After reading two of BShrout's articles this week, I liked them both very much. The article on the running game was very interesting to me, and I thought I'd bring a little extra info to your attention. Most of it probably isn't new.
The points that were made on the comments were quite accurate. One of the things that came out was that it was very effective for Denver, under Mike Shanahan, to use the passing attack to get ahead, and use the running game to close out the game. This is taken directly from Bill Walsh, the inventor of the West Coast Offense. Although other coaches have used this same line over the years, he understood (and used that phrase in an interview I saw with him) the phrase "Pass to score, run to win". At the very least, he based much of his system on it. Lots of teams know this principle and use it - as in, all of them - in degree.
What Mike Shanahan would do was to score on the first drive in a high percentage of games. His ability to score in the first quarter of the game was almost unsurpassed. In the third quarter, you begin to see the dominating running game, which would use up a lot of clock time, and almost guarantee a win. Yes, they ran before that - they ran in every quarter. Mike was particularly good at that. It showed in our won-lost record.
This is why there is a strong argument between people who feel that a dominant running game is what will win the game for you, and those who recognize that a high number of yards gained by the running game will not guarantee that you'll win. Many people know that those higher running numbers can simply indicate that you were already winning the game. However, it's equally important to realize that you can have a dominating running game in both the first and second half. That's not as common anymore, but it is done.
The reason is, very simply, that the rules have been continually changed since 1978 to show a preference for the passing game over the running game. This was done, as I'm sure you know, to increase scoring. The NFL wanted to make its games more exciting and to draw more fans. They felt that improving the passing game would be a faster way to accomplish this and so they began to make a long list of rule changes. I'm sure this is history that you are already familiar with.
Obviously, the weakness of the 4-3 defense is that you can often run more to the edges. There you have one less linebacker, and because the defensive end is usually lighter, in general you can gain more yards against the edges. On the other hand, if you have a particularly good or large center and guard combination, you can also run up the middle on the 4-3 defense. If your defense is going to be called dominating, you need to be able to run against both defenses.
There are also disadvantages to the power game. For one thing, you have a lot of teams who are all searching for the same kind of player. That is going to be a problem with the 34 defense, moving into the future. More and more teams are using it. Therefore, there will be more and more competition for players who fit that mold. That has been happening for years in the power running attack. By the way, as more and more teams are using the zone blocking, at least part of the time, you are also seeing more competition for talented players who can switch back and forth between these two systems. That is exactly what I see happening with the Denver Broncos.
When you look at the running game of New York and you see the way that they handled San Diego, you begin to understand why Josh McDaniels is looking for a power oriented offensive line. A member asked on a recent thread what were the differences between the zone blocking running attack and the power running attack. A couple of members were kind enough to respond, and in addition I'd like to add just a couple of simple points that were brought out watching the San Diego game this weekend.
It didn't take long to find a good example of the power blocking system and how it differs from the zone blocking approach. On one of the first plays of San Diego's first drive, there was a pitch to LaDainian Tomlinson (who started behind the QB and slightly to the left) which he took, driving forward towards the left side of the offensive line. The play was designed to go between the left guard and the left tackle, but both were occupied and had not been able to drive forward and clear that path. However, one reason that LDT is such a good player is that he has great vision. He saw the waiting scrum, and took the ball outside, swinging around the left end of the LOS. A WR had cleared the cornerback and a second cleared the WLB. it was good for 5 yards. What really happened with the blocking? Each player - former Pro Bowl Marcus McNeil and the left guard did a good job at trying to drive back their man, but the DL players drove them together, clogging the hole. LDT did a nice job of turning a probably disaster into an opportunity to have a nice little gain.
What would have happened in the case of a zone blocking play? Well, in the SD play, the O-line fired forward from their basic stance, drove forward, and attempted to create yardage by driving the DL backward. In a play later that quarter, San Diego fired out, moved the entire defensive line backwards and made a nice hole that a lot of men could get through, which takes nothing away from LDT. That really isn't what happens in a zone blocking scheme. It's the difference between driving forward and getting the DL moving - but moving in a direction that you want the play to go in.
On a good ZB play, the line also fires outward, but to a player on one side or the other side (that's simplified, but sufficient to get the gist of it). If the play is going left, the center will usually (against a 4-3) fire against the NT, the larger tackle who you usually find on the right, (when facing the O line). Each of the O-lineman fire against a man to their left, they get them moving in that direction, and the DL who can best fight back often find himself receiving a cut block. This occurs when that great big lineman (For the ZB, we're 'only' talking 290, 300 lb, although Clady is about 325) drives into the outside of the thigh, an area called the IT or iliotibial band (it is a strap of tough tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh, from the hip down to the knee, a flat piece of what amounts to gristle that is supposed to protect the outside of the leg as well as holding certain things together. Properly hitting this, by the way, hurts like heck (police often use PR-24s or riot batons to hit here because it works so well. ). It hurts for a couple of days or more and it means that if you are the recipient of that kind of block multiple times in a single game, you just don't walk the same for a few days. You don't chase down a lot of RBs from behind afterward, either, and D linemen tend to just plain hate that block. It hurts like the dickens.
While this organized chaos is occurring, the running back in the system that Dennison, Turner and company were supposedly running will create what are called cut-back lanes. The running back has to do two things at once, and they are polar opposites. He has to wait until a lane develops (if he doesn't, everyone knows. He looks like he's trying to find his girlfriend in a crowd of other athletes). Or, he needs to make a single cut into or through a hole and to get quickly into the second level. It's not an easy skill to learn and a lot of running backs just aren't cut out for it. It's also true that you are usually cutting back 'against the grain' of the play.
But if it works, when it works, there are great lanes that go backward, 'against the grain'. It's the RB's job to find that crease, and to hit it at exactly the perfect moment since such holes open and close quickly; at times, almost immediately. Once in a great while you'll have one of those 'Continental Divide' kinds of holes the ones you could build a highway through. Those are often the ones after which we congratulate ourselves on how good our running back is, but they tend to start with the zone blocking line getting everyone moving in the same direction.
Which, when you think of it, is a pretty good metaphor for the game.
But let's not forget what really mattered by the end of the Jets/Chargers game. No matter how good you are, if you make enough mistakes and just plain give the ball (and some points, like three missed FGs and a timely unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for kicking a challenge flag by none other than Vincent Jackson) to the other team for a while, you don't tend to win the game. That's what the Chargers have managed, and oddly enough it earned Norv Turner a long term contract extension.
Nate Kaeding was/is a great kicker, but he has choked in a few playoff games now, and that will probably earn him a serious look-see in the new offseason, despite Norv Turner's assurances that he'll be back. Rivers was intercepted a couple of times and the Chargers added more troubles to their own list, including 10 penalties, four of them major. Does anyone recall when Buffalo was unstoppable in getting to the Super Bowl and hapless once there? It was so embarrassing that some of the fans moved away.
Apparently, a lot of them went to San Diego. They get a little less to suffer. Not much, but every little bit counts. `Chargers fans have become the Cubs West, the Indians of the football world, the team that can't get it done. This year, they were getting healthy at the right time, earned a bye week and were playing their best football. They were at home against a wild card team and were beaten by none other than themselves. The Jet's barely had to be one the field, not to take anything away from a heck of a performance.
Let's hope that next year the Broncos can step up and take the division crown away. San Diego can't seem to make it over the hump. It's time for someone else to take a try. Developing the running game is one of the first things on the list that will lead to that.