We’ve heard a lot about the Packers’ run blocking schemes for several years. With the emergence of running back Eddie Lacy, we began to become even more obsessed with them.
The oft-maligned zone blocking scheme (ZBS) suddenly became everyone’s favorite while Lacy was running his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year.
However, the Packers are not strictly a ZBS team. They run multiple looks and concepts, but it just so happens that their bread and butter running play is out of a ZBS concept.
So, let’s take a look at a few of the most common running plays we can expect to see from Eddie Lacy and company.
Disclaimer 1: I have never seen Mike McCarthy’s playbook. All of my conclusions are from watching video. I could be wrong on interpreting his keys.
Disclaimer 2: This is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only. Different defensive fronts and offensive formations will change the keys. Sight adjustments are too complex for one blog post.
Alright, let’s first inspect a few of the ZBS looks.
Basics of ZBS: Offensive linemen move in a slanting direction with the goal of moving the defensive line. Their job is to get in between their blocking assignment and the sideline. They value making lanes for the running back to choose over opening one specific hole.
21 Inside Zone Strong: This is the Packers’ main running play. It is from the 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE) and the running back chooses a cutback lane on the strong side (TE) of the formation.
In this play the offensive line slants to the strong side. The center and back side guard double team the nose tackle, and the running back picks his preferred lane.
While most of the blockers slant to a single defender, whether on the line of scrimmage or off, the center and back side guard work in tandem in their combo block, but also key the Mike linebacker who is originally uncovered.
At the snap of the ball, the guard blocks the inside hip (belt buckle region) of the nose tackle and the center aims for the outside hip. Once the guard has control, the center advances to the next level and cuts off the Mike linebacker before the running back arrives.
21 Inside Zone Weak: As a variation of the inside zone, the offensive line slants to the weak side (no TE) of the formation and the running back chooses a cutback lane on that side.
Also key to this play is the combo block of the center play side guard. There are two different keys to the block that could be a designated play call or a sight adjustment on the field.
If the key is to the Will linebacker, the guard peels off the outside hip of the nose tackle and advances to take on the Will.
If the key is to the Mike linebacker, the guard peels off the outside hip and moves to pick off the Mike.
Now, let’s look at some non-ZBS running plays that the Packers use.
21 Power Strong: Last season, the Packers showed the good ol’ power running game. This is distinctly different from the ZBS.
In the ZBS, blockers serve mainly as screeners to establishing running lanes. In contrast, the power game tries to blow up defenders one-on-one to make a specific hole.
And, the Packers certainly did that quite often behind left guard Josh Sitton. They utilized his quick feet and devastating blocking to install a modern variation of the Power O.
In the 21 power, the back side guard pulls and moves down the line of scrimmage to the strong side of the formation. This is an overload principle. His primary responsibility is to take out the Sam linebacker.
With the 21 personnel, the extra FB can then help set the edge by occupying a defensive end. Andrew Quarless often did this from an H-back position or John Kuhn did it from from his traditional fullback role.
The main key here is the pulling guard is blocking in a pattern scheme (sometimes called gap), not zone.
11 Power Strong: This is a variation of the above power play, but from the 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE).
The Packers love deploying 11 personnel for the passing game because it puts three wide receivers on the field. When they do this, the defense counters and goes nickel, which means they substitute a the Sam linebacker for an extra defensive back (sometimes called the Star).
When the defense goes nickel, this greatly opens up the running the game. This play is central to their philosophy of keeping the defense off balance. The blocking of Sitton and the running of Lacy make this play go.
The back side guard still pulls down the line, but now blows up the defensive end. The tight end takes out the Mike.
Conclusions: The Packers have a very dynamic and diverse running game. They have so much more than a ZBS.
These were only a few examples of what I’ve seen and expect to see again in the 2014-2015 seasons. Of course it’s just a teaser because defenses flash many fronts, which can make for near-infinite combinations of blocking keys.