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Breaking Down the New York Giants' Use of the Zone Read

Coach Gene Clemons dips into what the Giants have shown in their offensive playbook and illustrates the benefits of the Zone Read and its potential for success in the offense..

New York Giants Daniel Jones played one of his best games in a Giants uniform last Thursday. The scary part is that statistically, it could have been even better.

Jones completed 68.7% of his passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. He was also the team's leading rusher with 95 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He also had a 58-yard touchdown run negated by a questionable holding call by receiver C.J. Board downfield and had Darius Slayton drop a would-be 43-yard touchdown pass.

If you add those touchdown plays, not only would the Giants have won the game, but Jones would have had a claim to one of the best performances of his career.

Yes, the offensive line was reshuffled, but that was not the most significant change in the offensive game plan on Thursday night. Although we have seen it sparingly over the past couple of seasons, the zone read concept was a big part of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s play-calling, and it's something we're going to look at this week to illustrate the benefits it brings to the table.

What is the Zone Read?

For those that don’t understand the zone read and what makes it different from other designed runs and RPOs (run-pass option), the zone read gives the offense a chance to play 11-on-10 football in the run game.

This reverses a luxury held by the defense for decades if you consider that on running plays, often a quarterback simply hands the ball off in the running game, his role in the play usually completed once the back has secured the handoff. Even on an RPO, a quarterback isn't a threat to run the ball; he either hands it off or throws it.

The zone read gives the offense the ability to use all 11 players in the run game but block ten defenders. (The 11th defender is read by the quarterback.)

If the defender attacks the quarterback or upfield, then the quarterback hands the ball off. If the defender attacks the running back, the quarterback pulls it and runs it into the defender’s vacated area. When executed correctly, the play usually guarantees positive yards.

The zone-read was used by the Giants nine times in their Week 2 game against Washington. Clearly, they wanted to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Washington defense.

The Giants used the zone read twice on their opening possession which is usually scripted. That opening drive resulted in a touchdown.

They used three different zone-read concepts during the game: a split zone read, a single-back zone read, and the zone read off-motion.

They used the split zone read the most, and they saw great success from it. The split zone is when they use an up-back (what many defensive people refer to as a "sniffer" who, for the Giants, is usually a tight end) to line up on the wing or close to the line of scrimmage in the backfield.

This up-back is normally aligned opposite the back. When the Giants run the zone, he usually goes opposite the play and blocks the backside defender outside the tackle.


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This creates a natural cutback lane for the running back if the defense overruns the play. The unique thing about the read in this play is that the up-back doesn't block the backside defender. Instead, he leaves the backside defender to be read by the quarterback, and he goes for the next defender. So if the quarterback pulls it and runs, he essentially becomes a lead blocker.

This play illustrates the split zone and how it looks when the quarterback pulls the ball and runs with it.

The single-back zone read is a concept very similar to the split zone-read; it just doesn't have the up-back. This forces the defense to commit more defenders to the passing strength. This usually leaves one backside defender to keep the quarterback honest.

That means if that defender chases the running back in the zone and the quarterback reads it correctly and pulls it, there's usually nobody left to make a tackle on the backside except a cornerback who is being blocked by a receiver.

This concept was run a few times against Washington, and this play resulted in a long touchdown run that was negated due to a questionable holding call on the receiver.

The final zone-read used was the zone-read off-motion. This zone-read play is designed to get the defenders' eyes looking at multiple things so that they possibly panic and chase the wrong people.

The receiver comes in motion, and as he approaches, the quarterback snaps the ball, so it looks like he could possibly hand off the ball on a receiver jet sweep, but it is a zone read.

If they chase the potential jet sweep, it opens up lanes for the zone. If that backside defender chases the zone, the quarterback can pull the ball, and he has a receiver who can serve as a blocker in front of him.

The Giants only used this concept once, but you can tell that it has the potential to be expanded in the future, especially if you consider how integral receiver Sterling Shepard has been so far this season. 

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