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Chalk Talk: The Outside Zone AKA The Stretch

McKissic for the win

KDawg

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Outside Zone (Or, “Stretch”)

The reason why the outside zone is popular is dependant on who you ask. The outside zone is a play that compliments the inside zone quite well. When you run inside zone successfully, it tightens defenses and the stretch play is a perfect compliment as it gets you to the perimeter. Many coaches don’t use the stretch as the base of an offense, but rather a compliment. However there are other coaches who use it as their base, such as Washington Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan. The premise of his offense is based upon the stretch, the naked boot off the stretch and the play action off the stretch.

To talk on the basics of the stretch, there are three keys:

1) Running Back’s Read
2) Technique of the Offensive Line
3) Fullback Involvement


Running Back Read
-The back aligns according to speed. Slower backs closer to LOS, faster backs further. Typically, you’ll see a back aligned at around 7 yards.
-The back’s aiming point is the tight end. It varies from team to team how far outside the tight end they aim, but it’s generally 1-3 yards.
-Read is basic: If defensive end (or whoever the outside man on the front is) goes outside, the back plants and makes one cut inside the TE.
-If defensive end (or whoever the outside man on the front is) goes inside, the back will continue on his path outside
-It’s a north-south play. Back needs to resist the urge to run parallel to the LOS
-Patience is key, a common phrase associated with outside zone is: “Be slow to the line, be fast through the line”

Technique of the Offensive Line
This is the most difficult part to understand when it comes to the stretch play.

A lineman on any given “stretch” play can be covered or uncovered.

Definitions are simple:

Covered: There is a defensive lineman aligned on your playside (for instance, if I called “Stretch Right” your playside is to the right) on your from even with your nose all the way until the next playside offensive lineman’s nose.



Uncovered: There is not a defensive lineman to your playside from your nose to the next offensive lineman to the playside



The principle of any zone scheme, whether its inside or outside, is to create double teams on the line of scrimmage to create running lanes. That is primary and the most important part of a zone scheme. So how do you create double teams on the stretch? To understand that, you have to understand the basics of the footwork involved with the covered and uncovered principles.

There are many different takes on footwork, but there is a reason that when a team like the Redskins runs stretch it looks like the entire line is “running” down the line of scrimmage. That’s called a “Rip&Run” technique. It’s a technique that Chip Kelly uses at Oregon, Howard Mudd used for Indianapolis, Chris Foerster uses in Washington and Pat Ruel uses in Seattle. The covered offensive lineman will execute what is called a “stretch hook” technique. I simplify that for my players at the high school level and I just call it the “covered stretch” technique. Creative, I know.

The technique is a three step process. The first step is a 45 degree lead step with the playside foot. (Again, the playside foot is the foot that is to the side of the play called. Stretch Right = Step with right foot). The second step is the “rip to run” step. Basically, the OL will drive his back shoulder through the defender by “ripping” his backside arm through the chest of the defender and shoot his playside hand into the defender’s playside arm pit. The offensive lineman MUST keep his shoulders square (stay in the position he started in with his stance. His shoulders can’t open. Think of a door opening and closing. You want a closed door so you don’t invite the defender upfield. Penetration will absolutely kill the outside zone play.) The third step is to get your stomach upfield, which is just a fancy coaching cue for keeping shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.

The uncovered offensive lineman uses what some refer to as a “stretch scoop” technique. I also changed the verbiage of this when I teach it to the “overtake” block. You’ll see why in a minute.

I teach the first step being a bucket step, similar to the approach of outside zone guru Stan Sweifel. A bucket step is stepping with your playside foot, but you’re not gaining ground with it. Instead, you’re stepping backwards, behind the line of scrimmage. Keeping the shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, the second step is a crossover step. I hate the crossover, but it’s almost a necessity to avoid the OL’s shoulder’s from turning. The uncovered OL is aiming from the playside number of the defender (who, keep in mind, is being blocked by the covered OL). This creates the double team. And hopefully, it puts the uncovered lineman in position to take over the block. Hence the term “overtake” block

Once the uncovered lineman is in position to take over the block, the covered lineman will escape to the second level and the linebacker. But the leaving OL can’t leave his block too early.

Remember, the key to the outside zone play is to dominate the LOS. So, the double team is instrumental in doing that. The covered OL can only leave the double team under the following circumstances:

1) The defender is blocked and the uncovered OL is in position to take over
2) The linebacker is close enough so that the covered OL doesn’t have to chase him around.

While blocking the second level defender is a key part of the play, it’s also a bonus. The defensive lineman is a threat to penetrate and tackle the ball carrier for a loss. Penetration kills outside zone. The linebacker might make a tackle, but generally it’s after at least a yard or two of positive gain. Alex Gibbs is HUGE on not allowing penetration. It’s why he feels that the zone game is the best running game to bring into an offense. Every play needs to be positive, in his estimation, even if it’s only a yard. I agree.

So a summarization of the goals on outside zone:

Covered Lineman:
1) Block the man covering you
2) Perform double team with uncovered lineman
3) Release off the double and pick up the backer

Uncovered Lineman:
1) Step towards the next level one defensive player to your playside
2) Perform double team with covered lineman
3) Take over the defensive lineman to allow the covered OL to finish at level two.

Backside Blocking:
On the backside of the play, there is a disagreement on the approach. Some coaches enjoy cutting the backside players. A cut block is taking the defender out by aiming at their thighs and “cutting” them down into the ground. The cut block can be a sound strategy, and one that the Godfather of the zone blocking scheme, Alex Gibbs, employed.

And while Gibbs could coach circles around me any day of the week and twice on most weekends, I think the disadvantages of teaching the cut block to high school age kids (and even college kids) outweigh the positives. It’s not a moral high ground, when taught correctly the cut block is relatively safe (it’s evil brother, the chop block, however, is not). I feel that the cut block can put your blockers in a bad position. If you miss, the defender runs free. Even if you take him down, the defender can get up before you, as he’d be laying on top of you, and make the play.

I’d rather block the guy. One way to do that is to use the Rip&Run technique that we talked about earlier with your backside guard.

The backside tackle is where schemes can get even more complicated. The backside tackle can follow the same principles using the Rip&Run, or another approach is the “Swoop Technique”. It’s basically just a pull that takes the player to the strong side A-Gap. Anything that crosses his path along the way he cuts off by putting his body between that defender and the ball carrier.

How the Fullback Fits
The stretch play can be run from an ace back set (one back) or from a two or more back set. It can be run from the shotgun or from under center.

Some Basic Premises:
1) BOSS – Stands for Back on Strong Safety. The fullback goes right to the strong safety and walls off his pursuit.
2) FORCE – Similar to BOSS, except the fullback goes to the force player. The force player is the guy on the defense that is trying to “force” the running back to go back inside. The reason I like the term “FORCE” better than “BOSS” is because versus a 3-4 defense, the force guy would be the outside backer.
3) INSERT – Fullback goes backside, away from the play. He goes through the line and blocks the weakside linebacker and the backside tackle kicks out the defensive end.

There are a plethora of other options that can be used to attack the defense. That can include motions and other types of action to keep defenses off the scent of the offense.

This is just touching on the basics of the stretch play. Certainly there is much more involved, as well as the naked boots and the playaction passes off of it, you can see why Mike Shanahan is able to use this play as the key to the entire offense.
 

KDawg

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No, I haven't. Where can I find it?
 

KDawg

The 1st Round Pick
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College at Brockport

The site is under new ownership. They've made a lot of their free stuff pay stuff. I'll peruse it later, but I don't have my hopes up :(
 

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