Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Time to Scrap the Zone Blocking Scheme

Everyone is looking for solutions to pull the Green Bay Packers out of the rut they are in.  We know the defense is going to be a liability with all of the injuries, but is actually playing well enough for a high-powered offense to win handily.  It is the offense that is disappointing week after week, and Mike McCarthy seems helpless to make a change that will make a difference.

So, I am offering my Solution #1:  It's time to scrap the Zone Blocking Scheme.

Now, anyone who has read my blog over the last five years or so know that I've never been a fan of the ZBS...or the entire "the scheme will fix everything" mentality that came with it in 2006.  But the time has come to go back to the kind of running game we had with Ahman Green...a straight-ahead power game that allows offensive linemen to worry more about pushing guys backwards instead of where they're going to lay their chop block.

Let's be honest.  The Packers haven't run a true ZBS scheme since the first half of 2006 anyway, when first-year coach went against the scheme and started mixing in some sweeps and other plays not native to the scheme.  Why?  Easy...because the ZBS wasn't working.

Look, the whole point of switching to the Zone Blocking Scheme was for one reason, and one reason only:  it worked amazingly well for the Denver Broncos, so it must be able to do exactly the same for us.  Terrell Davis ran for at least 1,100 yards in four consecutive seasons (including one with 2,008), and then it seemed that no matter which street free agent they brought in, they also ran for 1,000 yards (Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis).  Heck, it must be the scheme.  Right?

One problem.  The Packers are not having the same dominating results that the Broncos once had.  Oh, sure, Ryan Grant has had a couple of 1,000-yard seasons, but that's a far cry from leading the league in rushing yards, season after season.  The Zone Blocking Scheme, now in its fifth season, is not doing what it claimed it would do for us.

And you only need to look at the past few games to see how much McCarthy even trusts the running game.  Take away Aaron Rodgers' 34 rushes, and the Packers have only attempted 100 rushes in six games, second-lowest of all the teams without a bye so far.  Does this sound like the Denver Broncos vaunted running games of the late 1990's?

If it's broke, fix it.

My biggest gripe that I have repeatedly (and passionately) harped on over the years is that you can't just adopt a scheme and have it "work".  The Broncos didn't develop the ZBS because they bought it off the shelf.  They developed it because of the talent that they had to work with, and that talent wasn't conventional power run-game talent.  So, they worked the scheme around the talent and had success with it.

But, that isn't how the Packers approached it.  After the Packers had lost Marco Rivera, Mike Flanagan, and Mike Wahle, they adopted a scheme that they thought they would be able to plop guys into and it would work like a machine with interchangeable parts.  Then, they set about trying to find the talent to fit into the scheme.

That's the big error in judgement...assuming a scheme supersedes talent.  It doesn't.  Veteran tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton were far more effective in the power run game in the early 2000's, and the middling talent brought in through the draft never quite developed into the Denver Broncos.

That's the other shoe that dropped:  Ted Thompson never had to invest high draft picks or take any dives in free agency along the offensive line because the scheme would allow mid-round draft picks to develop into Pro Bowlers.  And, we know how well that worked out.

So, where does that bring us now?  We're running an scheme that is so ineffective that we don't even run it 100% of the time, and we don't trust the overall running game enough to give our primary running back more the 10 carries a game.  Meanwhile, the offense has tried to turn into the Aaron Rodgers Show (publicly petitioned for by Aaron Rodgers himself), and the results speak for themselves.  In the last two weeks, against mediocre competition, the Packers are 5-26 in third down conversions and have generated a mind-numbing -12 cumulative yards on three overtime possessions. 

Sure, the injuries to Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley hurt.  But the defense has suffered far more injuries (and perhaps, more critical injuries) and are still holding up.  The offense has hurt the D even more by being unable to control the clock.  The Packers have only three possessions all season of six minutes or more, and none in the last two weeks.

But injuries can't be an excuse. You still have a Pro Bowl quarterback who passing out of the shotgun over 20 times a game, and it isn't working.  It's time to change the scheme.

And what scheme do we switch to?  The one we should have switched to from the start:  a scheme you design around the strengths of the talent you have available to you.  So, what do we have?

* A super-accurate quarterback who needs time in the pocket to go through his reads.

*  Two backup running backs who have demonstrated the ability to break open some runs when they can get past the first level.

*  Three guys, Tom Crabtree, Quinn Johnson, and Korey Hall, who can lay some wood on defenders.

You saw what the Dolphins did to the Packers yesterday:  they took Rickey Williams and Ronnie Brown and just ran them right up the middle and dared the Packers to stop them.  In the end, they controlled the clock and the ballgame, because the Packer defense was exhausted from having to be on the field so much.

So, yes, Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood will be much closer to the center.  Instead of trying to make every play himself, one way or the other, he can feel the security of three backs behind him, making defenses have to respect it.   And, even on pass plays, Rodgers can go back to his bread-and-butter that changed things around last season:  the three-step drop, instead of sitting back in the shotgun.   It's one thing to advertise the pass, but its another thing completely when you aren't passing well, are taking sacks, and your receivers can't get open.

But, you say, won't going back in a power-I or Jumbo package advertise that we're running?  Of course it will.  And then you do what football is all about:  you beat them anyway.  Remember when Mike Flanagan used to walk up to the line and tell the opposing defense exactly what play they were running and which way Ahman Green was going to go?  And then they did it, and it worked.  THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is football.

Look, I love the West Coast Offense as much as anyone, but the screen pass to Brandon Jackson yesterday was the first well-executed screen the Packers have done in over ten years.  Misdirection and draws and traps are great, but in the end, you need to be able to punish the defense, mano-y-mano.  And if you don't believe me, ask the Dolphins, who did it very well yesterday.

Go back to the Redskins game, and you'll see two plays where the Packers did exactly that:  Crabtree and Hall lined up in the backfield and allowed Jackson, then Kuhn to rush for 6-8 yards.  Six to eight yards per play will keep the chains moving, and as the defenses move more men up in the box, Rodgers can then have time to do what he does best:  a three-step drop and deliver a ball on the money, without feeling defenders coming at his jaw.

The biggest hurdle in all of this is that the Packers don't appear to have patience for picking up nickel-and-dime yardage at a time.  They want to get down the field fast, as evidenced by their average time of possession landing in the low three-minute mark.  But, after two overtime losses to teams that simply shouldn't be beating us at all (injuries notwithstanding), the time has come to start rethinking how this offense approaches the line of scrimmage.

And the first step is to get rid of what isn't working, starting with the Zone Blocking Scheme.


Packerhq said...

Very nice write up. Whats odd is I have seen some power gap sprinkled in and it almost looks as if it confuses things more then helps.
I really think it 's a matter of execution and I have no clue if this staff can get it done.

Joel said...

It shouldn't alarm anybody that the Packers sprinkle non zone blocking plays. This is the NFL, you have to be able to run every kind of play there is. The ZBS is still our staple and while its never been reproduced to Denver standards, it does produce and is producing everywhere else in the NFL. The scheme will only get better in recent years as our tackles are replaced with ZBS friendly tackles.

KING MIKE D said...

Man you did your thing on this I like your blogg