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August/September 2011

August/September 2011

Encouraging Your QB to Keep the Ball During the Zone Option Play, is all about Numbers

by: Paul Anthony Markowski
Fullbacks Coach Simon Fraser University (CAN)
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There are many coaches out there who would much rather see their star running back carry the ball on a zone run play than have their QB keep the ball and take it to the edge. There is certainly an aversion for many coaches to have their QBs run with the ball (even if that QB is an athlete).

Personally, I am the direct opposite in my thinking especially when it comes to running a “true” QB zone option play. Given that I will always have one of my best athletes running my offense at the QB position, I would encourage my QB to keep the ball in his hands, unless his read key defender is sincerely taking the QB all the way. In other words, the one-way thought process that I would instill in my QB is as follows: “I will keep the ball every time during the zone option play unless that dive key defender is definitely going to tackle me”.

It is imperative that the coach instills this thought into the mind of his QB or else that QB will, in all likelihood, become a bit tentative as he is making his read, and will ultimately, “error” on the side of caution and hence, give that football the majority of the time to his tailback. In my option style of offense, I want my QB to play aggressively and confidently. I need my QB to want to keep that ball and attack the defense. Not only do I want my QB to keep that football due to his athleticism, I also want him to keep the ball due to a number’s advantage that is created on the backside of this zone option play.


Diagram 1. shows the zone option left play in graphic detail vs. a 30 stack defense. Now, if we are to count the number of defensive players both to the left and right of the center (counting any “head-up” defenders on the center as ½ a player), we would end up with a very even balance on defense at 5 ½ players on either side. 

Diagram 2 shows how the play would develop if the QB gives the ball to his diving B-back due to the “read” he is getting from the dive key defender (as highlighted in the “BOX”). This dive key defender is always unblocked and is instead, being “read” by the QB. In this case, the dive defender is taking the QB all the way. Once again, if we count how many defenders are on either side of the Center, the tally would be even (5 ½ per side). In other words, no distinct advantage is had by the offense if that ball is given to the B-back. He would simply run his zone track and try and read the intentions of the defense as well as the blocks of his zone blocking O-linemen. This is nothing more than a zone left running play.

Diagram 3 illustrates what the play would look like if the dive key defender decides to attack the B-Back on his dive track. The QB would automatically pull that ball from the belly of the B-back and then take it himself to the area that was just vacated by the dive key defender. Given that the dive key is attempting to tackle the B-back who does not even have the ball, he is for all intents and purposes, out of the play and no longer a defensive threat. He is also now considered to be on the playside of this play (towards the track of the B-back). 

Meanwhile, on the backside, we now have a numerical advantage as the QB attacks his assigned area. From a numbers standpoint, we now have a 6 ½ and a 4 ½ split from the center. The 4 ½ is on the backside where our athletic QB is attacking. This is exactly why I always encourage my QB to make a good read on the intentions of that dive key defender. Don’t just give that ball due to the fact that a B-back is a true “running back”. It is my opinion that a QB is also a true running back. Why not take advantage of his athletic prowess?

I hope this article has given you something to think about as you attempt to install a “true” QB zone option play into your team’s playbook.  If any coach has any questions or concerns about the contents of this article, please feel free to contact me a

Good luck in the 2011 season!


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