The Washington Redskins today announced former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as their new head coach, taking over from the recently fired Mike Shanahan. Gruden has spent most of his career in a West Coast Offense, similar to the system that Shanahan brought to the Redskins. That should make the transition from system to system fairly easy for Robert Griffin III and Co., although there will be changes in the terminology. But Shanahan packaged the West Coast scheme together with his favored zone-blocking running scheme. Shanahan required smaller, more agile lineman to run his system. In Cincinnati, Gruden used aspects of the zone scheme, but also incorporated more power-based running plays.
With pure zone runs, Gruden preferred to stick to inside zone plays, rather than the stretch game we’ve come to know from Shanahan.
Here’s a typical zone play from Gruden. The offensive linemen are going to work together to block to the right and create cutback lanes for the running back.
As the runner takes the handoff, a cutback lane has already developed for him.
The runner cuts back and gets up field for a gain of seven yards. Looks very familiar to the inside zone plays we’ve seen from Alfred Morris in Shanahan’s system. It essentially is the same play, but the terminology might change. While inside zone runs were labeled 14/15 under Shanahan, they might be numbered 96/97 under Gruden.
Gruden didn’t run too many stretch plays in Cincinnati. That was Mike Shanahan’s bread and butter outside running play. Instead, Gruden likes to pull linemen outside as lead blockers on the edge.
Here, Gruden pulls his center, right tackle and tight end from their original positions and bounces them outside as lead blockers.
The running back secures the toss and now has three lead blockers running ahead of him.
The center cuts off the inside of the play while the tight end secures the edge. That leaves the right tackle on a defensive back, which is always a winning matchup for the offense. These kinds of outside running plays were never seen in Shanahan’s offense. He had a bounce play, that allowed the right tackle to bounce outside of the tight end, but never did you see three blockers pulled from their original position and used on the edge as lead blockers as we see above. Gruden reserved these types of runs for his speed back in Cincinnati, Giovani Bernard. I wonder if he’ll allow Morris to run these kinds of plays, or save them for the quicker Roy Helu Jr.
One new play for the Redskins to learn is a staple of the offense Jay Gruden’s brother, Jon, offense ran in Tampa Bay: 96/97 power.
Power plays are different from the Shanahan zone schemes. In zone, all the offensive linemen move together as a unit. For power runs, however, the offensive line pulls one of its lineman, usually a guard, and has them become a lead blocker for the running back. In the picture above, you can see a typical power run.
The left guard is pulling from his position and working his way to the right side of the line. Meanwhile, the center, right guard and right tackle all down-block the defensive lineman. Down-blocking allows them to attack the defender at an angle, making it easier to get leverage and control the block. The running back will follow the pulling guard into the hole created from the down-blocks.
A linebacker attempts to fill the hole, but the pulling guard comes around the corner and kicks him outside, creating a lane for the running back right up the middle of the defense.
These power runs weren’t common in the Shanahan era, although they did occur on occasion. But generally, they require bigger, stronger linemen that can dominate defensive linemen at the point of attack and move them off the spot. Shanahan built his offensive line with the zone scheme in mind, and as such, left Washington with smaller linemen. If Jay Gruden wants to consistently run power with success, one of his first tasks will have to be rebuilding the offensive line and adding more strength up front.
What about the read-option? I expect that is here to stay in Washington for as long as Griffin is. Gruden ran some read-option in Cincinnati with Andy Dalton, despite initially admitting he wasn’t a huge fan of it. He adapted his scheme to add certain read-option plays. I didn’t see him use the pistol formation, with the quarterback standing three yards behind center and the running back lined up directly behind him. Instead, Gruden preferred to stay in the shotgun, with the back offset to one side of the quarterback.
Here you see Bernard lined up to the right of Dalton, rather than behind him.
Just like Robert Griffin III does, Dalton will read an unblocked defender and make the decision to hand off or keep it based on what the defender does. On this play, the defender drops back to stay with the tight end, which tells Dalton to hand the ball off to Bernard.
There are advantages and disadvantages to running the read-option this way. The Shanahans liked to run it from the pistol so that the defense, and more importantly, the defensive ends, didn’t know which way the run was going. That way, when it come to using play-action or just running passing plays from the pistol, the normally aggressive pass-rushing defensive ends were forced to wait that extra second to see if they were being read on a read-option play. The way Gruden runs the read-option, with an offset back, does tell the defense which side the run is going and which end is being read. But using an offset back like this has its advantages too. The running back gets a much better angle to the ball and through the run. It’s also a much more common look in the passing game, so the defense can’t be sure if the play is a run or a pass.
Gruden also made use of packaged plays, something that Washington helped introduce into the NFL in Griffin’s rookie year, but went away from somewhat this season.
Here is one of the more common packaged plays around the NFL right now. Gruden combined an inside run with a wide receiver screen. Dalton can opt to hand off the ball, or throw the screen based on his pre-snap read of the defense. Here, the Ravens commit two defenders and a deep safety to the screen, so Dalton knows he’s going to hand off before the ball is even snapped.
From there, it’s an inside running play. Again we see how Gruden likes to use power runs, pulling the left guard to act as a lead blocker.
That left guard comes around the corner and kicks out the incoming defender, making room for the running back to get upfield and pick up positive yardage. This is a play that Gruden might adjust with Griffin as his quarterback. Gruden could add a read-option twist to this play, by leaving the backside defender unblocked and allowing Griffin to read him. You can see above how Dalton begins to execute a fake. With Griffin’s running ability, only a slight adjustment would have to be made to make an already effective packaged play, into an even more potent play.
It will be very interesting to see just how much Gruden adjusts his offense to his personnel in Washington. I expect sorting out the offensive line to be high on his list of priorities. He has a lot of power-based run plays in his Bengals playbook. If he wants to bring those to Washington, he’ll need to rebuild the offensive line with personnel that fit that type of scheme. He could look to free agency (His left tackle in Cincinnati, Anthony Collins, is a free agent this offseason and could move to the right side) or the draft (Griffin’s former Baylor teammate Cyril Richardson looks to be one of the top guard prospects) to help upgrade the offensive line to fit his schemes.
● Players react to the hiring of Sean McVay as offensive coordinator.
● At 4 p.m., an At the Podium, with collected tweets and reaction from Jay Gruden’s introduction.
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