Football 101 - The Zone Read Scheme - And one way to defeat it.

This is the Tenth article in a series of articles where I talk about the basics of Football 101.

While the first article "Numbers and Letters" and the 2nd Article "Receiver Route Tree" are probably my best two articles for anyone wanting to learn more about the "X's" and "O's", this one would be one of my most important as far as hoping the Cowboys will do something similar or adopt it because my fear is that "stubbornness" will prevail, and Kiffin will not want to deviate from his Tampa Two defense, and it will be his downfall if he doesn't.

The Tampa Two will work just fine against all the standard "pocket passer" teams we face, but if we stick in that defense against the Zone Read Option teams, we will get killed! Of that, I have no doubt.

In this post, I will focus on the importance of thinking out of the box, and how important it is in this league where parity is really becoming more and more about copying the really good teams with their innovative schemes because talent level can not be the biggest improvement factor because of the salary cap, and that is why the innovations of scheme, (West Coast Offense, The Flex 4-3, the One Gap 3-4, the K-Gun, etc) are where teams for awhile can really get an upper hand until the other side of the ball catches up to them.

In this case it is the "Zone Read" and the "Pistol" that has given teams like Carolina, Washington, and Seattle, really big advantage unless the defenses can adjust schematically.

Since there are 11 players on both offense and defense, and the offense has to put at least 7 players on the line of scrimmage, with two of those most often being wide receivers, that means counting the two WR's on the line and the other 4 in the back field, the defense must account for a total of 6 offensive weapons.

But, almost always, the QB is not accounted for as far as coverage goes. Therefore with the defense often only rushing 3 down linemen, that means that of the 5 remaining skill players that the defense normally accounts for, the defense can allocate 8 defensive players to cover 5 offensive players, and if the team rushes 4, then it still leaves 7 defensive players to cover 5 offensive players. So, it is therefore easy to see that two players can be double teamed or placed deep in the secondary to go to either side to not allow the deep ball. This is often why so many teams use the "Cover Two" defense and leave the other 5 defensive players to handle the 5 skill players on offense, UNLESS the QB becomes a running back and then the whole defense is challenged to play a scheme it is not used to playing.

Now, the worst possible scenario is where one of your defensive players is forced to choose between picking between two guys that might hurt his area of responsibility.

This is where the "Zone Read" and the "Pistol" is so dangerous unless you know how to defense it, and I will show you one of the things that I hope Kiffin does to counter it when we play these teams next year.

Section 1 - FOOTBALL 101 Teaching Session:

Kiffin's philosophy is based upon having one defensive set/scheme and learning it very well, and then challenging the offenses to try to beat us, He thinks that we will be so familiar with all the defensive keys and reads, that we will never be out of position and teams will have to have long drives to score.

That is fine for all teams that are in the "normal" everyday offenses that we will face. But with the Zone Read Option / Running QB teams, it will not work. The reason it will not work is based upon the idea that the outside "contain" DE or OLB must "choose" which of two players is going to run with the ball, and that means.....

if the DE/OLB "stays home" then the QB will hand the ball off to the RB and he will run for big yardage.

If the DE/OLB pinches in toward the "B" gap, then the QB will keep the ball and gain the edge and run for big yardage.

It matters not if a team is in the 4-3 or the 3-4 as the scheme is based upon MAKING the contain DE/OLB make a choice. I will later show the only way I know of to defeat this scheme. The obvious answer is to "have a set where the DE/OLB is not put in the position to have to make a choice", and I will show you how that is possible and to still be sound in the scheme.

First, the Zone Read and Pistol formation:


Notice the QB is in the "Pistol" (The QB is not lined up 7 yards deep with the RB's, but instead is lined up kinda half way between under center and in the Shotgun.) This is very similar to the old "T" formation but with the QB back about 5 yards instead of under center.

Also notice that if the backfield has 4 players in it and 5 Offensive Linemen, then that leaves only 2 receivers to have to worry about. The beauty of this formation is that it is a very effective running formation because it is balanced and gives very little if any "keys" for the defense to get an early read on where the offense may attack. There are many different plays that can be run from this formation and so, the formation itself will not give away any clue(s) as to where the defense should focus.

The QB could hand the ball to the weak-side back for a dive play in the B or C gap. The QB could hand the ball to the weak-side back and the Offensive Line could run a stretch play to the strong or weak side, or the QB could fake the hand off and roll to the other side and run or pass.

Since the QB will actually put the ball in the stomach of a RB on every play, even if he pulls it back out to throw a pass, the Linebackers will more than likely either have to stay at home or even come up to support the run. This means the play action is the best play the offense has going and yet the other plays run off of that are equally effective because of the balance of the formation and many on defense that have to "hold position" to see what develops.

For more about the Pistol, visit this website:

Now for how to play the "Pistol" and defeat it:


Notice that when the offense is in the Pistol, there are only two WR's to worry about. The Corners will need to play up in press coverage and with Inside Leverage to take away the slant. Next, as the QB gets the ball both corners will press as long as they can while watching the QB, then begin to bail until the QB makes a move towards one side or the other. The safeties are playing off about 10 yards back and not too far away from the WR.

The DE/OLB will always play his gap responsibility and will never follow the QB. This leads the QB to think that he has the edge and will begin to run to one side or the other. Once he makes this commitment then the Corner on that side hands the WR off to the safety and blitzes the QB from the outside, forcing him back into the linebackers and linemen and their gap responsibility.

Also if the QB goes to the other side, just imagine a mirror image of the CB's and Safety's.

This means you never have to worry about the QB getting the edge because the DB is always there to force it back inside.

The Off safety is going to Join the other safety and will double team the WR that is on the side that the QB chose or if the ball is handed off, he will go to the middle and help in run support.

This means if the QB wants to go to the Single Coverage WR, he will have to throw all the way across the field and we all know that is a big disaster just waiting to happen.

My worry is that Kiffin will be too stubborn to make the change necessary and he will not be alone in that choice. The Eagles, the Redskins, the Seahawks and the 49'ers are way out in front of this new Offensive scheme and it will take a while for teams to come up with a way to stop it. I have shown one way and it is the best way I know of based upon sound logic and obvious goals of not putting the contain guy in the position of having to choose.

Section 2 - Odds and Ends:

And now some food for thought!

First the Hurry-Up which is also something that teams will adapt sooner or later will help teams in two ways....first it can catch defenses unable to have time to analyze the offensive set and be out of position, and also while most teams get 60 plays on offense on average, by running the Hurry up, teams can get upto 80 or more offensive plays in which to score more points. Watch the Pats run the Hurry-Up and the success they have with it. Belichick went to Oregon and visited Chip Kelly to pick his genius brain and came back with some real helpful out of the box knowledge.


Has anyone else noticed that other teams use the phrase "Stay on Schedule" and try to be balanced.

One way they do this is to do the following:

If the first play is a running play and it is NOT successful, then the next play will be a pass. Or......

If the first play is a pass play and it is NOT successful, then the next play will be a running play.

Seems awful silly, but just take notice in the rest of the games this season and all the games next season.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.