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Film Study: A Breakdown of the Inside Zone Read

Breaking down Oklahoma State's best play against TCU.

Ronald Martinez

The Cowboys played a very ugly game on Saturday, but if there was one thing they did right, it was executing this inside zone read to Tyreek Hill that went for about 25 yards.


Credit to Pistols Firing Blog for this excellent gif!

Because this is probably my favorite running play there is, I thought I'd do a quick breakdown of what happened here.

This may or may not be an actual "read" that Daxx needs to make here considering that his running ability is, uh, not great. He could be reading the pass or it could be by design to keep the defense guessing, but from my experience (HS scout team QB), it is.

Step One: Identify the inside zone read

This is done by identifying the formation. When the Cowboys line up like this, with the RB to the side of the quarterback and slightly behind, it's an inside zone read to the right. If Tyreek lines up on Daxx's right, it would be an inside zone read to the left.


Step Two: Identify the read

I could be wrong on this, but based on my prior knowledge, Daxx is reading the linebacker circled in the picture below. If this linebacker were to lunge towards the center at the snap of the ball, Daxx can keep it and

A. Run it himself, which is not likely


B. Look for a pass.

Based on the actions of the receivers, I'm guessing that this was a designed run and if the linebacker charged to the center, it would've been stuffed. It's happened often and is a reason why we miss Walsh's running ability.


Now if this linebacker stays home, which is what he did, Daxx hands the ball off to Tyreek which is what we want.

Notice below how even after the play has started, the linebacker stays home to defend the pass or a Garman run. Also look at Daxx's head turned to make the read.


Now that we know for sure what the play is, let's breakdown how it succeeded.

Step Three: How does it work?

After establishing the inside zone read, we've successfully stretched the defense out. This allows the QB to serve as a de facto blocker, because it leaves his read out of the play before it even starts! When the linebacker, or anyone being read, is not actively being blocked by a lineman, the blocking responsibilities shift one man over to the right.


Notice the massive lunge to the right that every lineman makes at the beginning of the play.


This allows us to pick up an extra blocker on the playside, where the ball is going, and this is a huge advantage because we have one more blocker than they have defender.


Step Four: Why does it work?

A big reason this play succeeds is because we announce what we are doing in advance. Lining up like this tells TCU that we are running a dive play. I know what you're thinking.

"If they know what's coming, why don't they stop it?"

That's our advantage. We rely on TCU's overreaction to the blocking scheme set up. We don't care if they send all their defenders to meet our blockers because it makes way for an athletic player like Tyreek Hill to make a simple cut back and head up the field. If they don't overreact, which they didn't here, Tyreek follows his blocks and breaks up the field.


Notice how Daxx's read is left out of the play and we didn't even need a lineman to block him!

Step Five: Success!


After the play has developed some, a defender tries to cheat on the playside. This is where we punish him for overreacting to the blocks, just like we wanted. Tyreek gives a quick juke and cuts upfield.

The rest is Tyreek's athleticism and speed.

Now watch it full speed a few times and imagine everything I just talked about. Notice that Daxx takes off running to the left, confirming that is was a zone read.


Tyreek could've actually scored on this play if he continued to run straight instead of going to the right side of the field.


He obviously sees a different field than we do, but it goes to show what this play is capable of.

This was the best play the offense ran all game from a scheme and execution standpoint and I loved it. You now know how to identify the formation on an IZR and know what to expect when executed correctly.

Go Pokes!