Utilizing a Running QB with the Inverted Inside Zone

Many coaches these days are blessed with great athletes in their programs, but that coveted pocket passer comes along only once in a great while.  The answer for many coaches is to put their best athlete under center.

Or, maybe you lack a true inside run threat, but you’re loaded at receiver with quick players that excel in space and when running jet sweeps.

An RPO offense is a great way to feature a player that might be a receiver or a running back in another offense (but in your program he’s your signal caller) or to take advantage of players that aren’t inside bangers, but excel when getting the ball on the perimeter.

Inside zone is a scheme that is prevalent in most offenses. It’s a versatile run scheme that is effective against both even and odd fronts, and it’s especially useful when you tailor it to fit the personnel discussed above.

Inverted Inside Zone Out of a 2×2 Set

I love running inside zone out of a balanced 2×2 set, especially against a four man front.



4-4 Front

In an even front where the strong side linebacker is walked out on the slot, we will attack the weak side of the defense with the sweep and the strong side of the defense with our bubble screen.  The bubble screen is a pre-snap “now” pass.  If the slot has leverage on the overhang defender, we will throw this at the snap.

If the bubble is not there, the QB will snap the ball and progress to his run read.  The running back will take an outside zone path, turning his shoulders to the sideline and trying to beat the defensive end around the corner.  It is a key coaching point for the running back to NEVER turn this up early.  He must continue his path past the slot receiver before he turns up field.

The QB will shuffle step to force the defensive end to make a decision. His read is simple: if the back can beat the defensive end outside, give the ball.  If the back cannot beat the end, he will pull the ball and run to the play side A gap, reading the center’s block for the cutback lane.

This is a hit-it-quick run play.  Just like traditional inside zone where the ball is handed to the RB, the QB has the option to run through the A gap, or hit the cutback under the defensive end.

As far as pass tags go, I prefer to keep the bubble screen on for 2×2 inverted inside zone.  Since this is a quick hitter, there is no need for a post-snap pass read.

Inverted Inside Zone from a Trips Set


Most defensive coaches will defend trips with either a two high Cover 2 shell with the outside linebacker walked out to apex the two slot receivers or by rolling to Cover 3 and apexing both receivers.  Fortunately, this scheme can attack both defensive schemes.  The most important thing is to get a six man box.

I prefer to run the sweep to the trips side with the inside zone going towards the weak side of the defense. We get a hat on a hat with our stalk blocking receivers and still have a numbers advantage in the box.

The single receiver will have the pre-snap pass read.  I like a slant on the backside, but it can also be a hitch, stop, or speed out.

Again, our running back will turn towards the sideline and try to outrun the defensive end to the edge, not turning upfield until he is around the slot receivers.  The QB will read the defensive end and give the ball if the back can beat him outside.

Inverted Inside Zone from a TE Set

Against a four man front, ten personnel is very effective.  However, when you run up against the team with the odd front defense, it is often difficult to get the double team blocking angles to run inside zone.  We really like to insert a tight end to give our line the angles we need to run inside zone against a three man front.

Tight End FormationAdding the tight end allows our playside tackle to double team the playside end and not allow him to loop into the C gap.  Putting two defenders in the C gap will kill this play.

The 3-4 scrape exchange is always a problem.  This front gives you a cloudy read from the 4 technique.  He isn’t a true EMOL.

NO - Don't want this front

The end can slant and the inside linebacker can scrape exchange, which kills your quarterback’s read:

Cloudy Read

You want to avoid putting your quarterback in this situation.  This is where the tight end comes in. It keeps the over hang as the read and eliminates a situation where the end can slant and the Sam can scrape exchange, ruining your quarterback’s give/keep read.

Empty Set Jet Sweep Inverted Inside Zone

Another wrinkle that is effective for teams that like to utilize their receivers in the run game with jet sweeps is the inverted inside zone off the jet sweep action.  This is one of those triple option “if-then” plays.  If the defensive end is chasing jet sweep, this is a great constraint play.

Jet Sweep Inverted Inside Zone

The reads are the same as the other inverted inside zone looks, but it puts the defensive end in conflict if he chases jet sweep too fast.  One key coaching point: the shuffle from the QB is probably going to take him a little wider if the sweeper is running at full speed so this play will most often hit right behind the playside tackle and cut back behind the defensive end.  With the blocking angles up front, this still works.




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