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Of late, half the talk among Green Bay fans is about how Matt LaFleur is going to change the way the team’s offensive linemen block.

When Brian Gutekunst and the Pack agreed to pay free agent guard Billy Turner a king’s ransom to join the team for four years, we were told he fit what La Fleur is looking for: a smaller, quicker, and more mobile blocker.

Then, almost two months later, that conversation resumed when the Packers selected Elgton Jenkins, out of Mississippi State, in the second round of the draft.

The scouts and the pundits differ on Jenkins. Packers.com prophesied: “He’s a good fit for new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s outside zone blocking scheme.”

You’ve got Acme Packing exulting right after the pick: “(Jenkins) has great movement skills for his size, something that will be critical as the zone-blocking scheme kicks in. And there’s Packers Wire saying: “Jenkins is big, athletic and experienced facing talented interior rushers in the SEC. . .The rookie might be the better fit (than Lane Taylor) in the new offense.”

On the other hand, lastwordonprofootball.com lists Jenkins’ weaknesses as including “slow feet. . .little to no lengthening ability. . .struggles with second-level adjustments.” Bleacher report seems to doubt his ability to excel in the Packers’ offensive scheme: “Could be a poor fit in a zone scheme that asks a lot of pulling guards or centers. . .Doesn’t detour from his path well and looks tight when asked to adjust in space.”

Not being a big x’s and o’s man, I have no idea whether Jenkins or Billy Turner are the right fit for the Packers, though those in the front office obviously think they’ll prosper in LaFleur’s offense.

Packers vs Jets 2018

Dec 23, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) calls signals during the first quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Zone Blocking Scheme

As some of you probably caught on to, I played a trick in my heading. Despite all the talk you’ve heard about the new blocking scheme that LaFleur is implementing, it seems that the Packers have been a zone-blocking team for well over a decade.

Wikipedia makes an effort to explain zone blocking, though it hastens to say its article has “insufficient inline citations” and it asks for “help to improve this section.” Here’s its attempt to define zone blocking:

Zone blocking is a technique that is a simple and effective scheme for creating lanes for running plays. In a zone blocking scheme, fleet-footedness and athletic ability trump size as desirable qualities in offensive linemen. Coordination and technique matter more than muscle in implementing a successful scheme because defensive linemen are often double-teamed at the point of attack. . .creating movement on the defensive line is more important than opening a specific hole in the defense.

In the course of the article, Wiki chronologically lists over 40 “teams that relied on a zone blocking scheme.” About 40 per cent of them are college teams, and the rest are NFL teams.

Who do you suppose is the first team mentioned? It’s Lombardi’s 1959–1967 Green Bay Packers. As to the next earliest pro examples of zone blocking offenses, there’s the 1984–1991 Bengals (head coach Sam Wyche, the 1995–2009 Denver Broncos (Mike Shanahan), the 2004–2006 Falcons (Jim Mora), and (!) the 2006–to-2018 Packers (Mike McCarthy).

So which is it: are the Packers going to a whole new blocking scheme, or have they already been a zone-blocking team for the past 13 years? The best I can come up with are some comments that almost every NFL team currently uses zone blocking schemes on some of their play calls, while those considered to be zone-blocking teams adhere to zone blocking on almost every play.

Other NFL teams that Wiki lists as currently employing zone blocking are: Seahawks, since 2010 (Pete Carroll); Cowboys, since 2013 (Jason Garrett); Jaguars, since 2013 (Gus Bradley); Steelers, since 2013 (Mike Tomlin); Ravens, since 2014 (John Harbaugh); Saints, since 2014 (Sean Payton); Falcons, since 2015 (Dan Quinn); and 49ers, since 2017 (Kyle Shanahan).

NFL teams listed as formerly being zone-blocking practitioners include: Redskins, 2010-14 (Mike Shanahan); Cardinals, 2013-18 (Bruce Arians); Eagles 2013-15 (Chip Kelly); Browns, 2014 (Mike Pettine); and Broncos, 2015-16 (Gary Kubiak).

