Without running back Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, the Oakland Raiders turned to versatile fullback Marcel Reece to handle the bulk of the rushing duties against the New Orleans Saints. Reece put up 103 rushing yards and added 90 more through the air in his second career start at running back. Reece’s performance rivaled McFadden’s best performances of 2012.
Reece not only performed, but he did so by executing the zone-blocking scheme that the Raiders want to use. The zone scheme has been much maligned as a poor fit for McFadden, and the Raiders chose to mix in man-blocking plays to try to get things going.
Reece’s performance begs the question: Is he a better option at running back than McFadden?
It seems ridiculous, right? Reece is a versatile fullback and McFadden is (or was) the most talented player on the team, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Of course, production in the running game is a combination of three factors: the running back, the offensive line and the opposing defense.
The Saints are one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL, and it’s reasonable to assume that Reece had one of the easier matchups of the entire season, but that doesn’t tell us how Reece or the offensive line performed and whether Reece is a more favorable option at running back than McFadden.
Example No. 1
When a run is successful or at least moderately successful, many assume the blocking was also successful. That’s not always the case. The running back can make defenders miss with their agility or use power to run over smaller defenders. Sometimes a successful run is entirely due to good blocking, and sometimes it’s entirely due to a good play by the running back.
Was it good blocking or good running by Reece that led to his big day? Let’s take a look.
On this play, the Raiders have seven blockers against seven defenders in the box. If the Raiders simply block one man each, Reece will only have to beat a safety. Safety Roman Harper crashes the box once he reads run, but it’s the weak-side linebacker who is going to make a stop after a nice Reece gain.
Fullback Owen Schmitt is asked to make the backside block while the entire offensive line drives the defense to the right, which creates a beautiful running lane for Reece. Unfortunately, left tackle Jared Veldheer is out of position to make a block at the second level.
Cooper Carlisle holds his block long enough for Reece to squirt by untouched, and Stefen Wisniewski does a nice job sliding off the double-team and taking one of the linebackers completely out of the play. Veldheer completely whiffs on his block and appears to realize it when it’s too late.
Reece would first be contacted more than two yards beyond the line of scrimmage and would power his way through the linebacker for a couple extra yards.
This play required no complex read or special moves by Reece. Six of the seven blockers executed perfectly, and only Veldheer’s error kept it from being an even bigger gain. Reece benefited here from an offensive line that created a huge running lane and allowed him to get his momentum going forward before he was contacted.
That’s not to take away from Reece, who plowed through the linebacker to get an extra yard, but there’s nothing he did on this play that McFadden can’t do. This was a straight forward run that the offensive line executed to near perfection.
Example No. 2
Again the Raiders have an equal number of blockers as defenders in the box. Two blockers will have to get to the second level to make blocks on the linebackers after first helping double-team the defensive linemen. The receivers also block.
It’s hard to see, but right guard Mike Brisiel missed his cut block and is on the ground (yellow arrow) and the defensive tackle gets a free release into the backfield (red arrow). On many occasions this play would be stuffed in the backfield unless the running back makes a great play. In this case, Reece is forced to take the play outside.
Wisniewski gets to the second level quickly and engages the middle linebacker while Brandon Myers helps on the end before disengaging to block the linebacker.
Wisniewski does a good job staying engaged with the defender, and Myers gets a good block on the other outside linebacker. All Reece has to do is get past the first line of defenders and he’ll have a good gain. Jared Veldheer gets just enough of the defensive end for Reece to turn the corner.
If you can get your running back into the secondary you’ve done a good job. Reece showed good patience to get around the edge, but the blocking made it possible for him to go untouched into the secondary. McFadden has shown much better patience in recent weeks but could stand to learn a thing or two from Reece here.
Reece and the offensive line are a little lucky that Brisiel’s blown block didn’t impact the entire play. Wisniewski, Veldheer and Myers all executed their blocks, and they are what enabled Reece to turn this run into a good gain.
Except for when Harper was crashing on the run, Reece was hardly ever contracted behind the line of scrimmage. The blocking scheme never accounted for a crashing safety, which is why it was pretty effective at slowing the Raiders down on Sunday.
Reece did a good job of executing the scheme and is further evidence that the zone scheme works. However, a much bigger factor than the running back was the blocking. The offensive line will not have to prove they can execute the scheme against a better defense and considering the breakdowns on both of the above plays, that’s still a very big question mark.
It’s a testament to Reece’s ability that he can transition seamlessly from slot receiver to fullback to running back and stay productive, and that’s what he brings to the table for the Raiders. It’s clear that Reece should continue to be heavily involved in the offense, but there’s a reason the Raiders will be glad to have McFadden back.