Thursday, January 30, 2014

Advocating the ZBS to Jay Gruden

Update 2/6: Gruden and McVay have indicated that the offense will not change much, so this is looking good/promising. Still not specifics on blocking scheme, though.

Since Jay Gruden was announced as the Redskins’ new head coach, there has been a lot of talk about how that will impact RG3, but not enough about how it will affect the team’s blocking. What has been written is inconsistent, largely incorrect or baseless.

The truth is that he ran a fairly normal blocking scheme in Cincinnati with both power and zone fronts on different plays, just like his brother did in Tampa.  It’s noteworthy that when Gruden called zones, he favored inside zone runs as opposed to the long stretch runs that Shanahan has always used to great effect. His plays tend to involve more linemen pulling to lead block than Shanahan’s did, like in another of his bread-and-butter plays: the 96(right) or 97(left) power, an off-tackle run with the backside guard pulling.

However, the important thing to focus on is not what he ran in Cincinnati, but what he will run in Washington. Gruden is a smart coach who knows how to get the most out of his offense, so he should be willing to adapt to his situation. Right now his situation should lead him to embrace zone blocking. He doesn’t need to run it almost-exclusively like Mike and Kyle Shanahan did, but it should absolutely remain the primary blocking scheme the Redskins use.

First, the running game was never the problem during the Shanahan era, so why fix what ain’t broke? The Redskins are the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 5 in both rushing yards and yards per carry each of the last two seasons. More to the point, the team is designed to facilitate the ZBS. Nowhere else in the league will you find a 284 lb. starting guard (Kory Lichtensteiger). Trent Williams is the only lineman on the Redskins who I am confident could transition to and excel in other offenses. No other starter was drafted earlier than the 5th round, and two began their careers playing for Shanahan in Denver. Montgomery, the second best lineman, couldn’t stick on a roster until the Redskins signed him. Lichtensteiger, the third best, was drafted by Shanahan to the Broncos. After Shanahan got fired, he was cut and spent a season out of football until Shanahan signed him again in Washington. Point being, these aren’t cream-of-the-crop linemen, they are linemen who have a specific skill set and fit a specific scheme.

Sure, they could put on some weight, but they still wouldn’t be maulers and having them attempt too much power blocking would be downplaying their greatest strength: the speed and footwork to reach block, cut block and get to the second level. The entire line (outside Williams) is undersized and quick, allowing them to get their hands on linebackers and defensive backs, not blow defensive tackles off the ball with strength.

It extends past the line, though: Alfred Morris is an ideal zone running halfback. He isn’t the most talented player, but he has great patience and vision, and can make a cut and explode into a hole when it develops. These are the most important qualities for a runner in a zone scheme. Even Roy Helu and Evan Royster were drafted for their ability to identify and slip into creases in a blocking scheme.
Lastly, it must be taken into account that standout offensive line coach Chris Foerster is still with the team and former tight ends coach/3rd down package planner Sean McVay has been promoted to Offensive Coordinator, so the people working with the offense are comfortable with zone runs. The Redskins don’t have such a plethora of talent or draft picks to add new talent that they can afford to ignore the best way to use their players, and both in front and back, the offensive roster is very clearly designed to run zone schemes. Gruden should embrace that.

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