One of the most fundamental components of a zone blocking scheme is the combo block. Zone blocking, for the uninitiated, is essentially a set of rules that offensive lineman use to decide who will be responsible for blocking a defensive lineman, and who will help on a double team before releasing to the second level. Here’s a diagram:

 

In this example, the LT, C, and RT are all “covered”, which means they have a defender lined up directly across from them. That leaves the LG, RG, and TE as “uncovered”. You can see that the covered linemen block the defender across from them, while the uncovered linemen work with the nearest covered linemen to perform a double team. The uncovered blockers are expected to help the covered linemen long enough that they’re able to at least establish their blocks, and hopefully help drive the defenders back, before peeling off an picking up a linebacker in the second level. If you’re interested, you can read more here.

Here’s an example of an outside zone play in action:

The LT (72) and LG (70) on the play execute the combo block on this outside zone run really well.  The LT is ultimately responsible for getting out to the middle linebacker who is shaded off his left tackle, right where the run is headed. But before he can get out to the second level he has to help his LG, who is responsible for the defensive end. Without help, this would be a nearly impossible block for the guard to make. But the LT is patient and stays with the end long enough to stretch the play out and allow the guard to continue to drive the end out of the play.

This is a very typical play for a zone blocking system. Otherwise impossible assignments are made possible through teamwork. It should come as no surprise then that, when this coordination breaks down, a zone blocking system crumbles. Against Green Bay, Seattle demonstrated exactly that.

It’s rare to see Seattle’s offensive line hold a combo block for as long as it’s held in the example above. Frequently, the combo block hardly happens at all.

On this play, Joeckel ends up with a very tough assignment. He has to get across the defensive tackle to the playside, with the Prosise targeting the A gap between Britt and Glow.

To help Joeckel make this play, Britt needs to combo block with Luke and hold the defensive tackle long enough for Joeckel to establish his block. Britt offers little help though, offering a weak punch that is slapped away before releasing to the second level. Prosise probably needs to read this sooner and cut back, but Joeckel is blown so far into the backfield that Jimmy isn’t able to get across the formation and the weakside LB is left unblocked.

Here’s another example, this time with Glow offering next to no help to Ifedi (and whiffing in the second level for good measure).

More frequently, Seattle has the opposite problem.

Here, Britt is the covered defender with Joeckel looking to come in and help get push on the defensive tackle. Joeckel certainly lands a good push, but it does far more harm than good.

 

Joeckel pushes the defensive tackle off of Britt’s block and right into the hole as Lacy is looking to hit it. He does the defensive tackle’s job for him, and the play is blown up in the backfield.

What’s interesting about this is that Joeckel, before coming to Seattle, displayed the kind of patience required to make combo blocks work.

On this play, Joeckel pushes the defensive tackle right into the left tackle and then stays with the tackle on the block. He keeps his shoulder on the tackle to seal the hole to his right, before finally peeling out and picking up the linebacker. The situation is different in that clip though, here is one more similar to the previous play:

That play is from the Wildcard game last season, when Thomas Rawls rushed for 161 yards. Britt, Glowinski, and Fant all execute their combo blocks perfectly. Britt and Fant generate push without dislodging the defender, and Glow holds his block long enough for Fant to drive the end right out of the play.

It’s incredibly disappointing to see Seattle struggle with such fundamental aspects of their scheme. These kinds of basic issues are why I believe that Tom Cable needs to be replaced as offensive line coach. It’s especially concerning that early returns indicate Joeckel’s play may have regressed in this area. However, for those searching for reasons to be optimistic, the Detroit game from last year shows that Seattle is capable of executing these blocks. With more time together, the line might learn to work better with each other. But it’s fair to have expected these kinds of issues to be ironed out in training camp and the preseason. It’s unfortunate that this is where the offensive line’s technique is at entering week two.

15 Responses

  1. Wigman

    Cables presser makes me feel better about the o line. Just need a little more constancy. Need more time to get in rhythm. No need to see if pocic can play. Protection not bad in 2nd half when we had 8 blockers. If we fire Cable now it would mean we will have to start over on o line and we can not afford to take a step back up front. It’s like a bad marriage where everyone sees divorce coming but the two who are in it. Go hawks
    .

  2. Rowdy Yates

    Yes, after another eight regular season games, or so, our OL will likely improve. AGAIN. (Improve from a joke to just plain awful).

    One thing Hawks could do that MIGHT sorta-fix our OL NOW would be to dump the ZBS and go man-on-man blocking with
    Marcel Reese at fullback. And let Russell roll & ramble, as only Russ can, while he still can.

    Otherwise, when we fans feel anxious, watching our “Offense,” go nowhere, we can replay the latest Tom Cable presser. ( When
    players “Revert to bad habits under pressure,” starting with the very first play(s) of the game, I think it’s fair to say that’s on the coach, yo.)

    Burning Question #1: How many 3 and Outs = A Turnover?

    Burning Question #2: Why are position coaches and coordinators exempt from “Always Compete?”

    Burning Question # 8: Hey, Beast, is this the real reason you went to Oakland?

    • JoeB

      Drop the zone blocking scheme? Not happening with Tom. A one-trick pony. And some of these Hawk linemen only know that one scheme. Getting NFL-quality starters is all on the college schools not producing them. The spread offense changes linemen’s stances, footwork, hands, etc. Even high schools favor the spread, meaning colleges aren’t getting traditionally-trained, solid-skilled linemen. The sickness is finally spreading to the NFL, and the shortage will only worsen.

