Inside the Playbook: Indiana Breaking Tendencies to Run Outside the OTs

Indiana, predominately, was an Inside Zone Read based team with Tevin Coleman. Coleman’s ability to pick through traffic and utilize his power allowed him to churn out a bunch of yards between the tackles, and his vision and cutback ability made him deadly to turn a modest frontside gain into an explosive cutback run. But what I enjoyed most about Indiana’s scheme when utilizing Coleman was their changeup plays for getting outside the tackles. When talking about Inside Zone, you’re looking for vertical displacement of the defense. You punish the first level defenders with powerful double teams and release into the second level defenders to form multiple run alleys along the LOS. To counter this, defenses are forced to start shooting down in an effort to form a wall at the LOS. This makes it so OL have to get off doubles earlier, and so doesn’t allow for that vertical displacement. But through Outside Zone, Pin and Pull Zone, and OG Sweeps, the Hoosiers were able to take advantage of that defensive tendency for huge plays. I’d like to take a look at that now.

Primary Look
One of the things that I want people to look at immediately is the alignment of the offense at the snap. In many cases, for shotgun based teams, the RB can tip the defense as to what play is being run. For instance, if a RB is aligned right next to the QB, the most likely play is Outside Zone away from the RB’s alignment. If the back is about two yards behind and one yard to the side of the QB, look for Tight Zone to be the call. Pistol typically prefers Zone Stretch because of the somewhat awkward angle it has for inside zone (though this will depend on team).

I want to start with how Indiana runs their inside zone to lay this concept out clearly. Here's the Hoosiers running Inside Zone to the playside along with the initial alignment:

Here's Indiana cutting the ball back and catching the defense cheating away from the RB's initial alignment

Outside Zone
Now let’s look at a standard Outside Zone run from shotgun. Note, as described above, the RB’s position relative to the QB. He is right beside the QB, which allows his initial path to be about two yards outside the offensive EMOL. That doesn’t mean the play always bounces outside. In fact, more often than not it will get cut up, but this alignment allows for that immediate outside threat of the defense, as the offense works to get horizontal displacement of the defense.

Here's a look at the initial alignment:

And the play

Outside Zone from Pistol
The pistol formation sees the QB a couple yards closer to the LOS and the RB directly behind the QB. In many ways, this is just like a standard Ace formation from under center. Many teams, such as Iowa, have leaned almost exclusively on the outside zone run for many years from a similar set. Here, you see how the Indiana offense uses this set to provide an initial path toward the outside foot of the offensive EMOL. Again, this threatens the edge, but more often than not gets cut inside at some point.

Outside Zone toward Alignment
This is the main reason why I initially showed the RB alignment for Inside Zone. Let’s take a look at the snap

This tips inside zone away from the alignment all the way. LBs are thinking they need to crash down at the snap to mitigate the vertical displacement that the offense hopes to get. But Indiana not only isn’t running between the tackles, they also aren’t running away from the RB’s initial alignment, but instead toward it.

This is something, in my opinion, that not enough shotgun teams do. Yes, the angle and timing is a bit more difficult on the offense. One of the things that is often stressed with outside zone is that the RB has to go full speed up to the LOS from the snap in order to threaten to beat the defense to the outside. “Pressing the LOS” is key for this play to succeed. But now you have a delay in that movement. But, because of what the alignment tips for the defense, that delay doesn’t prevent you from threatening outside the defense, because the defense is thinking “get downhill”.

Pin and Pull
I talked about how Outside Zone often times threatens to get outside the tackles, but rarely does. Well, if you want to ensure you get outside the tackles, one of the easiest ways to do that is to run pin and pull zone. The concept is simple but a bit tweaked from how zone is oven run.

Covered: If you are covered, meaning a defender is head up or in the gap away from the playside, you down block him.
Uncovered: If you are uncovered (there is no player headup or in the gap away from the play) you pull and block the first man that crosses your face.

On the backside of the play it’s a bit different, and comes down to numbers to and away from the play. The two options are outside zone blocking or fold block to the second level (between the center and backside OG).

Let’s look at a few examples:

Here's the TE and OT pinning down and the frontside OG and Center pulling

Here's the TE pinning down and the OT and frontside OG pulling. Note here that everyone from the center backside is simply performing outside zone blocking assignments

Lastly, here's a look at the TE and frontside OG pinning, while the frontside OT and the Center pull.

OG Sweep
Lastly, let’s look at a gap scheme called the OG (BOSS) Sweep. This scheme has the OL and TE down block besides the two Guards. Both the near and the far guard (G and O, respectively) pull to get the outside. This works a lot like pin and pull but the rules are a little different and the intention of the backside OG changes a bit (he now wants to get outside instead of fold blocking to the second level).

Here's an OG Sweep from gun

Here's a look at it run back toward the initial alignment. Note how it almost works like a counter, as the initial look in terms of alignment and RB flow is inside zone. This sucks the defense up and away from the play, allowing an alley to form by the extra blockers on the outside.

Speed Option
This is about as false of an “option” as there can be, but it still acts in the same way as the speed option. Why I like this play is because it tips and outside zone run away from the RB’s alignment, but it actually runs outside zone toward the RB’s alignment. As the Defensive EMOL toward the RB, you’re thinking “crash” as soon as you get upfield. In this case, the Defensive EMOL is no blocked, just as he wouldn’t be blocked if the outside zone was run away from him. Furthermore, see how the playside OT actually goes inside of him to further sell it. The option pitch is almost immediate, as the goal here isn’t really to have the QB run, but instead to merely pull the DE inside. This allows the RB to get outside on a sweep play with blockers in front.

Speed Pitch
This isn’t zone at all, but instead gap blocking all the way down the OL. But what it looks like is outside zone away from the RB’s alignment. Again, the RB’s alignment is a defensive key or tip. They see the flow of the OL and they begin crashing immediately on the snap away from the RB’s initial alignment to prevent being displaced horizontally along the LOS. Unfortunately for them, the play is going the other direction, so their “key” is actually taking them away from the play.

By utilizing the threat of the Inside run game, the outside run plays can become even more explosive. By providing keys and false keys as well, they make the guessing game for the defense even more difficult. This is a great way of breaking tendencies but with standard plays. Many think breaking tendencies as “running weakside power instead of strongside power” or “running play action on first down”. But you can run standard plays and just break tendency by giving the defense false keys, and that’s what Indiana is doing here. And that really gives the run game the option of being that much more dangerous.