By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Saturday, August 18th, 2012 at 2:00 am in Oakland Raiders.
Anyone hoping the Raiders will junk or alter their zone blocking system in short-yardage and goal line situations _ and judging from what I’ve read from Twitter followers it’s a good number _ will be disappointed.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is a ZBS (zone blocking system) guy from his days with Alex Gibbs with the Atlanta Falcons. Dennis Allen was there too, and he agrees. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack was hired off the staff of the Houston Texans specifically because he could teach what Allen and Knapp want to execute.
The background is this _ Tom Cable, also a Gibbs disciple _ is a huge believer in zone blocking. Without getting overly complicated, it has to do with closing off gaps and giving cutback lanes to runners, then cut-blocking on the backside. Dancers need not apply. Make the correct read, put a foot in the ground, and then go.
Cable had to give up the strict adherence to zone blocking when Al Davis brought in Hue Jackson as the offensive coordinator, and Jackson immediately went to running back Darren McFadden and asked him about his favorite plays. Some of those plays included runs where there was no thinking or reacting involved before making a cut. Simply take the ball and go.
Included were gap and power runs not employed by the Raiders. Jackson put them in immediately and lo and behold, McFadden flourished in Year 3.
A lot of that had to do with health, of course. Probably most of it. Because McFadden looks fine running zone plays so far. The beef comes in short yardage, where there’s a school of thought that linemen don’t fire off as quickly in a compacted area and it hurts near the goal line and when defenses are stacked to stop the short run.
For what it’s worth, I addressed that topic with Pollack recently and this is what he said:
Q: Can the zone scheme be just effective in short-yardage and near the goal line as power and gap schemes?
Q: Why would that be the case? Isn’t it sometimes easier to go straight forward rather than wait for the `one-cut’?
Pollack: The zone scheme is a misnomer, we’re not playing laterally. It’s not a soft scheme. We’re coming off the ball, north and south, it’s just how we’re accomplishing our scheme where we’re not staying on specific defenders. We’re working through gaps, sorting out the trash if you will, we’re playing north and south and downhill. The goal line is just an extension of our zone scheme with maybe an extra two guys to block and we’re adding two extra guys to block as well on offense.
McFadden got stuffed on two goal line runs as well as failing to gain a yard to get a first down. And still finished wtih 34 yards on nine first-quarter carries.