After Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback in the 2018 season, the Ravens used a lot of Split Zone. This running play is blocked like Inside Zone, but with a TE or other blocker cutting back against the grain of the offensive line’s blocks and kicking out the end man on the line of scrimmage:
In order to use Jackson’s unique talents in the running game, the Ravens also would pick their spots to read the defensive end on this play, giving Jackson the option to hand the ball to the back or pull it based on the DE’s reaction:
On the option version of this play, the Ravens utilized a “Bluff” technique by their tight end, who would bypass the end man on the line of scrimmage (the one being read) and instead wrap around to the next man outside.
The QB reads the DE and makes his decision: the ball should end up going opposite of where the DE goes. The DE being optioned can take the RB inside or the QB outside, but not both.
Running the ball and stopping the run consistently–without either being simply better than your opponent or getting lucky–is about arithmetic. Get enough guys to block their guys, and you can run. Get outnumbered and you can’t.
For a traditional run, this means that if the defense has two high safeties and covers every split receiver, the offense has the numbers to run:
When the defense drops a safety into the box, the offense no longer has the numbers advantage. However, if the offense chooses to get the QB involved in the running game, they regain the numbers advantage:
If the defense truly wants to have the numbers advantage in the box and the offense is willing to involve the quarterback, the defense must bring both safeties down or leave a split receiver uncovered. This creates a situation that is very favorable for throwing the ball, even for passers who aren’t the most polished or complete (such as Jackson).
For more on the Ravens’ Split Zone concept and how this numbers game applies to it, check out this video: