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What’s Zone Blocking and How Does it Impact the Bengals?

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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 26: The offensive line of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 26: The offensive line of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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The Bengals are making a jump to a zone blocking scheme this year, but how does that scheme differ from the former power blocking scheme?

The Bengals brought in the former Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack this offseason, which has brought a lot of excitement to the team. Pollack engineered one of the best O-lines the NFL has seen in recent years in Dallas, giving guys like Darren McFadden 1,100 yard seasons. Hopefully, he can implement his zone scheme successfully on the Bengals.

What exactly is the zone blocking scheme, though? The name reveals the main concept behind the blocking – linemen block in areas rather than on assignments. Compared to a traditional power scheme, where linemen are generally matched up individually on opposing defenders, the line in a zone scheme blocks the defense as a unit.

Moving as a unit is absolutely critical to zone blocking, especially in the run game. The line will start moving together laterally in the direction of the run play before latching onto the defenders. Oftentimes, the initial movement is very synchronized – if it gets out of sync, it allows for easy penetration. This is an advantage of the power blocking scheme – one of the guards will usually block the backside so that the play won’t go for negative yards.

The other key component of zone blocking, especially in the run game, is communication along the line. Most of the initial blocks are double teams along the line, but the linebackers are still unblocked. The linemen have to communicate with each other to figure out who will pull off the double team and take the linebacker in the second level. If everything goes right, there’s a great hole for the running back to pick up a chunk gain.

In the pass game, the concepts are pretty similar, in that communication and togetherness are key. The tackle, instead of picking up the defensive end or outside linebacker, picks up the “edge rusher.” The guards and center pick up the “inside rushers.” If the linemen are in the correct position, this can neutralize complex blitz packages better than a power scheme. However, miscommunication or poor position can lead to easy sacks for the defense.

Therefore, important skills for a lineman in a zone is mobility, technique, and football IQ. For the Bengals, this has particular relevance at the right guard position. Along the left side of the line, the Bengals are fine, as Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling will succeed in this system. The Bengals also drafted Billy Price to play center, who had success at Ohio St. in a zone system.

The right guard position, though, has been a battle all offseason. The competition is primarily between Christian Westerman and Trey Hopkins. Westerman had much more success in the first preseason game, though, likely due to his fit in the zone scheme.

Westerman isn’t an overwhelming physical prospect, but he has good mobility for an O-lineman. Conceptually, he makes a lot of sense in the zone scheme. Hopkins, on the other hand, has good size and power, but lacks good speed and flexibility. He succeeded last year when the Bengals had fewer zone concepts, but Pollack’s scheme may not suit him. The Bengals should probably go with Westerman for scheme fit.

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Overall, the Bengals line should benefit from Pollack’s presence. If he can properly implement zone blocking, the offense could see a big jump in 2018.

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