There has been a lot of discussion of late on football coaching forums in regards to the running debate of what is the best blocking scheme that is being taught today at the youth football level. The two main blocking schemes of discussion are zone blocking and man blocking.
Zone blocking has taken off the last few seasons and is popular among the newer coaches as it is probably the main blocking scheme that is used at the High School and University levels. Man blocking is the more traditional way of blocking and many old school coaches that are still around prefer man blocking as opposed to zone blocking. Both are effective blocking schemes!
So what’s the real difference?
The basis of zone blocking is that on the snap the entire offensive line will step down to play-side, find a double team on a down lineman, and as the linemen is engaged and being what we refer to as ” washed down”, one of the offensive linemen involved in the double team will ” chip off” and go down and get the middle linebacker. The running back will take the hand off to the play side and go with the blocking all the while checking backside for the opportunity for a cutback. When zone blocking is working at its best the running back usually hurts you the most on these cutbacks. The basis of man blocking is that the offensive linemen are given a set of blocking rules that they apply for each play depending on where the defensive front is lined up, and apply these rules to determine who they block. When man blocking is working at its best the running back is running more north/south with offensive linemen getting down into the second level untouched.
Again, both are good blocking schemes. Now the argument from the zone blockers is that it is easier to teach, and less confusing as you always step to the play side compared to man blocking where it can be confusing especially against defenses that like to move around, in applying your blocking rules which can create missed assignments. Now the man blockers will argue that an effective gap attacking defense that uses four man fronts will eliminate the double team and allow the middle linebackers to scrape and flow to the football. As well, they will argue that the slower offensive linemen will struggle in this scheme to “chip off” and get a block on the middle linebacker. Usually, you know that a zone blocking scheme is failing when there is no cut back and that the running back is always trying to take the ball out and around the line of scrimmage and in man blocking, you know the scheme is failing when you are getting stuffed on the line of scrimmage.
So they both have their advantages and disadvantages. I think that when determining your blocking schemes that it depends on your personnel. After considering both arguments, I believe that a zone blocking scheme is more suited to a smaller, more agile and quicker offensive line. The double teams and stepping down play side give the smaller linemen better angles and the double teams create more push with the ability to chip off and get a middle linebackers more suited to a swifter, smaller lineman. Compare this to a man blocking scheme that is better suited for a bigger, stronger, but less mobile offensive line whereby there blocking rules keep them in close proximity to their blocking assignment and they are big enough to move a body by themselves and when they need to block a middle linebacker the linebacker is usually right over them with the ball carrier coming right behind them which puts the middle linebacker in a position that he has no choice but to engage the bigger, stronger, offensive linemen. I think that at times and with the youth football players we coach because of their age that there is going to be confusion. Regardless of the scheme, evaluate your personnel and put them in the best position to be effective blockers.