The Foundation: Inside Zone

Posted: July 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 17 Comments »

Football season is getting closer. We’ve spent a ton of time this offseason talking about the Eagles players and what they can/can’t do. It is always good to mix in some X’s and O’s and remember just what the Eagles offense is all about.

Sheil Kapadia wrote a great post on the inside zone and what it means to the Eagles offense. It is really amazing how good Sheil has become at taking Kelly’s football concepts and breaking them down into simple terms so that everyone can understand them.

When Kelly made the jump to the NFL last year, the inside zone served as the foundation for an offense that set franchise records in yards and points. So there’s a good reason why Stoutland yells the same number for the same call over and over again during practice. The pre-snap communication has to be mastered. The footwork has to be flawless. The combination blocks have to be executed. And the second-level linebackers have to be driven down the field with authority.

“It’s something we work on every day,” said offensive tackle Lane Johnson. “It’s always gonna be our bread and butter.”

Johnson estimated that 40 to 45 percent of practice time for the offensive linemen is rooted in perfecting principles associated with the inside zone. Kelce doesn’t think that’s an exaggeration.

“I would say yeah, we really spend a lot of time on our double-team blocking with our offensive line coach and trying to make sure that our offensive line is working together,” he said. “That’s not really exclusive to that play in particular. We do that on a lot of different plays. But that play, especially against a four-down defense, there’s a lot of the double teams that come around and everything. It’d be hard to put a number on it. But we definitely spend a lot of time on it.”

Kelly despises labels. Last year he joked that the Eagles ran the “see-coast offense.” If they were to see something they liked that could help them score points, they would run it.

And to a large degree, that was true. It was one of Kelly’s biggest strengths in 2013: figuring out what the defense was trying to do and attacking its weaknesses. Some games that meant running more sweeps. Other weeks, the screen game was prolific. And throughout the entire first season, the Eagles did damage downfield, leading the NFL in pass plays of 20+ yards.

But Kelly also believes in having an identity on offense, in addition to the different tools.

“If you give your players something to hang their hats on, they will perform,” he said during a Nike Coaches Clinic in 2009. “If they can run the offense with any scenario they may face, you will be successful in running the ball. If they have all the answers to the problems the defense may give them, they will be good.”

Given that philosophy, it’s no wonder that his offense spends so much time on the inside zone.

“What’s special about the inside zone is that it can hit anywhere,” Mathis said. “It’s not necessarily designed to hit in any certain gap. If it’s wide open left tackle to right tackle, it can hit there. The blocking for it is more of a downhill, smash-mouth type blocking and getting on your guys quickly.

“We do it a lot so we get pretty good at it. At first, it took awhile. There’s a few of those blocks on the inside zone that took awhile to get comfortable doing. But over the course of the season, the more repetitions we got, the more we saw it on film, the more we learned the intricacies of the play. Our experience really came to help us.”

That is just part of the post, but gives you an idea of how good it is. Make sure to go read the whole piece.

The funny thing about Chip Kelly is that for all of his innovation (smoothies, music at practice, Sports Science, etc.), he really is an old school coach in a lot of ways. Kelly believes in the run game. He believes in running the ball to the inside. He stresses blocking more than any Eagles coach in decades. Whether you are a O-lineman, TE or WR, you will block in the run game or you will be replaced.

Kelly isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. He is simply taking the wheel and presenting it in different ways to make it look different.

One of the reasons I don’t think people are going to shut down the Eagles offense in Year 2 is that Kelly isn’t running some gimmick attack. If you have a talented RB and good OL, you should be able to run the ball. You can do it from the I-formation, from a 2-TE set, a 3-WR set or however you like. Blockers block and the runner runs.

There is no “secret” for defenses to figure out so they can magically solve the Eagles offense. Certainly they can study it and look for trends or potential tips, but the offense is based on fundamentals and execution.

Defenses will have a better feel for the Eagles offense this year, but so will the Eagles. With better, more consistent execution, the offense could be even better in 2014.

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  • http://batman-news.com Wintrode

    Good stuff Tommy. The season can’t get here soon enough.

    I love the emphasis on technique and execution, to your point this is old school football, and having the ability to execute the run game out of any look is extremely powerful and keeps defenses on their toes. You can hear the enthusiasm from the line in that article, talking about smash-mouth football and taking it to the defense…got to love that when your big guys are just pumped to execute.

    Speaking of the O-line….what happened with the Johnson suspension? NFL never announced anything that I have seen, nor have the Eagles commented on it…..all you hear is crickets now.

    • Jack Waggoner

      It’s probably in the appeals process. Maybe Johnson thinks he has a case.

      • D3Center

        But even if its in appeals doesn’t the NFL usually announce the suspension and then say that the player is appealing the decision?

        • Kevin

          From what I have read D3 there seems to be two “appeals”. The first is for the player to “appeal” the testing agency and request the second or B sample be tested for confirmation (h/t to T-Mac here is the link for that description:

          http://www.phillymag.com/birds247/2014/07/04/twitter-mailbag-20/

          After confirmation the of the second test or the players acceptance of the first (but who wouldn’t ask for a second test) the league is notified and the player suspended. At that point, the player can appeal the suspension, but has to win the fight against two positive samples.

