More on Alfred Morris and the zone read

July 23, 2013
Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris are both in the running for NFL rookie of the week honors. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Together, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris posed quite a running threat, but individually, each was plenty successful. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

John Keim went back and watched every Alfred Morris run from last season, and counted 57 of them for 334 yards out of the zone read. He wrote a story for Monday’s print editions that discussed why fellow Redskins think Morris is primed for more success. It also showed how Morris would have had a very nice season even if you’d eliminated the zone read altogether.

Because of space limitations in print that we don’t have here on the blog, some of John’s analysis was streamlined for the story. Here are some excerpts that didn’t run in the original version that die-hard fans might still find interesting:

On Morris’s season, had it not included the threat of Griffin keeping the ball on zone-read plays:

Take away the zone read and Morris still would have averaged 4.7 yards per carry and gained 1,279 yards in the regular season. That would have ranked seventh in the NFL, ahead of three Pro Bowl running backs (Frank Gore, Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller). Based on his numbers, had Morris never run a zone-read play and those other 57 carries had come from a different formation and followed his average, he would have gained 1,627 yards (including the playoffs).

Here’s a quote on Morris from an opposing defensive coach, expanded from what ran in the story:

“He’s not a flashy player,” said one defensive coach who requested anonymity because his team faces the Redskins this season. He has spent part of the offseason watching Morris’s tape. “He believes in the scheme. He presses the hole, he’ll one-cut or keep pressing. People say if [Roy] Helu had been in there, he would have had 1,600 yards or if [Evan] Royster would have been there, he would have had 1,600 yards. But the way [Morris] runs is totally different than those guys. He got a lot of his yards after contact. He earned it. That’s what good players do. . . . I didn’t see him every game, but it was rare I ever saw him tackled in the backfield.”

There were also a few examples from specific games that John looked at which came out of the story. These two plays, from the first win over the Eagles, shows how Morris used patience and one cut in Washington’s scheme — the base run plays, not anything where Griffin threatens to keep:

The first one: The Eagles overloaded the Redskins’ strong side with five of their eight defenders positioned to that side. The Redskins, in the pistol formation, ran the other way. Left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger executed a double-team block, with Williams peeling off and heading to the linebacker. Center Will Montgomery reached another one and fullback Darrel Young blocked the corner. Morris went untouched for 16 of his 17 yards.

The second one: Two plays later, with Griffin under center in a one-back set, Morris took the handoff and ran hard inside to the right. The linebackers overpursued to that side, and when Morris cut back through a wider gap than usual, three blockers needed to win one-on-one battles. They did. Morris gained 20 yards, going untouched for nine yards.

On the 57 zone-read runs for 334 yards, John observed that 155 yards came after contact, supporting the theory that the option of Griffin running made defenders slow to get to Morris, and not in form to make a good tackle when they did get to him:

It often led to holes where defenders couldn’t touch Morris until he was downfield, a major benefit to him. He gained 155 yards after contact on these runs last season. He lost yardage on 30 carries; only two came out of a zone-read look. And he had 22 carries of six yards or more from this formation (including 13 in the last seven games). But that percentage (one every 2.6 rushes) is not as good as his percentage of such runs on any other run (a six-yard carry every 3.7 carries).

A couple more examples that John pulled from specific games:

The Giants struggled against this formation more than anyone, allowing a combined 86 yards on 10 carries. A nine-yard run in the first meeting shows how Morris was helped. Tight end Niles Paul, aligned behind the left guard, pulled to his right. The linebacker on that side went with him, creating a cutback lane. The other defenders played passively, and Morris wasn’t touched until he was five yards downfield.

Minnesota shut down Morris, holding him to 47 yards on 16 carries — but he gained 36 yards on seven zone-read runs. Against Baltimore, Morris gained 70 yards on nine zone-read carries. The disciplined Ravens’ defense struggled until holding him to minus-2 yards on his final two such runs. But on the first play from scrimmage, Baltimore’s Paul Kruger, aligned at end, aggressively ran right to where the handoff occurred, hesitated and then went at Griffin. Meanwhile, the other linebackers stayed back and a chasm was created; Morris ran 18 yards before getting touched en route to a 29-yard gain.

And, because why not, here are the numbers in graphic form (h/t Mitch Rubin):

For tomorrow’s print edition, Mark Maske took a look at the zone read and the success of mobile young quarterbacks, and how defenses are trying to adjust.

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 | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

Also from The Post:

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Magazine: The book on Griffin

D.C. Sports Bog: Chris Cooley to replace Andy Pollin on ‘Sports Reporters’

Redskins want to extend Orakpo’s contract

Redskins’ Doughty ready for familiar challenge

Morris’s success is a product of more than the zone read

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The Early Lead: Ravens’ Jones fails conditioning test

No deal yet on HGH testing | Bog: Garcon on HGH, team’s name

The Early Lead: Ray Lewis on Aaron Hernandez case

Do No Harm, Part 5: Football as the (dangerous) Long family business

Going Out Guide: Fan’s guide to training camp in Richmond | Where to park

Going Out Guide: What to look for in Richmond

Keim’s pre-camp position previews: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | CB | S

The Other 31: AFC East | North | South | West | NFC East | North | South | West

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Keith McMillan · July 23, 2013

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