Inside the Playbook: Iowa's Lead Stretch Zone

Iowa football has been utilizing the base stretch run scheme that made the likes of the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos dominant in the 90s and into the new century. I’ve discussed outside zone quite a bit before, as have many other places; rather than continue along the same lines, I’m now going to make a distinction and a further distinction with regards to Iowa football. There is Outside Zone – also known as wide zone – where the intent is to out flank the defense and get to the edge; this is most commonly seen from spread teams. Then there is zone stretch, where the ball can bounce to the outside, but more often than not will be cut inside the EMOL, this is the classic Joe Gibbs and Shanahan offense. Both can be called stretch or wide or outside zone, it’s more of a philosophical difference (though in Gibb's case, he had a play called "bounce" and a play called "Outside", that were just that very distinction). Iowa also adds in the lead blocker (Gibbs often did as well, it isn't a new invention), and that’s what I want to focus on today.

FB Blocking
I love getting the opportunity to talk FBs. FB is one of the most overlooked and critical member of any I-form offense. When LSU's star FB John David Moore (and honestly, he should be considered a star in front of Fournette) went down with an injury, LSU's run game went way down in efficiency. A position often manned by walk-ons, FB takes intelligence, an ability to adapt on the fly, and a rare sort of craziness to get the job done on the blocking front. But done effectively, it gives the ball carrier all the options he needs to have success running the football.
Let's discuss some of the FB rules for blocking the lead stretch play. We will look at four blocking types: split, kick, seal (arc), and attack. Note that many of these distinctions can be communicated pre-snap to give the offense a better feel for what is expected, but then may need to be adjusted as the play occurs. The initial path, that is, can be communicated between the OL and the back. The adjustment to either kick the defender further outside or seal him inside is based on the defender's reaction.
Split Zone
The split block, also known as the seal block, is aimed at the backside of the play. I'm only bringing this up because it's another option out of stretch zone. On split zone, the FB will have an aiming point of the backside offensive EMOL 's (typically the weakside OT) inside hip; as the play develops, the backside OT is typically working up the 2nd level of the defense, leaving the backside DE free. The FB will work inside out. (Note: not an Iowa cutup).

The FB's responsibility is the #4 defender to his side or #3 defender if he is on the weakside of the play (many zone teams count the defensive front in order to better define their blocking scheme pre-snap, working from the center-to-outside on the playside of the play). Essentially, this means he is responsible for handling the force defender. His initial path and landmark is going to be the outside breastplate or armpit of the defender, and his attack is going to adjust based on the defender's  play. If the force defender steps up and tries to set a hard edge (forcing everything back inside of him), the FB's job is to get on his inside armpit, turn him (or at least give the ball carrier a clear idea of the appropriate cut: off the blocker's butt), and then wash him out farther outside and into the backfield, widening the gap for the RB to work through.

Often an arc block in which the 2nd level force defender hesitates and never gets outside. The goal here is to work outside EMOL (this assumes the EMOL has been able to seal his defender inside) and get to the 2nd level, aim for his outside armpit/shoulder tip, and seal the second level force defender inside the box. However, that rarely happens as it requires the defense to bust in a big way.
Instead, here is a more typical example. This is an example on a pin and pull zone run. Note that the pull defender kicks the initial first level force defender (first off color he sees), so the FB works upfield and cuts off and seals the rest of the defenders to the inside of the play.

The playside OT/TE has to be responsible for the defender covering him toward the playside of the formation. If this DE/OLB is also the force defender, the OT is going to be working to drive him further outside. The FB must read this and adjust his path (though much of this can be communicated pre-snap based on defensive formation and which OL are covered/uncovered); he's no longer working to get outside the OT, but instead, work inside of him to the outer most box defender to the playside of the formation.
This is different than your standard lead block, because the aiming point is different. Rather than an aiming point of the inside armpit, the FB is still going to aim for the outside armpit of the defender. As he makes contact, he needs to push with his outside hand (attached to the tip of the shoulder) and pull with the inside hand to seal the defender back inside (it usually won't work like this, as the play is typically more violent and too fast for this to happen, but the punch or force needs to be on the outside of the defender to turn him and seal him inside). This gives a clear alley for the RB to attack.
Based on pre-snap communication and post-snap reads, this block can even work further back inside. If the playside OL can release to the second level and get the playside backer, the FB can adjust and get a LB toward the backside of the play. The goal is for the FB to get to the second level, if he can get cleanly to the second level through his initial path, they can double the playside LB to the backside LB, however, this is often a difficult proposition, and so like the RB, the FB must bang or bend his run. Again, his goal will be the outside armpit of the defender, but if the defender over runs the play or flattens out such that his momentum is carrying him to the sideline, the lead blocker can utilize that momentum and continue to drive/kick him outside, as is done here. Note, while his landmark is the outside armpit of the defender, he attacks the inside armpit once the defender over runs the play. This is an on-the-fly adjustment, and the difference between his landmark/path, and his attack point.

In each of the clips above, the FB paved the way for the RB to bust a long run. As more and more teams go with spread looks, more often LBs and DBs become ill-suited and ill-prepared for how to take on lead blocks. Because of this, FBs are often responsible for changing mundane gains into long TD runs. The fact that their butt is an evolving GPS for the ball carrier to follow as the play develops makes coming away with a big gain that much easier for the RB. FBs are unsung heroes, but they are heroes for any offense that uses them. Their ability to adjust on the fly and attack defenders is essential to the success of any offense that incorporates them.