As styg50 asked in his pre-draft running backs article the question is whether we are still a one-cut and go zone-block system? Guaging by the first couple of pre-season games, I have to say I really don't know. I think it's an amoeba wrapped in a mystery cloaked with a pre-season mist.
Ron Turner (running backs coach) is a disciple of Alex Gibbs, the master of the one-cut and go zone block system. Rick Dennison (offensive line coach) is also a product of Alex Gibbs. McD, on the other hand, is a product of the Patriots man blocking system. My guess is that the zone block system will be our dominant running scheme because we have been, at least historically, one of if not the best running team in the league. But we will see a lot of variations, especially the much touted 3-TE sets. We've already seen 4-WR sets (a LOT in fact), so I do not doubt that we will see some incredibly powerful and diverse sets.
More after the jumpWhat is "zone blocking?" From Wikipedia,
Zone running actually has many different variations; an inside zone play or an outside zone play also sometimes wrongly labeled as the stretch (which is in fact a different play). The difference between the three popular zone plays are the aiming point and reads for the ball carrier. While the inside zone has its first landmark around the guards original position, the outside zone aims at the off-tackle area. The stretch usually reads the force defender outside. It should be noted that schemes differ greatly.
Zone blocking originates with blocking the first level (defensive line). There are usually two double teams on every zone blocking play (playside and weakside). From each double team, one of the lineman from each will work onto the next level (linebackers). Depending on the flow of the linebackers, either the drive man (inside blocker of double team) or the post man (outside man of the double team) will leave the double team in order to reach the linebacker. If the linebacker reads over the top of the double team (outside) then the post man leaves the double team in order to block the flowing linebacker. If the linebacker comes inside the double team (underneath), the drive/inside double teamer will pick up the backer. This scheme of the zone creates cut-back lanes, which good runners will know where to find. Cut-back lanes are created due to an overcommitment (flow) by the defense and a seal block on the backside by linemen.
Where most plays are designed to go to a specific hole or gap along the offensive line, a zone run requires the running back to read the blocks in front of him and choose the best crease to enter. In theory this allows the offensive lineman to block the defensive linement in whatever direction is most convenient, assuming a hole will be available somewhere.
When the running back sees (or senses) the hole, he makes one cut and runs downfield. No hesitation, no juking, no jiving. One-cut and go! The odds favor the running back who does not hesitate or try to dance. And the line will often "pull" the entire line or just one guard (kind of like hoosierteacher's writeup on the Ted Block used by the Defense). That ballet of large men is always a sight to behold!
Again, to quote styg50, a running back must be a "...versatile player who can run between the tackles, flare out with good hands for the reception, or block willingly (and well) in the passing game." Just as important, and perhaps even more so, are the offensive linemen. Particularly the center and guards. The tackles play more important roles, imo, in the passing game unless the run is outside the tackles. The TE's also play important roles in blocking schemes and in motion to confuse the defense.
So how is the team doing?
What running backs do we have and what are their strengths?
Knowshon Moreno - quoting styg50, he has "vision, cutback ability, quickness, receiving and ball handling all grade out at the top. He is no slouch as a blocker and knows how to follow blocks, and he is a smart, confident player who has no trouble absorbing and understanding plays. His athleticism is rare, and for every scout or analyst who tells you that Moreno plays too physical for his size, there will be an offensive line coach who pines after a football player." In his limited play this pre-season, I saw tremendous vision, cutback ability, quickness and physicality. Assuming he returns fully healthy and has learned the playbook, he could very well become the face of the franchise.
Peyton Hillis - vision, punishing runner and blocker, knows how to follow blocks, deceptive speed, great hands.
Correll Buckhalter - vision, quickness, decent cutback ability, good hands. I have not seen enough to judge his blocking abilities. He may be still healing since I'm not completely sold on his abilities yet.
LaMont Jordan - big guy, but I've been a bit disappointed in his play so far. Perhaps because he was running with the 2d team and the guards were not opening holes for him. Nonetheless, he seemed to avoid contact.
Marcus Thomas - Still on the roster.
Darius Walker - I wasn't impressed in the first game but thought he did a lot better in the second.
I think we may see a pickup or two from another team during final cuts or even a trade.
Gee, where do I start? Also, bear in mind that we probably won't see a lot of plays called that use a FB.
Peyton Hillis - I'm guessing he doesn't see a lot of FB work because he is too valuable in other phases of the game.
Spencer Larsen - It could happen ... again! I'd wager he will see a fair amount of FB work.
Russ Hochstein - A definite posibility in the redzone.
Kory Lichtensteiger - he did it last year.
What about the offensive line?
Ryan Clady - the man is a BEAST! Wow, what a rare find. We are very lucky to have him. His strength is in pass protection and he is still learning the run game. Backup(s) Polumbus is good, Bryant has been struggling (he let Brandstater take a massive sack).
Ben Hamilton - a true veteran and a stalwart of our line. My only concern is that he may be losing a little bit of his steam. Backups: Olsen (not bad for a rookie) & McChesney (still needs some work)
Casey Wiegmann - pro bowler (don't get me started on JC) who stepped in for Nalen and the line didn't miss a beat. Nalen is, in my opinion, a HOF candidate and for Wiegman to step in the way he has says a lot about him. Backups: Lichtensteiger (good versatile player), Schlueter (improving)
Chris Kuper - Very good player. Not as elite as Clady, Wiegman or Ryan, and not as experienced as Hamilton. Backup: Erickson (I have not heard his name mentioned much, so I'm assuming he's not that great)
Ryan Harris - Another outstanding player deserving of elite status in NFL offensive linemen. Backups: Gorin (I'm not sold on him), Oldenberg (wait and see).
What about Russ Hochstein? He's a 9-year pro who has played RG, LG, C, FB and TE. Talk about versatile! I see him playing backup to (1) Kuper, (2) Hamilton, and possibly pushing Lichtensteiger for C. He will also be a load in goal line plays as the FB.
How do we improve from what I have seen so far
* We have run most of our zone plays to the weakside. That implys lack of confidence in the strong side. It may be the reason we brought in Hochstein.
* We have not opened good running lanes, especially with the reserves. That implies lack of depth. It could only be a matter of coaching coupled with strength and conditioning.
* Flare routes have been effective. Our running backs have good hands and the tackles and TE's are containing their positions.
* Orton (and Simms) need to do a better job of disguising handoffs. Our RB's have been killed a couple of times because the opponents could see what was happening way too clearly. Maybe they should take sleight of hand lessons from a major magician?
* The TE's seem to be contributing nicely to the running game. WR's need a little more work on their part of the running game (then again, most WR's do! :-) BTW, one thing I will miss with Brandon Marshall is that he is a very good blocker in the running game.
That's my two cents. I am not a coach nor do I consider myself a football scholar. I can only ask for your comments so we can better understand this running game aspect together.