Race C.A.R. – Understanding Vision in Man and Zone Schemes


Chad Spann, former pro RB and founder-coach-consultant of Falling 4Ward RB, teaches us a common misconception about running back play. 

By Chad Spann, Running Back Skill Development Coach at Fall4ward.com

A common misconception about running backs is that their abilities apply universally to every blocking scheme. We simplify this particular skill set by calling it “vision.”

However, it is much more difficult than the capability to see the hole and run through it. Vision consists of multiple skills integrated into one concept:

  • Comprehension of the scheme.
  • Analysis of the defense.
  • Reaction that correctly and consistently sees the right hole.

I call this C.A.R. If a running back is not familiar with the scheme it will be difficult for him to see cuts when he presents himself. The best do these things well before they present themselves to the line as a ballcarrier.

In the game of football, there are two primary blocking schemes: Man/Gap and Zone. Man/Gap relies on offensive linemen moving specified defenders (man) downfield and creating specific running lanes (gap).

Zone asks offensive linemen to move on a set track, blocking any defender in their zone. No running lane is specified in this scheme. However, the running back has a set path to follow before making one of three possible cuts based on the leverage of the defense after the lineman are engaged.

Let’s take a quick look at the most popular play in each scheme. The first is from Man/Gap: Power-O


In the Power-O play the entire offensive line, with the exception of the pulling guard and fullback, are moving away from the predetermined gap. This is called Down Blocking, using the leverage created by alignment to seal off defenders.

Because the linemen are blocking away from the intended direction of the play, the back is trying to get in front of all of the down blocks while also reading the blocks from the pulling guard and fullback on the second level.


This approach with regard to his linemen is dramatically different than what a runner needs to do with our next play, the Inside Zone. The movement of the offensive line on Inside Zone should be the most notable difference from Power-O.

Inside Zone

With Inside Zone, the entire offensive line (with the exception of the fullback) is moving play side, blocking any defender in their zone. If a defender leaves their zone, the offensive lineman simply passes him on and continues moving on their track.



For a running back, these two schemes have dramatically different visual cues and reads although the initial direction the running back takes is the same.

The blockers on the Inside Zone play are moving to the play side, which means the running back is supposed to stay behind his blockers to read his linemen’s leverage on each defender. This leads to the back making one of three decisions: Remaining on the same path, bouncing it outside, or cutting back behind the center.

The blockers on the Power-O play are moving opposite of the play side, which means the running back is supposed to get ahead of these linemen so he can read and react to the lead fullback and the pulling guard.

When a running back isn’t used to watching his offensive line blocking defenders away from the desired hole–Trent Richardson running Gap/Man–he will struggle with his reads and miss a lot of holes. Inversely, if a runner isn’t used to his linemen blocking defenders towards his set path, he may struggle with reads and bounce a lot of plays outside, which is something Donald Brown often did on zone plays.

Matt Waldman and I are working on a time to break down these two players in an upcoming RSP Film Room on the differences between reading gap and zone blocks.


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