Film Study Fundamentals: Tight Zone Combination Blocks

By Kyle Jones on August 7, 2014 at 3:30p

After looking at the basic schemes and the techniques used to execute them, the third and final installment of our look at the Tight (Inside) Zone will explore the most complicated concept of the play - combination blocks - and how they are the lynchpin of everything else that happens around them.

As we discussed in part 2, offensive linemen in the Tight Zone scheme must identify if they are covered or uncovered before the ball is snapped. While the immediate reason is to identify what kind of footwork to use, it's also a clue for how the man next to them will block. 

OSU Tight Zone

Thanks to the Red/White identification system that is practiced by the Buckeyes, OSU's big men up front will know immediately who their partner will be that play. Let's continue looking at this play from the 2013 Michigan game as an example:

UM Red/White

Given the location of the 3 technique Defensive Tackle on the left side (creating an "Under" front), the guard and tackle to that side know they'll be blocking him in a combination, while the Center will work with the Right Guard to double team the opposite side nose tackle. 

Additionally, knowing that the 3 technique is to the left (Red) side, the aiming point for the Running Back has shifted to the natural gap between the Center and the Left Guard. He'll look for a hole there, even though the play is effectively being blocked to the right.

However there are two key barriers keeping the runner from simply walking through that hole: the Michigan Linebackers. The location of the second level player (almost always a linebacker, but sometimes a safety) in relation to the aiming point of the Running Back gives the OSU linemen their keys:

OSU Plus or Minus

If the second level defender is lined up on the play side of the defensive linemen in front of him, he is considered to be in a "Plus" alignment. If he is lined up away from the play side of the defensive linemen, then he's considered to be in a "Minus" alignment. The reason for the wording has to do with the steps of the offensive line. Since, in this instance, their first step will be to the right, their momentum will naturally take them downhill to the second level player if he's in a "Plus" alignment.

However, given that these defenders are usually responsible for defending one of the gaps between offensive linemen, they will move after the snap.Plus/Minus combo blocks

The offensive line must first be prepared to face the movements of the first level defender, giving life to the mantra of nearly every offensive line coach: M.T.F.G.F or "Move The Fat Guy First." 

No matter what, both offensive linemen must address the defensive tackle first and foremost before moving onto the second level player. Once one player has control of the defensive tackle though, the other can move on to the linebacker.

Going back to our example in Ann Arbor, Michigan's defensive alignment shows the Buckeyes the opponents for which they are now responsible:

OSU Combo Blocks

After the initial first step of the offensive line, we can see two totally different scenarios emerging:

Tight Zone Combos 2

On the left side of the line, we see the Defensive Tackle trying to split the Guard and Tackle, with the Linebacker behind him moving toward the hole to the right of #78, Andrew Norwell. Even though he's engaged with the DT, Norwell keeps his eyes up, as he knows he has help coming from #74, Jack Mewhort. As the Linebacker starts flowing inside of him, Norwell comes off his combo block with Mewhort and takes on the Linebacker, sealing off the hole to his side for the runner.

On the right side, the Defensive Tackle has immediately slanted away from the ball, trying to split the gap between the Right Guard, Marcus Hall, and the Right Tackle #68, Taylor Decker. Knowing that the aiming point for the runner is on the opposite side, Hall allows the defender to work himself out from the play, simply by keeping close contact and letting his opponent do the work.

The Center, Corey Linsley, does his part of the combination block by immediately getting a hand on the defensive tackle, but since he's slanting away, Linsley's eyes downfield allow him to see the Linebacker coming his way. This all happens in an instant, as Linsley works quickly to take on the Linebacker.

Without the key blocks at the second level from Norwell and Linsley, this Tight Zone play maybe nets the Buckeyes only two or three yards. But by identifying the alignment of the defense, using great technique, and most importantly working together to ensure every defender is blocked, the Buckeyes wound up with an 18 yard gain. 

Pretty good for a simple run up the middle, isn't it?


Comments Show All Comments

tussey's picture

Thanks Kyle for all your work on this and explaining the blocking concepts!  Is there any chance you and look at how Michigan State stunted their line and backers to make it much more difficult for us to make all the blocks?

d5k's picture

I'm guessing plays like that are why Linsley got taken in the 5th round instead of an undrafted free agent like many projected.  

Zimmy07's picture

The Defensive Tackles can screw this play up by grabbing the jersey of the linemen releasing off their double team.  It's a penalty, but almost never gets called.

thatlillefty's picture

Wow this is as good as Ross' old write up's. Didn't think I'd be saying that. Good work, Kyle.

11W is bringing it today. Must be close to football season.

Doc's picture

Kyle this is football for dummies, and this dummy thanks you whole heartedly.  Excellent write up.  I've learned tons from this and can not wait for more.  Thank you.

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The Butler's picture

The days of a football player being a "dumb jock" are over. They may not like school, but football players can't be stupid and see the field in college.

Kyle - thanks very much for dropping some knowledge on us. 

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whiskeyjuice's picture

Now I feel like I should apply for the next vacant coaching position this year.

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bakerjon's picture

  I mentioned after a previous article that the offensive line play and conversation was good article fodder. You nailed it. Keep it coming...

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BroJim's picture

Good read, Kyle. I appreciate the Xs and Os!

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Poison nuts's picture

Good read. Did I miss Ross move on or do we now have 2 smart football guys here?! Either way, this was good & I appreciated the intricate diagrams too. 

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

cdub4's picture

Two smart football guys.

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Poison nuts's picture

Thank you sir!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

GVerrilli92's picture

Can the OLineman who goes to the next level change post snap? So if there's a combo with the LB showing plus alignment then curls into the middle, is it up to the Guard to see that and step to the left as if it's a minus? How does the Tackle know this is happening?

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Kyle Jones's picture

It absolutely changes. In fact, they don't plan on going to the second level player at all until the defense tells them what they're doing. The first step for both players in a combo is to the fat guy in front of them, and then roll off to the second level after the fat guy has declared where he's trying to go. At the college level, where nearly every defense is a "1 gap" defense, it's easy to run these combos, since you usually know that if the DT is trying to go towards one hole, the LB behind him will be going the opposite way. In the case of Linsley and Hall, the DT tried to go toward the outside of Hall, meaning Linsley knew the LB would be coming his way and became his responsibility. On the other side, the DT tried to split the gap between Norwell and Mewhort, meaning the LB would try to go in the A gap, making him Norwell's responsibility. Obviously, Norwell doesn't get there unless Mewhort gets over on the DT first.