When Alfred Morris shifted and rambled his way through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense for a 39-yard touchdown run, he gave the Redskins an 18-point, second quarter cushion.
The play showed just how effective the Redskins have become at executing head coach Mike Shanahan's zone-running scheme. Here's a look at how Washington's zone-blocking freed Morris for a big score against the then top-ranked run defense in the NFL.
The Redskins have been outstanding at outnumbering defensive fronts on the play side in the running game. The screen shot below shows one way they've been able to do it.
The Redskins align two tight ends to the left side with Fred Davis as the in-line blocker, next to left tackle Trent Williams. The highlighted portion shows Logan Paulsen just behind in a flex, H-back position.
The Buccaneers only have seven defenders in the front, so the Redskins alignment gives them a pre-snap win on the left. By not bringing a safety down to adjust, or stacking a linebacker on that side, the Tampa Bay defense is presenting a soft edge to the Redskins.
At the snap, the Redskins blockers shift and create room for others to quickly move into space. The screen shot below shows how Washington's zone-blocking locks down the first and second levels of the Buccaneers' defense.
The first highlighted portion shows Davis(83), take on the defensive end and seal the edge. This allows left tackle Trent Williams(71), to slide inside and take out the defensive tackle.
With Williams on the tackle, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is free to move up to the linebacker level. The second highlighted portion shows Lichtensteiger and Paulsen block both the middle and weak-side linebackers.
Morris now has a natural and huge hole to attack. The final significant contribution is made by much-maligned wide receiver Josh Morgan(15). The screen shot below shows the wideout moving across to make a key block.
The highlighted portion shows Morgan intercepting advancing safety Mark Barron, who has moved down from his deep position to meet Morris in the hole. This telling effort leaves Morris one-on-one with the last defender cornerback Eric Wright(21).
Morgan's contribution is certainly part of the play design, as you can see him clearly turning and moving inside to look for the safety, in the second of these screen shots. Morris then held up his end, outwitting Wright with a subtle step and a deft turn, to complete the longest scoring run of the Redskins young season.
Blocking like this is why so many runners have thrived in Shanahan's zone-based system and why many pundits often believe any back can run effectively in it. The Redskins front five still struggles in pass protection, but there's no doubt they have become technically refined and efficient in executing zone-blocking.
If they can continue to work this effectively, Morris should have no trouble producing similar big plays against any defense. If any Redskins fan is having a vision now, it's of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spending 40 minutes of next Sunday's game standing on the sideline.