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Tom Cable and the Zone Blocking Scheme, explained: Part II

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Welcome Back. If you haven't read Part 1, please do give a glance over before starting this article. I briefly outline what Tom Cable looks for in his scheme, and how this has affected the Seahawk's building of the offensive line.

In this article I am going to try and outline the responsibilities/roles of the Seahawks O-Line itself, and how the Tom Cable Zone Blocking Scheme is compares to others of similar craft. I understand that a lot of recent articles here have dedicated itself to the ZBS, and while those are very informative, I want to personally delve deeper into the effectiveness and nastiness that has resurrected the Seattle run game. We have seen, and already have a decent understanding of what Cable sees in his players, and how size, intelligence and quickness are vital to ground game success; we've read over and over again on how this scheme runs from sideline to sideline rather than north-south; we've even seen with our own eyes on how effective and dominating this run game could be, and yet, most of my understanding of the O-Line is still shrouded. Why does this work?

Likewise, it's important to realize that zone blocking schemes, just like many other offensive schemes in the league, have evolved from coach to coach. Just like how Holmgren's West Coast Offense is different than those of Andy Reid's or Mike Shanahan's, Cable's scheme is very different compared to Houston's or Washington's. How is it different/similar, and how it could be potentially better, is what I'll try to answer in this article here.

To begin, let's root it all down from the basics of the ZBS itself. Guru Alex Gibbs personally developed two different "types" of the ZBS: the Tight Zone and the Wide Zone. Like the name relates, the Tight Zone is simply a namesake for "inside-zone", focusing on plays between the tackles. The main difference here is that Tight Zone requires a completely different read from the offensive lineman than in Wide Zone, and thus, this in turn leads to slight differences in where the linemen have to block and the point of attack the running back takes. In the end, if the defense is playing tight, you run wide; and vice-versa.

Wide Zone, in contrast, is more balanced and is versatile. With the focus on outside runs and opting instead for inside cutbacks and FB/RB passes to compliment the scheme, this is the bulk of the ZBS itself and why it is versatile. Wide Zone is free of the many personnel.

Wide Zone also limits the amount of restrictions that Tight Zone faces, and at times the offense could line up with two, one or even zero tight ends and still be able to construct a play. This is one of the geniuses of the ZBS itself: If the offense is well-versed in the playbook, the coach can do a lot of fun stuff in disguising what play they'll run.

The trade off to running Wide Zone, of course, is commitment. For example, the RB must make the read correctly and go when being handed the ball. The FB must be versatile, being able to block, catch, and lineup almost anywhere on the field. The is what Cable and the Seahawks usually line up on Sundays, and though there are plenty of Tight Zone sets intertwined within the Cable playbook as well, the bulk of last year's success is purely used within this formation alone.

The most unique concept about Cable's is scheme is his inclusion of the 2nd TE. We frequently saw glimpses of Cameron Morrah and Anthony McCoy last year - both as blockers and receivers. The later pursuit of then FA Visanthe Shancoe and trade for Kellen Winslow strengthens the notion of the importance and value Cable sees in that position. It only seemed curious why we demanded quality in such a position, but remember what I said about the FB being versatile? What Cable is doing is essentially replacing the FB on the field with a TE/H-Back, heightening the abilities of both blocking/receiving while retaining the same size a FB could be. To quote Alex Gibbs:

The FB is a GUARD, he is a major blocker that gets to catch the ball a few times.

The inclusion of the TE instead of a FB on offense also has the potential to confuse the defense more. If you recall last year, many plays on offense started off with shifts, motions and players flying all over the place. By having a TE in, you not only force the defense to potentially change the strength of field (as defenses line up to which side the TE is on), but you also gain flexibility in audible to a potential pass/run play depending on the situation - a TE can just as easily be called to block as he could catch.

I highlighted two important plays that I think showcased the best of the 2nd TE - and just how the ZBS works at times even if the play breaks down.

Play 1: Vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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I choose this play primarily because it shows that even in run-heavy, eight-man fronts, the ZBS still works. Gibbs said himself that a team has to be able to run against eight men if they want to put the game away. The Seahawks did this against the Eagles last year, and judging by the 34-14 score, they did it pretty damn well.

