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Breaking down the Buffalo Bills' inside zone running play

The Buffalo Bills catch a lot of flack for running up the middle. What, exactly, is this bread-and-butter run call of theirs trying to achieve? Let's break down the inside zone.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With no Buffalo Bills game to break down from last week, I thought I would go back to basics and take a look at one of the most basic run plays there is: the inside zone running play. Or, in other words, the "why do they keep running it up the middle?" play.

Here is a look at the play presnap. The goal is to establish a double team block at the point of attack, and then have one of the linemen move up and block the linebacker at the second level. That follows the general rule of zone blocking: if there's a guy in front of you, block him; if not, double someone and then move up to the second level.

As you can see in the example below, the Bills have four blockers for four defenders on the right side, and only the far man on the left side will be unblocked.


Here is a look at the blocking just after the ball is snapped. You can see the double team between Cordy Glenn and Cyril Richardson. Also, look at how quickly Erik Pears moves up to the second level to attempt to block the linebacker. This leaves a tough block for Eric Wood, because he has to reach across the defensive tackle and turn him, instead of just blocking down. Seantrel Henderson has done a good job turning the defensive end, and Frank Summers is on his way to get the outside linebacker.


Anthony Dixon has received the handoff. You can see the good blocking pretty much all the way around. The double team with Glenn and Richardson did its job and established some movement, and Richardson is moving off toward the linebacker. Summers is just about to turn out the linebacker and Henderson is solid with his block as well. I keep Wood circled because he had the toughest block on this play by far. His goal here is to turn the defensive tackle one way or the other so that Dixon has an easy decision on his cut. Obviously, the defender wants to stay square and clog the hole. A little bit more movement either way and it is a giant hole. Regardless, it is still some good blocking all the way around by the offensive line.


Finally, you can see Dixon in the hole. Wood seems to have established just barely enough movement to give Dixon a good lane. Again, Wood had by far the toughest block and perhaps should have had a touch more help on the double team with Pears to start off. But this might be something they called at the line, so we cannot be so sure. Everyone else has their defender turned, and Dixon has a nice seven-yard gain on first down.


A running play seems so simple in that you just go and block someone. But it is really a synchronized event where everyone must do their job effectively, lest the play be blown up. This is why teams have started to spread the field more to run the football. With one less defender (and one less blocker), there is one less chance to blow a block.

This week when you are watching the run game, watch the double teams at the line of scrimmage and see how well the linemen get to the second level - because if the defensive can hold up the double team and the line does not get to the second level, that leaves a free linebacker to make the tackle.