New York Jets Playbook – Running the Zone Read

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Welcome to a new series at Turn On The Jets called “New York Jets Playbook.” In this series, we are going to look at a successful play out of the Marty Mornhinweg or Rex Ryan playbook from last season and explain why it worked, in the hope that we will see similar production on similar plays next season.

Today we look at Bilal Powell breaking a 39 yard run against the Cleveland Browns in week 16.

The View (Television, Sky Cam, Rear Cam)

The Play

Personnel: The Jets are in 11 personnel.  This means they have one running back (Bilal Powell), one tight end (Kellen Winslow, Jr.), and three wide receivers (Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, and David Nelson).

Formation: Spread formation with David Nelson, Jeremy Kerley, and Kellen Winslow Jr. split to the right and Santonio Holmes to the left. In the backfield, Geno Smith is in shotgun with Bilal Powell lined up to his left.

Pre-Snap: The Browns come out in their dime package as they have 1 linebacker and 6 defensive backs on the field. From their alignment it would appear the Browns are in Man 2 coverage with man underneath and 2 deep safeties. 

 Play 1

From the Endzone angle, you can see the wide alignments of the defensive line, as they are thinking pass with time ticking down in the 2nd Quarter. D’Qwell Jackson is splitting the difference between the tackle and Kellen Winslow, who he is responsible for in coverage, and Safety TJ Ward is dropped down into the box as he is most likely in man coverage on Bilal Powell.

Play 2

The Progression

Whether it was a call based in conservatism or calculation, the Jets run the football with about 35 seconds left in the half. The call is the Zone Read, a play the Jets have been running all season with their athletic quarterback. They can run it with any one of their running backs, but this time its Bilal Powell. With Mike Goodson out for the year, Powell is their best runner in space. Initially, it looks like there is some good space for either Powell or Geno to work with. It is Geno Smith’s responsibility to determine if he should hand off the ball to Powell or if he should keep it himself. No matter what Smith decides, the offensive line is going to block the play as if it is inside zone right. The only difference is that no one has to account for the read key defender. Let’s break down this freeze frame a little further to see what’s going on.

 Play 3

Going from left to right, Austin Howard is one on one. Because both he and the guard inside of him are covered by a defender, Howard knows he does not have help in the form of a combo block. Howard does a good job of turning his guy outside.

Play 3.1

Because Willie Colon is covered and Nick Mangold is not, they know that they can call a combo block. The two linemen will block the down lineman to the linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Mangold is in a good position to help, but Colon is completely overextended and will never be able to adjust his weight to get to Jackson.

Play 3.2

The other combo block is between Brian Winters and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Unlike the other combo, these two do a great job. Winters gets off on TJ Ward with perfect timing and Ferguson successfully gets his hips around on the defensive lineman.

Play 3.3

To make this play successful, Geno Smith has to make the right decision on the read. Smith is reading the end man on the line of scrimmage, Jabal Sheard. If Sheard fires inside to play the hand off then Geno Smith should pull the ball and run around the left side. If Sheard, stays where he is or works up field then Smith should hand the ball off. Sheard stays put so Smith should hand the ball off to Powell.

Play 3.4

The linemen aren’t the only ones who have to block. Because the offense has no idea where the ball will end up, it is important for the Wide Receivers to make their blocks. As the Browns are in man coverage, David Nelson smartly runs his corner off. This means he just runs an outside vertical route so that his defender turns his back to the play. The other three receivers will use a stalk block technique. This means that they will run to their defender and break down a few yards away from them. This allows the receiver to read the defenders move and stay under control to make a block. Holmes and Kerley will block the defender over top of them, while Kellen Winslow must run 15 yards down field to block the deep safety to his side.

Play Wide

Looking back inside, Geno Smith makes the correct read and hands the ball off to Powell who has to now read the defense to determine his path. Generally, the backs first read is the defensive tackles, but since this hole is so big, Powell can now look to the second level.

Play 4

The first thing Powell sees is that D’Qwell Jackson is completely unblocked in the hole. As he’s already looking to cut left, Brian Winters lays a great block on TJ Ward off the combo. The only guy in the box Powell has to worry about off the cut is Sheard as he realizes Smith handed the ball off.

Play 5

Luckily, Sheard runs into Ferguson’s block and Powell cuts around Winters block like Lindsey Vonn in the Downhill Slalom.

Play6

After Powell has cleared the second level he is on his own to try and make a move on the safety. Powell makes the Tashaun Gibson whiff.

Play 7

After Powell makes the safety miss, he should be off to the races with three blockers and three defenders. Unfortunately, Kellen Winslow breaks down way too early. Looking at this play in real time, Winslow was lazy and didn’t think Powell would break a long one.

Play Wide 2

Winslow’s lazy play probably cost the Jets a touchdown here as Powell has to make a cut off the unblocked safety that he should have blocked. Either way, it is a gain of 39 yards and a huge play that allowed the Jets to score right before halftime.

Play 9

This was a great play by the Jets offense. It was a well timed call that, despite a few missed blocks, put Bilal Powell in space to break a long run. I also want to highlight how good of a call this was against this defense. Because the Browns were in man, the second level defenders were all rocked over to the trips side. If Jabal Sheard had declared inside Geno Smith would have had a lot of space to run as well.  If this can happen with both a lineman and receiver missing blocks, imagine what the Jets can do if they sure those things up.

In 2014, the Zone Read play was a welcome addition to the Jets playbook. It was one of their most effective run plays and utilized the strengths of their personnel. Although Marty Mornhinweg, is not too experienced in this type of offense, it would be great to see some things built off of this play and help this package evolve into a more prominent part of the offense.

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