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Eagles Concepts: Outside Zone

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I get asked every year to break down some of the Eagles’ main concepts, so here you go. Using Logan Radke’s Eagles’ offensive manual to make this easier, I wanted to go and look at what makes the Eagles’ run game special. All of the data here is from Logan’s breakdown of the Eagles’ offense, which is one of the best things I have read in a long time. The only thing missing are videos of the plays, so I am going to add some detail by showing the plays below. I asked Logan before doing this, of course, so please go and read his work!

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES: Inside Zone / Inside Zone Variations

Success Rate Parameters

1st Down Play: 4 Yards or more

2nd Down Play: Gaining half or more of the yardage needed (ex: on 2nd and

10, a 5-yard gain would be successful. On 2nd and 4, a 2-yard gain would be successful)

3rd/4th Down Play: Successful conversion

Explosive Play Parameters

Run Play: 12+ Yards Gained

Pass Play: 16+ Yards Gained

Outside Zone

Looking through Logan’s guide in more detail, it is pretty astounding how bad some parts of the Eagles' run game were last year. They were saved by gap scheme runs (more on that next time) and an elite quarterback run game. As you can see below, the Eagles only averaged 3.4 yards per play on outside zone runs, and this isn’t a tiny sample size either. I think outside zone requires a better running back and it could be a reason why the Eagles upgraded at this position. Miles Sanders is not great at finding cutback lanes and he also does have a tendency to bounce it outside when he has the chance.

Let’s get into some of the basic details of outside zone. I may reference some elements of inside zone here, so please go back and read that article if you haven’t already. With inside zone, the offensive line will all take a step up and out, at a sort of 45-degree angle. However, on outside zone, the offensive line will quickly move laterally and try to beat the defensive line to the playside so they can create a cutback lane for the running back. It’s pretty easy to spot the difference between inside zone and outside zone if you just watch the offensive line. If they are all moving laterally, it’s going to be outside zone. However, if the EDGE defender or another defender has beaten the offensive lineman to the EDGE, the offensive lineman can still try and push him further towards the sideline, rather than seal the EDGE, in order to create a potential cutback lane for the running back. So you won’t always see every single offensive lineman constantly moving laterally.

For the running back, he is aiming to get to the EDGE (although this really happens) in order to force the defense to move laterally. If the running back spots a gap that has opened up, he must put his foot in the ground and get upfield quickly. He should be reading the play from the outside in and waiting to find a cutback lane. There are probably a hundred different ways that offensive line coaches will teach outside zone, but when I watch the offensive line, I am simply looking at whether they are trying to push the defender towards the sideline to create a gap inside (often means that the defender is on the offensive lineman’s outside shoulder) or if they are trying to seal the defender (the defender should be on the offensive lineman’s inside shoulder) to create a gap. Let’s look at some examples.

This is my favorite clip of outside zone from the Eagles last year that I could find. It’s beautiful. Firstly, watch the offensive lineman all move laterally rather than up and out as they do with inside zone. Boston Scott does a perfect job pressing the outside and waiting for the cutback lane to develop. A random point I noted from watching a lot of the Eagles outside zone runs too - they run a lot of outside zone from the pistol (where the RB is behind the QB). I assume this is because it allows the back to have a better picture of what is in front of him pre-snap but I wonder if teams saw it coming and this could be a reason for the low yards per rush.

Here is another fantastic example of outside zone. You can really see the blocks that I was talking about earlier. Lane Johnson and Jack Driscoll do a fantastic job of getting laterally quickly so the defender is on their inside shoulder which allows them to seal them off and create a crease for the running back. I can’t say enough about how good Lane Johnson is here. Just watch him clip the defensive tackle slightly to make it an easier block for his right guard before getting to the linebacker.

This is a lovely screenshot because even though Lane Johnson is blocking a linebacker on his inside, you can see that everyone is moving to the outside in tandem. They are almost all in sync.

Similar to inside zone, outside zone will also have double teams at the snap, and then the offensive lineman will get to the 2nd level to block any linebackers who are coming across. Here is a good example of Mailata getting to the 2nd level on outside zone and sending his guy flying in the process. Also, check out Kelce moving laterally quickly in order to seal the offensive lineman. It’s perfect.

So, why does outside zone not always work so perfectly? Well, one of the biggest issues is that getting to that 2nd level can be tough on offensive linemen. It’s a really difficult block and that’s why teams who run outside zone well, will practice it a lot. The Shanahan guys will practice it time and time again because they run their offense off plays that look similar. I don’t think the Eagles did enough boot-action last year where they faked outside zone and then rolled Jalen Hurts out the other way, and it meant teams were quick to diagnose outside zone. I went back and looked at the negative plays and saw a lot of plays like this, where linebackers knew what was coming and the Eagles linemen (in this case Mailata) couldn’t get to the 2nd level. It is tough when moving laterally to find someone in space, and this is a problem with the zone running game in general. In gap scheme, it can be easier as you know pre-snap exactly who you need to block.

Outside Zone Center Pull / Pin-Pull

If you've read my articles during the season, you will have heard me talk about pin-pull runs. Pin-pull runs are a variation of outside zone where the Eagles use Jason Kelce to ‘pull’ play side. People can call this play whatever they want (I personally just call it pin-pull) but Logan Radke classifies it as outside zone in his guide because it is a zone running play and not a gap scheme play. If you watch it carefully, you can see all the linemen moving laterally as they normally would in outside zone. However, the difference is, there is a pin (a seal block from the right guard in this case) and then the center pulls (like a sweep) in order to create a different angle in the running game.

If you are wondering why the Eagles do this, there are a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that Jason Kelce is a freak in space. Not all NFL teams have the personnel to do this. Secondly, some teams will leave Kelce unblocked and that allows him to do this. You can’t do this as easily if a nose tackle is shaded directly over Kelce as he could blow up the play at the very start.

So when watching the Eagles’ zone run game next year, I hope you now know the difference between outside zone, inside zone, and what the pin-pull run looks like! As always, comments and feedback are much appreciated and next up will be looking at some gap-scheme runs.

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