Defending The Zone Read



I received a few email requests to talk about defending the Zone Read so that will be the topic of the day.  First I think we must define what the Zone Read is.  It is basically a simple option football theory done from the shotgun.  The traditional method involves the QB reading the C Gap defender, although the play has morphed into so much more.  The play wants to put a defender in conflict by reading him and choosing a course of action based on the conflicted players reaction.  In theory the "READ" player should never be right.  An option team that spends their time focusing on option style plays will be able to get a QB to read the conflicted defender correctly about 75% of the time. The beauty of option football is the QB becomes the "11th" player for the offense making the numbers game equal on both sides of the ball.  With traditional under center offenses where the QB hands the ball off to running backs technically the defense is playing 11 vs 10 in the run game because the QB will only be a threat on bootlegs or waggles. The other enticing part of option football is forces the defense to play sound, and discipline football with a lot of emphasis put on individual defensive players executing their individual assignments.  It is a way of trying to slow a defense down and not let them play with reckless abandon.

As a defensive coordinator you can try and dictate who will carry the ball in the option game.  When you are dealing with a "PRO I" tailback with the QB under center you know he is gonna have the ball 30 times.  Think about it, everybody knew guys like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, and Earl Campbell were going to have the ball 25-35 times a game.  Best you could do was load the box and try and get extra numbers in the run game.  The interesting thing about defending the Zone Read is you can dictate who you want to have the ball.  The first thing you should always determine is who is more dangerous with the ball the QB or the RB?  The next thing to consider is are they double option or are they triple option?  And the last thing to consider is Do they have any passing concepts tied to the reads?  You usually will not have to worry about the passing concepts when talking about the defensive end, but in today's offenses your second level LBS will get read as well with passing concepts tied in.

The first thing we teach our defensive ends is to "squeeze and pop" off of inside releases by the offensive tackle.  What that means is he will take the air out of the inside release and close the gap between him and the offensive tackle.  He will do this with his hips square to the LOS.  Your end will see the QB mesh with the TB and at that point he pops back outside to play the QB.  Your LBS will handle the zone along with your other D Lineman.  The next thing we will do is "bend and chase" our defensive end to the side we have the open B Gap.  Now the end will physically turn his shoulders and chase the inside part of the zone or the TB.  He is essentially cancelling out the B Gap vs. an inside release by the offensive tackle.  You will now have a LB or Safety or Corner responsible for the QB on the Gap Exchange.  The reason I mention the Secondary players is because you can get them involved with the QB if you know it is only double option.  Depending on which way you have the front set, you can predetermine some line games that will change the reads for the QB as well.  Keeping the reads dynamic and multiple for the QB makes his job harder in the read game.  The only issue is it also makes things harder on your defense when there is more involved.  If all else fails you can always try bringing pressure.  Zone pressures are much safer vs athletic QBS.  If you are going to use pressure make sure you have a "spill blitzer" and a "contain blitzer".  The spill player handles the zone portion or inside part of the option and the contain blitzer handles the QB or outside part of the option.

I hope this helps you understand the zone read game a little better and gives you a few ideas to slow it down.  Remember at the end of the day it is better to outplay your opponent instead of out thinking them.




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