Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan is known for his use of the zone blocking scheme. In an NFL all about power and big mauling offensive lineman, Shanahan preferred the more finesse zone blocking involving smaller and more agile linemen. Power run schemes are all about dominating the line of scrimmage and running behind a lead blocker to fight for yards in the trenches. But the zone scheme involves stretching the defense from sideline to sideline and creating cutback lanes for the running back.
It’s a system that Shanahan used as his offensive foundation on his way to two super bowl titles in Denver. It appeared that he could insert almost any running back into the scheme, and make them productive. But in actual fact, Shanahan looked for disciplined runners who excel at making one decisive cut and then getting upfield.
Shanahan’s latest success story, Alfred Morris, is a perfect fit for what Shanahan want in his system. He runs the system exactly how it was designed, which lead him to break the Redskins single-season rushing record in his rookie campaign.
Here’s a perfect example of a well executed stretch run.
The run is to the right. Morris will be reading the edge defender being blocked by the tight end, which will tell him to either carry on towards the outside, or cut back inside. The offensive line will initially use combination blocks to secure the line of scrimmage.
Left guard Josh LeRibeus manages to secure his block on the inside very quickly, allowing center Will Montgomery to get to the second level of the defense and cut off the backside of the run. Right guard Chris Chester works in combination with right tackle Tyler Polumbus to secure the block of the Cowboys defensive linemen. Once Chester has the block under control, Polumbus begins to peel off the block and join Montgomery on the second level.
At this point, you can see a cutback lane opening up for Morris. The edge defender manages to position himself on the outside shoulder of tight end Logan Paulsen, which tells Morris to cut back inside. But Morris knows that his blockers on the second level haven’t had a chance to secure their blocks yet. So Morris continues on his path towards the edge of the line instead of immediately cutting back.
Morris delays cutting back until he knows that the playside of the defense has overcommitted towards the edge and Montgomery is in position to cut off the backside of the defense. That patience is a trait that can be found in every successful running back Mike Shanahan has had. He set up his own cut back land by pressing the edge of the defense and waiting for his offensive line to secure their blocks. Morris cuts back into the hole and goes through it untouched, picking up 10 yards on this run.
That zone stretch run is the foundation from which Mike Shanahan builds his offenses. It’s very hard to defend over the course of the game without bringing at least one safety down to support the run. Once that happens, Shanahan can branch off into his play-action bootlegs and deep passes against just one deep safety. There might be doubt in the NFL that the read-option is here to stay, but the zone stretch run has been around for decades and should still be the primary concern when playing against the Redskins.