Alfred Morris signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent after spending his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins. His new contract is for 2 years, $3.5 million, with $1.8 million guaranteed. On paper this appears to be a good signing as the Cowboys have a superior offensive line. In this breakdown, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between the two rival schemes to predict his success.
Before I begin, I think it’s important to look at the coaching tree involved in this transaction.
Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack
Bill Callahan, current Redskins’ offensive line coach, was the Cowboys’ offensive line coach from 2012-2014. During that period, he helped compile one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. He coached up a generational talent in Tyron Smith (LT), while selecting Travis Frederick (C) and Zack Martin (RG). After seeing his success, the Redskins decided to steal him from the Cowboys to build a similar line for them.
While Callahan was in Dallas, Frank Pollack was his assistant offensive line coach. Once Callahan accepted the position with the Redskins, Pollack was promoted to offensive line coach.
Why is this important? Both coaches actually run the same scheme.
Zone Blocking Scheme (ZBS)… But Not the Shanahan Zone
If you read my breakdown on Alfred Morris’ fit in Bill Callahan’s scheme from last summer, you will understand the basics of the scheme, but if not I’ll give you a brief overview. As always, please check out the Beginner Series if you have any questions on the basics of the plays or concepts listed below.
This scheme is based on zone blocking, but it is not the same scheme that was run when Mike Shanahan was the head coach of the Washington Redskins that put Alfred Morris on the map as a rookie. This scheme is quite a bit different.
In this scheme, Callahan and Pollack call zone blocking plays, outside or inside zone, roughly 80-90% of play calls. Instead of favoring the the outside zone to set up the inside zone cutback, Callahan and Pollack use the combination blocks of the inside zone to blast open holes between the A-gaps of the defense. Outside and inside zones are called at roughly a 1:1 ratio, while Shanahan clearly favored the outside zone. Same plays, different purposes.
For example, here are the Redskins and the Cowboys running the outside zone. Both Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden did a great job of reading their blocks and not wasting any extra time in the backfield to cut up the hole for a moderate gain.
In the inside gap play call, both teams line up with eight men near the line of scrimmage using multiple tight ends. Typically it’s the double teams that the running back are looking for, but in these two examples, the defense brought enough players to the line of scrimmage that allowed the running backs to cut outside. An ideal result.
Outside of zone blocking plays, the other 10-20% of play calls are based on power running concepts. This involves using two lead blockers for the running back. The first play is the counter power or counter OF, while the second play is just the classic Power O.
Power plays work to overload one side of the field with men, which is why the counter OF can be used well in this scheme. Once a defense starts flowing after some outside zone runs, you fake one direction, get the defense moving, and then overload the other side of the line.
This scheme requires larger, more adaptable offensive lineman. They need the endurance and quick feet to run outside zone, while it requires the same offensive lineman to be strong at the point of attack. This skill-set allows an offensive lineman to stay relatively larger than a Shanahan lineman and therefore be better in pass protection.
In order to execute both running styles, you need a running back that possesses one-cut running abilities on zone runs, while he has to have the balanced patience to set up blocks in power runs. Finding both qualities is very difficult in the NFL.