  3. Doug

    It will be interesting to see how the blocking looks with a healthy Rawls running the ball as the lead back. On the clip where Lacy is the ball carrier above, it appeared there may have been a lane he could have bounced out to. Rawls (or Carson) may have seen it and got there, with a better overall result.

    The Packers keyed on Lacy and were determined to not let him get past the LOS.

  4. Doug

    Having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s with end zone seats, my preference is for the old ‘pulling’ style of offensive line play, as opposed to the zone blocking scheme being run today. Pulling linemen from one side to the other gets an extra blocker or two to that side so you can effectively ‘outnumber’ the defense and the zbs doesn’t get you that.

    Anyways, here’s why I’m feeling particularly good about this current starting five up front. Average age 24.8 years. Average round selected out of the college draft 2.2 and that’s counting Glowinski’s fourth round pedigree. Average years remaining on contract is 2.8 years with only Joeckel being a free agent after this season. Average salary is now up to $4,095,911 including Joeckel & Britt now earning eight and nine million a year respectively. I’d have liked to see the team stock the shelves a little more in this last draft, but overall those are some high draft quality players that should be around for awhile.

    Yes, I’ve had too much time on my hands this summer.

  5. JW Cullen

    I think with a young group, such as this, inconsistency will be part of the game for a while. They are young in their time together, and a couple of them are young players. It is reasonable to expect them to improve throughout the year. To make myself feel better I think about the 2013 season, which resulted in a Superbowl Victory. There were games that season, such as the game in Houston, which were VERY ugly on offense. That was a highly compensated O-Line. The Hawks own that game, mostly because of the defense bowing up against a mediocre offense led by a QB who lost his edge and the Sherman int-TD. Aaron Rodgers is not Matt Schaub! The Hawks would not get that fortunate against A-A-ron. Almost did early, but the refs and the team didn’t cash in on that opp. A home game should help them. Nathan, your article is very good an provides great examples. Hopefully a larger sample size will yield more positive examples of growth. The Hawks O starts slow each year. I still believe a 3-1 season start is in range. 2-2 more likely and more typical.

    • Dug

      I think you are right on the money about the slow starts to the season, but when four out of the five starting positions up front are new faces (again), it kind of makes the math add up to slow starts every season doesn’t it?

    • JoeB

      Sad to say that, in 2018, we’ll be replacing Joeckel at LG, finding the next great LT, and maybe the same for the right side as well. Defense may win SBs, as the old axium goes, but an equally critical one is that games are won on the line. The team that controls both sides of the ball usually wins. Continuity is critical to the success of any line unit, but starting with above average players is Step One. Hawks management has apparently skipped that.

    • JoeB

      Sad to say that, in 2018, we’ll be replacing Joeckel at LG, finding the next great LT, and maybe the same for the right side as well. Defense may win SBs, as the old axiom goes, but an equally critical one is that games are won on the line. The team that controls both sides of the ball usually wins. Continuity is critical to the success of any line unit, but starting with above average players is Step One. Hawks management has apparently skipped that.

  6. JoeB

    I know that getting a great offensive lineman in the early rounds, one that is a pillar in that position for years, seems to be a guess and a prayer, but the Hawks had the opportunity to grab Cam Robinson at tackle or Forrest Lamp at guard and skipped both for a dunderhead of a DE who was stupid enough to crash an ATV without a helmet. Hawks GM and coaches have to stop throwing Hail Marys of a draft choice and sometimes just take the best player at a position of need. Our 2nd round (and maybe a throw-in) for the Browns’ Joe Thomas was a trade waiting to happen. Tell me that we would be in the same position with Thomas at LT and Lamp at LG.

  7. Corey Townsell

    I’ve had a massive Challenge with Tom Cable and his miss handling of offensive lines. We all here how he’s one of the best, he’s that good. When he had the most expensive line in football he was still lack luster with all that talent. Marshawn Lynch and his amazing dead leg move behind the line of scrimmage to make a free runner miss that penetrated the line was magic. Marshawn masked all of the line challenges with the way he was able to work with what he had. A lesser back would have been swallowed up. Case in point on short yard situation by the goal line and our inability to punch it in. Cable has run his course and I believe we need to get rid of him immediately. Really sick of the, These guys are good, be patient crap. Cable hides behind his projects. I’m telling you all this now. If the Hawks do not get rid of Cable then the Seahawks will lose Russell Wilson. He will not resign with the Hawks and the line Coach that gives him zero chance to succeed. So upset that we have to continue to suck it up for Cable when he’s the problem. Please read this Cable and leave!

  8. sikhawk

    They signed Justin Britt to three-year ext, so they want to keep good players on the line around. He’s developing into a top-5 center, spent a 2016 first round pick on Germain Ifedi, seems to be getting better each week, though he’s still one of the lesser right tackles. spent a first on him, spent a second on Ethan Pocic, who backs up Ifedi, Britt, Joeckel, and Glowinski.
    won’t be doing much in 2018, but hope continuity will have positive effects rather than throwing money at it.

    look around NFL, great offensive line (maybe five of them?) bad offensive line (probably half of NFL?) the inexperience (five starters have 23 combined career starts at their current positions) and lack of chemistry unfamiliarity, will continue to sink their chances of giving DangeRuss time and the running backs lanes to cut through. probably won’t improve much against the 49ers, but I think LOB defense and Wilson’s mobility/creativity/genius will make them a division winner, and lets not forget 2015, OL transformed after bye week, same could happen now, victory in SB52 is still on. stay positive guys, we always start sluggish, even in sb48 glory season. takes time to get OL into a groove.

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