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Will the Redskins move away from zone blocking?

Jan 18, 2014, 11:53 AM EST

Redskins-O-line-vs.-Falcons

Are the Redskins preparing to change the way they run the ball?

All NFL teams utilize some zone blocking running plays but only a handful use zone as their primary scheme. The Redskins have been one of those teams ever since Mike Shanahan arrived in 2010. We are getting some indications that change may be coming.

Jay Gruden’s Bengals were set up for power blocking. No starter on their end of season depth chart weighed less than 310 pounds. Two of them weighed in at 335. That’s a line that can run zone plays—something the Bengals did regularly—but is built for power.

When I asked Gruden if he preferred the zone or power as his base scheme his answer indicated a bit of everything. But note that he says what the team does well in the past and then quickly inserts what he “likes”.

I think they’re in the top 10 the last couple years, so they have a system in place that’s very good. They’re an outside zone blocking team that can do inside zone. I like the power plays. I like the gap blocking plays. So there’s a little bit of everything. I don’t think any offense in the NFL anymore is just, ‘We are this.’ I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively, talent-wise. We can do the read option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep balls. We can do play-action deep things. I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.”

Diversity in your offense is good but you still need a basic way of doing things so you can set up your personnel accordingly. Do you go with the power scheme and use to zone as a wrinkle? Then you build your line like Cincinnati did. If you want to emphasize the zone you put together a line with smaller, more athletic blockers. Of the starters on the Redskins’ line the last two years only Trent Williams weighs over 310 pounds.

Will Gruden go with the power scheme as their base? Other than his history with the Bengals there are other signs that he might be thinking that way. He retained offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Yes, for the last four years he has coached the ZBS here. But for years before that he was the O-line coach for power blocking teams like the Bucs, Ravens, and 49ers.

And it looks like Earnest Byner is going to be brought in as the running backs coach. He has been coaching since 1998 and with the Ravens, Redskins (under Gibbs 2.0), Titans, Jaguars, and Bucs he has coached backs in nothing but power schemes. He would seem to be an odd choice as the running backs coach if Gruden intended to stick with the zone.

All we’re doing is connecting dots here. We don’t know what Gruden really has in mind. There could be some more solid indications when the free agency period opens on March 11. If they  start signing linemen who weigh in at 310 pounds or more, change is almost certainly coming.

  1. jaxjoe - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Nice post, Rich. I hope the Redskins take on more of a power blocking scheme. Under the Shanahans, no doubt the Redskins did well between the 20′s. But when you get into the Red Zone, I believe the 300+ lb men are going to get you into the end zone easier. Another advantage of extra weight is less fatigue in the later part of the game. If you’re big, you can use your weight advantage to push people around. A smaller lineman needs technique, finesse and quick feet, thus contributing to fatigue. Look at the Redskins 4th quarter ability to score this past season. Yikes!

    By default, Lichtensteiger is the smallest lineman and he’ll likely lose his starting role. And obviously a right guard.Could be an opportunity for LeRib and Hurt to show their talent. I wonder if Montgomery (who’s 305 lb) will perform better in a power blocking scheme. My guess is ‘yes’ because the center isn’t required to have such a large responsibility in power blocking. It’d be interesting to get the players take on this.

    • jaxjoe - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:35 PM

      Oops… I meant replacing the right tackle, not ‘right guard’

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