Check the Tape: This run concept has Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook leading the NFL in rushing

Terez Paylor
·Senior NFL writer
·2-min read

There’s a run game concept that I see every week, and while it’s not new, it remains highly effective.

It’s called the split zone, and on this week’s episode of the Yahoo Sports original web series “Check the Tape” — which is located above and is expertly stitched together by my main man Ron Schiltz — former All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook and Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry explain how it works, and why it’s effective.

Henry, arguably the league’s most physically imposing back at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, even walks me through a classic split-zone chunk gain he had earlier this year against the Houston Texans, so I encourage you to watch.

The split zone has helped pave the way for Titans running back Derrick Henry (pictured) and the Vikings' Dalvin Cook. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The split zone has helped pave the way for Titans running back Derrick Henry (pictured) and the Vikings' Dalvin Cook. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This variation of a standard zone run is being used by a few of the league’s best offenses — including Kansas City, Green Bay, Tennessee, San Francisco and Los Angeles — and when it works, boy is it a thing of beauty.

“I’m just protecting my football, making my reads, taking what the defense gives me, seeing the hole and then getting north and south with a burst,” Henry recently told Yahoo Sports. “[You] get past the second level and get to the secondary and finish downhill.”

Henry, who ranks second in the NFL in rushing with 843 yards, uses a lot of split zone, and so does the league’s leading rusher, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. The beauty of the concept, Westbrook said, is it can hit big in a lot of different spots.

“It’s all about misdirection in a way, it’s all about making the defense believe that you’re going one way and you’re actually going the other,” Westbrook told Yahoo Sports. “Not only is Andy Reid doing it, there’s just a bunch of teams doing it because it allows you to give that frontside look and give that backside look. It almost gives the running back a two-way go once you get in the hole. If the defense overplays you, you can obviously cut it back, and if there’s a hole and a block provided to you right there.”

While there are four keys to running it well, stopping it is simple, yet easier said than done. (Again, watch the video!)

“Well, you have to beat a block,” Westbrook said, offering up one key. “That’s the end-all, be all.”

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