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Oakland Raider: Could The Zone-Blocking-Scheme Be Holding Them Back?

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Oakland Raider: Could The Zone-Blocking-Scheme Be Holding Them Back?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The zone blocking scheme was developed for a few reasons:

First in order for teams to counter line-shifts without the o-line having to adjust assignments.

Second so that smaller (athletic) line-men can be effective despite size and strength disadvantages.

And to counter increasingly athletic pass-rushers by utilizing more athletic o-linemen.

Today in the NFL the ZBS is catching on with about a dozen of the teams in the league running it.

And it has seen some success:

Mike Shanahan installed it in Denver, and it made an unspectacular Terrell Davis look great. But it is being reported that Josh McDaniels is doing away with the ZBS in Denver.

With the ZBS, the Seahawks were able to make it to the Super Bowl behind the rushing of Shaun Alexander, who at the age of 32 is no longer in the NFL.

And in 2007 Al Davis hired Lane Kiffin, who brought in Tom Cable and the ZBS. With the blocking system the team ranked sixth, 10th, and then 18th in rushing.

Rather than being assigned a defender, o-linemen are assigned an area in the ZBS. And if no one is in the area, the o-linemen continues through the area he is assigned, assists in a double team, and/or continues to the second level to block a line-backer.

In the simplest terms and situations, o-linemen are responsible for a gap directly next to them.

Common rule terminology for an o-linemen in the ZBS is gap-down-on, meaning his first assignment is his gap, his second is a defender head-up on the guy next to him, and the third progression is the defender head up on the o-linemen.

In the rare occasion there isn't a defender in any of those three areas, the o-lineman still fires through his designated area on the way to the line-backers.

For example the center would be responsible for one A-gap, say the A-gap to his left in this instance, and he has a nose-tackle lined up head up on him.

At the snap of the ball the center takes a forward lateral step. If the defender moves to the centers left, the A-gap he is responsible for, he becomes the center's responsibility.

If he moves to the right, he is now the guard's responsibility.

If the defender is playing a two-gap technique, where he engages and tries to control the center but doesn't commit to either A-gap, then it complicates things a little.

Since the defender is head up on the center, he is also down from the guard. And with the assignments typically being gap-down-on, that makes the defender the guard's responsibility because he is "down" from him. And unless there is a defender head up on the left guard or in the A-gap between the center and the left guard, the NT is also the centers responsibility.

In this case a double team would occur until the guard has control of the defender, then the center would chip to the second level and find a line-backer.

Also if a defender slants or blitzes into the A-gap, he is the centers responsibility.

In a ZBS, the o-lines assignments, essentially, are dictated by what the defense does at the snap of the ball.

The ZBS uses angles, team-work, trickery, and mis-direction to help the o-line overcome physical disadvantages that o-linemen in the ZBS typically have and requires the o-line to beat the defensive front as a unit.

This is opposed to the man blocking scheme, which relies on individual battles to be won. Each o-linemen also has to prove he is bigger, stronger, meaner, and just plain better than the guy lined up across from him.

This is yet another way the Raiders have gone away from what we as fans have known as the Raider way and is proof that Al Davis is either: A. Giving up some control or B. losing control of his football team.

Look no further than what the Raiders have done over the years and the defensive scheme they implement, and you will realize Al Davis believes in winning individual battles... Like a man power blocking scheme.

Look no further than the Raiders' roster, and you will see they haven't fully committed to the ZBS.

Smaller, athletic o-linemen are ideal in the ZBS, yet in 2009 the Raiders brought in 6'8'', 370lbs Langston Walker.

Sure, some players have experience in the ZBS prior to becoming Raiders: Mario Henderson, Cooper Carlisle, Erik Pears, and Samson Satele.

But for every player who fits into the scheme or has experience there is another who just doesn't belong or have experience in the scheme outside of Oakland: Robert Gallery, Langston Walker, Khalif Barnes, and Cornell Green.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that one scheme is better than the other or that one of the two groups listed above is better than the other either.

What I'm saying is the Raiders need to either:

Commit to the massive behemoths that Al Davis loves and that are so ideal in a man blocking system like Langston Walker and Robert Gallery.

Or fully commit to the ZBS and players who fit in the scheme like Mario Henderson and Samson Satele.

Furthermore, the blocking scheme also affects the running backs.

In man blocking the running-back knows exactly where the hole will be before the snap. He takes the ball full speed ahead, no thinking, no hesitation, and no adjustments. The scheme is great for down-hill runners, and though useful, vision is not needed.

The ZBS, on the other hand, requires a little more from the running back, at least in a mental aspect, since the hole is dictated by the defense's actions at the snap of the ball. The running back not only has to be able to see how blocking develops, but be able to make the correct decision on where to go, and he has to do it without hesitation.

Running backs also need vision and patience in order to allow blocking to develop in front of them and see any cut-back lanes that may develop.

Unfortunately, it would seem that only two of the three Raider running backs have developed this skill set. Michael Bush and Justin Fargas seem to be getting it down.

Darren McFadden, the Raiders' most over-hyped back, on the other hand, hasn't. He has not only had trouble holding on to the ball, but adapting to the ZBS as well.

So what should the Raiders do? Continue with the ZBS or go back to the power blocking scheme they ran for so many years before Kiffin came to the Raiders?

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