By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
Welcome into the TSB Sports 101 laboratory! Since sports can sometimes get confusing with all of its different play calls and odd vernacular, I have decided to pick one term or play a week and break it down to make understanding our local sport scene a little better.
In our inaugural breakdown, let’s turn to the gridiron and the great game of football. If you have watched any second of a high school game at Ron Poe Stadium this fall, you have probably seen this play run by the offensive team about four or five times a possession. I am of course referring to the zone read, the most commonly run offensive play from the shotgun formation in a spread offense.
So what is the zone read? The play design has been credited to Rich Rodriguez, who is now the head football coach at the University of Arizona, but made the play famous while at West Virginia. Rodriguez is considered to be the pioneer of the run-oriented version of the spread offense, and he made the zone read play famous while at WVU with dual-threat quarterback Pat White at the helm.
If you attend any high school game or flip on the TV on Saturday to watch some college football, the zone read play would be run by a large majority of the teams. Even Dallas Cowboy fans got to see the play up close and personal last Sunday when the Boys visited Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
So what is the zone read? I’ll explain.
The zone read is predicated on two main points: an athletic quarterback and an offensive line that can read defenses quickly and effectively. The quarterback must be able to run the ball well and make good decisions because he will determine who ultimately carries the ball, while the offensive line must be able to diagnosis defensive fronts quickly and determine what side of the field they are favoring on the play.
Let’s set up the play with a simple diagram:
Now there are two things that must occur every time to run an effective zone read play: the QB must cancel out the backside line of scrimmage threat, which would either be the defensive end or the linebacker, and the offense must count the number of defensive players in the tackle box and favor the blocking angles that are most advantageous to run to.
When I say the QB must cancel out the backside threat, I am talking about when the center snaps the ball and the quarterback and the running back meet at the “mesh point”. At this point, the QB must decide whether he will keep the ball and run or hand it off to the running back. The way the QB determines what he will do is based on his read of the backside threat, which has two options on what he can do. The DE or OLB can either attack the running back and crash the line of scrimmage, or he can stay home and keep contain on the QB.
If the QB reads the defensive threat attacking the running back, he will keep the ball and run. If the QB reads the defensive threat staying home, he hands the ball off to the running back and fakes a bootleg run. Both of these cancel out the threat and are virtually unstoppable if run correctly.
The other part of the zone read is the offense’s ability to determine the blocking angels and dictate the number of defensive players in the tackle box during the pre-snap phase. A majority of the teams that run the zone read are of offenses that operate in the no huddle, because it forces defenses to show the offense what scheme they are in instead of having the chance to disguise their look.
So as the QB walks up to the line of scrimmage, he and his center are reading the defense and determining how many players in the tackle box are on what side of the field. The center serves as the dividing line, so if there four players on the left and three on the right, the zone read will be run to the right side. If the numbers are even, coaches have various areas in which they want their QB’s to read. The popular choice is to run the ball to the “1-techinque” tackle side instead of the “3-technique” side, which creates better zone blocking angles for your offensive line.
This is just breaking down the run-first method of the zone read play. Some offensive coordinators have found ways to play-action off of it and find open receivers running slant routes over the middle of the field. Back when Vince Young was the quarterback at the University of Texas, the Longhorns had a lot of success running the zone read and finding receivers open in the middle of the field as well. A team that can run and pass out of the zone read look with effectiveness is one of the most unstoppable offensive attacks in football, which was proven in 2006 when Texas won the National Championship with the zone read.
So there you have it folks. The zone read play isn’t that confusing right? Next time you are watching some college football or sitting in the stands at Ron Poe Stadium on Friday nights, you can now explain to the people around you exactly what your favorite team is running on offense. In future weeks, if you have any plays or sports terms you would like broken down in the Sports 101 laboratory, please feel free to leave a comment below!