Assuming that Wiki’s list is fairly accurate, that’s an impressive list of head coaches. Super Bowl winners consist of: Packers (2010 season); Seahawks (2013, and Broncos (2015). Teams losing in the Super Bowl game consist of: Broncos (2013): Seahawks (2014); and Falcons (2016).

The whole zone-blocking topic raises more questions than answers in my mind. Was St. Vince really the first zone-blocking practitioner? Should the McCarthy teams from 2006-18 be classified as zone-blocking teams? Are zone-blocking schemes the wave of the NFL’s future, or a passing fad? How much of an adjustment, if any, will 2019 be for Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley, and Lane Taylor? Will Billy Turner and Elgton Jenkins prove to be good fits for LaFleur and his blocking scheme?

Another query: since Pro Football Focus ranked Sean McVay’s Rams as the “top outside zone blocking rushing attack” in 2018, shouldn’t the Rams be included on Wiki’s zone-blocking-team list?

The question I’m most eager to have answered: Will Aaron Jones (and maybe rookie one-cut rusher Dexter Williams) go wild behind almost-exclusively Packers’ zone blocking?

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Rob Born

Someone else said it first but I popularized it: “Athleticism is important in athletic pursuits.” It took three years, but the Packers finally listened. My new mantra: “Trading down is fine, but never trade up.”

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8 Comments

  1. holmer May 26, 2019

    Zone blocking is simply a scheme where linemen are blocking areas and not men. Most offensive systems use some variation of a zone scheme however a real zone team uses that scheme (inside zone or outside zone) almost exclusively. The McCarthy Packers used quite a bit of inside zone but little, if any, outside zone. Lombardi’s Packers blocked areas but I wouldn’t consider them to be a zone scheme team. The famed Packer Power Sweep relied on the center and backside tackle cutting off a frontside area and the play side tackle and flanker “sealing” (“a seal here and a kick out here and run the ball in the alley”) defenders inside, but not a zone scheme. He did use combo blocks play-side on off tackle plays and occasionally on the backside, which he called “do-dad” blocking and are the cornerstone of zone scheme today. So, yes and no Lombardi’s Packers were mostly not zone teams but used some zone blocking.

    1. thomaslind949yahoocom May 26, 2019

      Holmer, your comment was far more interesting the article!

  2. MJ May 27, 2019

    And yet the Patriots brought McVay’s outside zone scheme to a halt. If nothing else, it is a blueprint on how to beat our approach, so we might as well seek some counter to that counter.

    1. R.Duke May 31, 2019

      You have to be able to bring a power game from time to time just to let the defense know you mean business. Alex Gibbs schemes have been outlawed in the new NFL. No more cut blocks and high/low stacks or crack backs. LeFleur will go inside/outside or sink like McVay when facing a gap crashing defense.

  3. Deepsky May 28, 2019

    When McCarthy came to Green Bay he said he was going to run it, but it seemed to me that the only teams to run it successfully and consistently had Alex Gibbs coaching the offensive line or one of his disciples.

    Ryan Grant and James Starks seemed effective in it, but after that it seemed like the Packers didn’t run it or the back just didn’t have that one cut and go ability.

  4. Berdj Joseph Rassam May 28, 2019

    Many perceive the zone blocking scheme as one employed to help cover the shortcomings of a rigid, and non-fleet-footed OL. At the end of the day, Packers’ fans just want the coaching staff to do whatever is best to help get the team more wins and to advance into the playoffs. If the zone-blocking scheme is the best approach to help ensure a successful season for the current OL talent-pool, then so be it.

  5. PF4L May 30, 2019

    yawn

  6. Mitch Anthony May 30, 2019

    And in other news, UDFA rookie Davis Doppleganger Koppenhaver has retired from pro football. Did he show up to an OTA? Was the zone blocking stuff too much for the guy from Duke? You gonna give back the 7 large signing bonus Davis, hmm?