zone isn’t extremely effective out of a normal alignment so my diagram is for double TE, which in my opinion, is the best formation for the scheme. This play will usually be called with a direction audible so that the play can go to whichever side looks like it will be easier to block.

You can see the rules stay the same everyone is just moving faster play side. The biggest difference is on the backside the O-line has to do whatever they can to cut off backside pursuit. The play has the best chance of busting out the gate if one of the backside linemen can make it up to the safety. Everyone to the backside is responsible for line cutoff if the center has free reign to cut block the defender for which they are responsible. This should at least slow them down enough that they can’t make the play. The last man on the outside isn’t blocked and he should have no chance to make the play unless the RB screws up or he is Bobby Carpenter.

One Possible change to the scheme that can be done against the Under would call for the TE to block down on the 5 technique(Head Up Alignment) over the LT. The LT will wrap around the TE (Fold Block) and pick up the WLB. The LG would have the option to wrap over the top as well or he could go inside the TE’s block.

Drive Blocking-

Drive Blocking schemes rely on a totally different set of rules.

  • The front side blocks down
    • If you have a man on you drive him off the ball
    • If you don’t have a man on you block down on the first man inside
  • Someone from the backside pulls
  • The RB hits the hole hard


These rules are a good in theory but not the most accurate in practice. As you can see in the above diagrams of the Power play not everyone follows the rules every time. That’s why you have blocking calls. No matter how you block the scheme, everyone needs to be on the right page. Unlike Zone schemes that work from the front side to the backside, drive schemes work from the center out. The center has to decide whom he needs to block and make a call to let everyone know this. The best example of this is against the 3-4. Even though the center has a man over him, he and the LT have to seal off two guys on the backside. Since there is a man head up on the LT and a man outside the center need to come all the way to the man over the LT. The LT will jam the end over him to help the center but immediately turns his attention to the WLB outside. If the WLB comes upfield the LT peals off and picks him up. If the WLB drops then the LT and center will double the end to the WLB.

Power means that the FB is responsible for kicking out the end man on the line and the backside guard pulls around and picks up the front side LB. Power is always designed to go up inside so the FB has to get a good kick out on his man or it won’t work well.

The other main Drive blocking play is Counter.


The Counter is much like Power except that the pulling guard is responsible for kicking the end man on the line. The backside tackle pulls and cuts inside the kickout block for the front side LB and the FB has to skim any backside pursuit off the butt of the pulling tackle. Counter also relies on misdirection to fool the LB’s into flowing the wrong way and thus getting blocked easier. The RB takes his first two steps like he was running an inside zone play to the left (in the above diagram) then cuts back to the right and latches on to the hip of the tackle. In many circumstances the end man on the line is going to follow the TE on his down block so there won’t be any room for the guard to kick. In this case the guard logs (run around and seal the man inside) the end man. The pulling tackle has to read this and wrap around the guards block to pick up his man.
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We approached zone blocking in the way that you have explained drive blocking. It is probably just a difference in terminology. Our terminology, any block that wasn't pass protection, should've been a "drive" block. Drive the man out. Zone blocking for us set you up with three priorities.

1. Man over
2. Man inside
3. Next level

Simply put, if you are covered, meaning there was someone opposite you, he is your responsibility in our zone scheme. Let's suppose however, youre an OT and the DT is lined up in a 3 technique (outside shoulder) of the guard next to you, your responsibility is to drive that man down. If you are play side drive him as far as you can. If you are backside, then you would have the guard handle this man and you go up to the next level (the OLB...depending on scheme). It's all a matter of preference for the OC. If you have a bunch of smart OL, then you don't need to zone as much because you can set up intricate blocking assignments. However as has been the case with my short coaching career thus far (I helped a HS start a program with my old HS coach) our guys were new and couldn't understand assignments so we showed them zone blocking and they got that a lot better.
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