Understanding the New Oregon Offense: Zone vs. Gap Schemes

Jeremy Mosier Analysis

The past two seasons the Oregon football program has primarily used zone blocking schemes to run the football, and this blocking concept usually has the offensive line moving in unison at the point of attack. These schemes take advantage of a defense by using double teams initially, then having one of the two blockers peel off to attack a linebacker to get downhill on a defense.

Gap schemes use angles with a few lineman blocking down to move defenders inside, while other linemen pull to generate momentum to push the remaining players away from the point of attack. Gap schemes and zone schemes have different rules to determine who, where, and how the lineman will block. In this analysis we will look at how Oregon has been able to combine both concepts to keep a defense off balance.

Zone Scheme

Above is a base zone scheme that has been a staple of the Oregon offense the past two seasons. This inside zone play to Oregon’s right uses two double teams on the right side (playside) and one-on-one blocks to the backside (Oregon’s left) versus an odd front. A key difference between zone and gap schemes is how the double team is executed. Both schemes can utilize double team blocks, but the zone scheme will have one lineman peeling off to take on a linebacker based on where the linebacker attacks.

In the above clip the opposing linebacker, (No. 20) attacks to the right of the double team and is blocked by the lineman on the right side of the double team (No. 66). The running back takes a direct path to either double team and cuts away from the nearest linebacker threat. This is a head-on type of attack, with no misdirection or deception to slow the play down.

Pin and Pull

The pin and pull scheme, as in the video above, utilizes down blocks to pin defensive linemen inside and away from the play, while pulling offensive linemen kick-out defenders to create a seam for the running back. This scheme is designed to flank defenders and tear a defense apart rather than pushing them backwards as in a zone scheme. The above play is a traditional “buck-sweep” or “power-sweep” play using the pin and pull concept.

The offense is pulling both guards to kick the defensive end out and drive the linebacker out of the play. Since this is a gap scheme, no. 27 has the best angle to pin the backside linebacker. Therefore, he will peel off the double team to block the backside linebacker if he is a threat. The QB footwork is a reverse pivot where he will turn to to the left to draw the backside linebacker away from the play and end up reverse pivoting to distribute the ball.

This freezes the opposing linebacker, no. 31, into thinking this is a running play to Oregon’s left, and he ends up stuck behind the double team (and Penei Sewell) after he realizes the play is in the opposite direction.

Sequencing Zone and Gap Schemes

A well-designed offense will sequence both blocking schemes together. The video above shows both schemes simultaneously against the same odd-front defense. Once the QB receives the snap, many of the initial first steps of the offense look the same, creating a problem for the defense in that they are not able to know immediately whether this is an inside zone play or an off-tackle gap scheme.

It is easy for CJ Verdell to cut off of Penei Sewell’s block down, (No. 58) although it is not so easy on the big Utah 333 lb. defensive lineman!

The objective of both the zone and gap concepts is to induce defenders to catch the blockers instead of taking them on more aggressively as they would if they were certain where the ball was going. Both blocking concepts have proven success in their own right, but it’s the combination of both schemes that has worked well for Oregon the past two seasons.

Look for a young offensive line and new offensive coordinator to establish a zone or gap scheme identity in 2020 and to mix the two concepts to induce indecision on the part of defenses. Understanding how both schemes work will help you as a fan better understand the Oregon offense as we cheer for Our Beloved Ducks!

Coach Jeremy Mosier
Geneseo, Illinois
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.


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