Right away, we see Obomanu motion out of trips left into split right. The Philly defense quickly counters by shifting down into a eight men front with the DB playing very close in the box as well. (This is what I mean by the defense countering to the shift - instead of having the majority of the play focused on the left side, the D must respect Obo should he run a route.) If the defense thought they were going to stop Beast Mode here, boy are they in for a surprise. Let's look at how the play is supposed to be run:

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As you can see, Zach Miller (Shown in Red) has the tough-but-easy job of driving the OLB one-on-one, essentially becoming the lead blocker for Marshawn on this play. Cameron Morrah, however, is the make-or-break guy here - if he misses the crack, the play is a loss of five yards. If he gets onto his guy, it could be a gain of five or more, depending on how the RB reads.

Which brings us back to Lynch. The play shows three different ways Lynch can run here: he could a) run a track straight down Miller's ass, b) bounce the play outside and hope that Obomanu's route holds off the CB and S long enough, or c) cut the play back inside. Deciding on which choice to choose and how to choose effectively is due in part Lynch's commitment to hit the hole with confidence. In this case, Lynch will be reacting/reading to what Morrah does with his block and only his block.

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Ball is snapped. Miller does his job and meets the OLB a few yards ahead of the LOS. The rest of the offensive line is doing well too, holding up their blocks. Okung, at LT, does a fantastic job of keeping backside safe. Obomanu has a good get off and drives the DB a couple yards deeper then where he's started. Almost all of the 8 guys in the box are blocked, with the exception of the outside DE Jason Babin. Not only does Babin foolishly kept his head down during pre-snap, he actually runs up the field as the last guy on the line. This is perhaps the best opportunity Morrah will ever have for a pancake block, and he engages Babin with a clean hard hit on his inside shoulder.

All while this is acting up, Lynch makes his read. The white line showcases the vision/direction he's seeing on the field, and right away he should know the play will be ran outside. Why? Because no one is in front of him. If Babin had held his spot at end, Morrah would have had to drive block him (at a angle) near the LOS and Lynch would've seen him, making the play run on the left side of the TE instead of outside. If Babin was smart and sniffed out the crack block, not only would Lynch see Morrah, he would be within a few steps of him, andLynch would then have to cut back inside between Unger and Moffat. Alas, he doesn't see anyone, so he knows the play is outside.

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Obomanu throws a good block around the DB, and Beast Mode is on. Touchdown Seahawks, 14-0.

Play 2: Vs. Dallas Cowboys

This play is interesting because it delves into the passing aspect of the ZBS. As you know, most of the passes in the ZBS are based on play action, rollouts, and fakes. In addition to being instinctive, a ZBS QB has to fake well in holding off the defense, just as a good run game is necessary to set up the pass. The one thing that Tarvaris Jackson has going for him as a QB is that he does all the things above very well - and his mobility demands that the defense has to respect him possibly running out of a bootleg.

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In this situation, Dallas is being bullied by the emergence of Marshawn Lynch. It is first and 10, so they are looking for the run. The formation is strong right, again counteracted with the appearance of two TE. This time however, it is Anthony McCoy lining up on the line while Miller is the H-Back. All points seem to indicate a "stretch right play", and the defense compensates by putting in eight in the box again - Another perfect scenario for the Seahawks.

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Once again, I highlighted the primary TE (McCoy) as red and the secondary TE (Miller) as Yellow. This time, the success of the play is not dependent on the offense, but specifically the MLB. McCoy has the easiest route (and the go-to route) over the middle, while Lynch draws the left side underneath. If the MLB bites on the play-action, then Tarvaris should be looking all the way to McCoy. If he doesn't, then the entire left side of the offense is open for Lynch, assuming that the WR's run deep enough routes and block. Miller serves as the hot route in case the protection breaks down.

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Ball is snapped. Tarvaris quickly fakes the ball to Lynch and immediately looks for the MLB's reaction. The MLB hesitates just for a step before realizing that it isn't a run and drops back quickly to make up for lost ground. Unfortunate, as this tiny step would wound up letting McCoy slip in the middle with his route:

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Wide Open for 34 yards. Any sound football mind would realize that these type of plays aren't likely to happen - and chances are if you can't cover the middle as a defense you won't have much success in the league (something which Dallas isn't). Nevertheless, the MLB's slight hesitance was again based on the read of the RB, and this is the potential the Seahawks Offense could be - forcing the defense to respect the run, even being able to run with 8 men in the box, and finally, pass when the opportunity for big gains is apparent. With the largest amount of materials and success to work with this year, Cable just might built himself one heck of a offensive core by season's end.

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