Zone read crash course

June 13, 2013

When you see Robert Griffin III hand off to Alfred Morris, do you always understand what you’re looking at? We found some videos that might be able to clarify elements of the zone read. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Yesterday, after Kyle Shanahan spoke, most of the Redskins-related headlines, ours included, were about how Washington won’t stop running the zone read or how the plays actually serve to take pressure off Robert Griffin III.

That sounds great and all, but what if you’re a casual fan who doesn’t really know what a zone read is? Or perhaps a semi-die-hard who sort of knows a zone read or a read-option play when he or she sees one, but couldn’t turn around and explain it to someone else?

Enter the website FishDuck.com. We’d prefer to do our own work, and do a Redskins-specific explanation, but we are not permitted to use NFL video footage, footage of the Redskins practicing or still images captured from game footage. Kent Babb wrote a detailed breakdown of the Redskins’ offensive evolution before the playoff game last season, with a graphic showing how one play develops, and Mark Maske and John Keim have some zone-read work forthcoming. But meantime, if we’re playing by the rules (and not everybody does, or has to), I can’t think of a better place to turn.

Charles Fischer runs a University of Oregon-specific Web site, and puts his outstanding teaching videos — meant to be a level below a coaches’ tutorial and more advanced than what game announcers tell you — online. These are relevant to Redskins fans not only because former Oregon coach Chip Kelly now runs the team Washington faces in Week 1, but because Kyle Shanahan mixes zone read into his play-calling.

Fischer’s tutorials on the inside and outside zone read are each about 12 minutes long, but if you have the time, invest it. In a short span, you’ll learn to distinguish an IZR or OZR just by looking at the formation (3:00 mark of first video below, 3:30 of the second) and how to tell an inside or an outside zone just by watching the way the offensive line comes off the ball (4:15 of second). Those two things alone could change how you understand what you’re watching as you’re watching it.

There are other great tidbits in the first video, like how the zone read is used to neutralize the opponents’ best defensive end or outside linebacker (6:00 mark) and how the quarterback reads the unblocked player to make him take himself out of the play (6:15). Fischer phrases it as, “it doesn’t matter where he goes, the ball ain’t there.” Also, at 10:20 there are the three keys to the inside zone.

Here’s the video:

In the second video, the best teaching points are at 4:15, where you learn how offensive linemen use the defenders’ instincts against them; at 5:45, when a center times his assignment so he can block two guys; at 7:30, where it shows how using eight in the box can lead to the offense pinning the defense in that box; at 8:15, the three keys of the OZR, and at 10:35, a pass play set up by running the OZR well. Here it is:

There will definitely be some differences between what you see Oregon running in 2011 and prior, and what you see the Redskins (or 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers or Kelly’s Eagles) run in the NFL this season, but it’s a good base to begin from. As a basic tutorial to help many of us understand what we’re looking at on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, that’s pretty well done. And no rules were violated … that I know of.

(For the truly die-hard, there’s a whole FishDuck instructional series here, and plenty of breakdowns of NFL offensive innovation with words and stills. Here are three, but you can find more if you’re willing to search the internet. You could also pull up NFL Rewind, if you’re subscribed, and check out the Bengals, Giants Week 13 or Cowboys Week 17 games for some unique looks at the Washington offense).

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim (starting July 1) | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

More coverage:

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D.C Sports Bog: Wilbon calls Goodell’s support for ‘Redskins’ gutless

Broncos release RB Willis McGahee

Eagles T Peters arrested for drag racing

Redskins waive DE Worthington and TE Peterson, add WR Henderson, K Potter

Redskins sign WR Donte Stallworth, as expected

Mike Jones’s observations from Wednesday’s practice | Photo gallery

Kyle Shanahan says Redskins don’t need to change offense to protect Griffin

Haslett is excited about three rookie defensive backs

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