          What is strange about Lane’s case I think is that league sources are the referenced source. Until the second sample is tested, only the agency and the player should know about the positive to protect the player from rumors started by a false positive. Since the reporters keep the source anonymous

          • Kevin

            (Cont’d from above)…. It is difficult to know the validity of the report. But to me it is definitely strange we haven’t heard anything. I hope it is settled by next Friday, otherwise Lane and Chip will get a lot of questions.

          • ICDogg

            Sometimes the problem is a “diluted sample” and if that is the case, a “B” sample might not be as diluted.

  • mtn_green

    Smash mouth football
    Philly isn’t worthy

  • bsuperfi

    It’s really amazing to see such an emphasis on the running game with serious explosiveness in the passing game. We keep hearing that Foles can’t sustain and the offense will get at least a little worse but I don’t buy it. The foundation is too strong. The offense lends itself to both efficiency and effectiveness, and we have the players to make it work.

    That said, we need some serious investment in the line in the next few years to sustain.

  • unhinged

    Crawling before you walk, and walking before you run. CK has been consistent in his attention to the minutia, never losing sight of the whole. His way is thorough and literally radical in that he goes to the root fundamentals, and has everyone recognizing and demanding of themselves what he is stressing. These are exciting times.

    • A Roy

      Many years ago, I read an article about someone (John Madden?) attending a clinic given by Vince Lombardi. Lombardi reportedly spoke for hours and only discussed one play, the power sweep. His philosophy was to have a ‘signature’ play and run it with excellence, with your players understanding every nuance and intricacy of what defensive effort could be brought to bear against it. That sounds very similar to what CK is doing with the inside zone. Thus, I don’t view Kelly as radical, but rather, returning to an earlier era. As he has said, there’s nothing new in football.

      • morenthemiddle

        This true, I was an assistant coach(dl and ol) for a high school team and we ran the double wing. Our bread an butter play was called 88 super power. We perfected that play as all other play in that offensive scheme was predicted off that one play. Execution even in the smallest of details is what wins football games. We devoted whole practice sessions just on that one play. We were a small school with inferior talent but made the play offs 3 years in a row and went pretty far 2 of the 3.

      • unhinged

        The definition – the primary meaning of “radical” is going to the root. Re-emphasizing fundamentals was my point. There are uses of this word that are not applicable, but getting to the root fundamentals is precisely the meaning I intended.

  • austinfan

    The problem with the inside zone as your bread and butter is that it puts more demands on the OL. Castillo’s man blocking scheme could work with big, fairly athletic linemen who could pass block one on one. Mudd’s outsize zone scheme could work with athletic but undersized linemen who could run to the sidelines and stretch the defense. For the inside zone to work effectively, you need linemen powerful enough to get movement off the LOS but athletic enough to get to the second level, Peters and Shaun Andrews are the prototypes of what you want, but these guys are a bit rare.

    Lane Johnson, when he fills out to 315 naturally will be a good fit.
    A younger Herremans would be perfect for this system.
    Mathis is very good, but not really as powerful as you’d like.
    Kelce is a little undersized for this system.

    Problem is going to be to find replacements for Herremans and Mathis the next couple years. Tobin has the athleticism, but needs to get stronger. Kelly is big enough, but may not be athletic enough. Molk is short, Vandervelde lacks power, Bamiro athleticism. Eagles may have to make a serious commitment next offseason to adding talent to this OL.

    • TommyLawlor

      I think you are definitely right about adding young bodies to the OL. I still have hopes for Matt Tobin, but don’t feel as hopeful for Dennis Kelly or Michael Bamiro.

  • shah8

    This is probably a necessary additional read to understand the specific distinction. http://www.fieldgulls.com/football-breakdowns/2014/2/18/5394212/seahawks-marshawn-lynch-zone-blocking-scheme-tom-cable

    Shut down the deep passing attack, and you can shut down the sophisticated run. I promise you, right now, that it’s basically impossible to be particularly successful with this sort of scheme without pushing safeties back. So what’s really the point is how Kelly manages to keep a deep passing game without DJax, such that LBs can’t just flow to the ball instinctively without thinking about coverage and those lonely, hard pressed DBs too much.

    • austinfan

      Actually, it’s the opposite. Because Kelly is committed to the inside zone run (remember, a zone isn’t a zone . .. , Mudd’s bread and butter was the stretch zone run, which worked very well in 2011 with almost the same OL), he pulls the SS into the box, and that’s why the inside zone run sets up the rest of the offense – if the SS stays back, he’ll run it down your throat, if the SS cheats into the box, Foles can read option off the inside zone into a variety of screens and play action throws.

      The beauty of this scheme is you don’t have to sell play action, it is incorporated into the read option (the mistake a lot of people made last preseason was to assume the read had to be a QB run). This makes it much harder to recognize, in a conventional play action the QB has to be skilled at selling the run, in Chip’s scheme you sell the run simply by executing the play.

      The key is the OL, if they block this play well, the defense has to commit to stop the run and that sets up mismatches downfield.

      DeSean’s great season was a product of Chip’s system, in the second half, once Foles returned, DeSean’s role was reduced yet he was still highly productive because he consistently faced single coverage. He won’t see that in Washington to the same extent. Without DeSean, Chip will simply rotate the deep routes among a group of receivers, and the FS won’t know who to key on pre-snap.