Running Scheme Will Boost Lynch and Raiders Offense

marshawn lynch oakland raiders offensive scheme offense

Our Sr. NFL Analyst, Chris Reed, is back with a look at how the Raiders’ new running scheme will not only help spotlight Marshawn Lynch, but how it makes Oakland’s offense better all around.

Any discussion of the Oakland Raiders’ regression in 2017 seems to center around quarterback Derek Carr, and rightly so. He is undeniably the conductor of the orchestra that is the offensive unit. Every great leader needs someone they can count on, though, and for a quarterback, the running game is that someone.

During Carr’s 2016 MVP-level campaign, the rushing attack ranked sixth in the league in yards. Keeping defenses guessing with a balanced attack played an immense role in the team’s success. That trusted running game dropped to 25th in yards last season. The team’s rushing attempts dropped from 11th to 30th. Former offensive coordinator Todd Downing put the offense squarely on Carr’s shoulders without much to work with.

He also is a smart guy. He’s obviously going to try to stick with the strengths that we have. We have some big strong guys. We’re going to be running zone and stuff like that, but it’s never going to be lateral. He never wants to be lateral, it’s going to be more downhill. – Osemele on Tom Cable

Coach Jon Gruden is going to resurrect Oakland’s offense with a potent running game. It isn’t just the fact he will focus on running the ball, but how. Gruden has continually spoken about scheming to his players’ strengths, and it sounds like he is putting that philosophy into practice. When it was announced that longtime offensive line coach and former Raiders head coach Tom Cable would be joining the staff, the prevalent thought was the team would run mostly outside zone. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

“He also is a smart guy.” Oakland guard Kelechi Osemele said of Cable. “He’s obviously going to try to stick with the strengths that we have. We have some big strong guys. We’re going to be running zone and stuff like that, but it’s never going to be lateral. He never wants to be lateral, it’s going to be more downhill.”

With running back Marshawn Lynch joining the team last season, Downing employed a good deal of outside zone, expecting it to benefit Lynch. While the concept plays to the strength of the running back, it essentially neutralized the offensive line’s advantage in sheer power. Our friends at Pro Football Focus broke down Lynch’s production by running concept and it highlighted this effect.

Lynch averaged 3.8 yards per carry on outside zone runs, but also gained at least one yard after contact on about 90 percent of his attempts last season. Outside zone certainly takes advantage of Lynch’s ability to read blocks and anticipate a cutback lane. He also employs an elite jump-cut that, when used in conjunction with his “Beastmode” power running style, creates a nightmare for defenders.

The simplicity of coaching outside zone is what makes it so prevalent. Where blocking assignments in power and gap schemes can vary depending on the defensive front, outside zone utilizes rather simple rules. An offensive lineman blocks the defender in their gap, and, if there isn’t one, they climb to the second level. Of course, like most things, it takes practice to master. The issue, though, was not a case of the line’s inability to execute the system as much as there being better options that maximize the physical skill- set of the offensive line.

A return to more inside zone and power-based runs will allow the offensive line to exert its will on the defense.

A return to more inside zone and power-based runs will allow the offensive line to exert its will on the defense. It will also serve to wear down the pass rush, which will be yet another benefit to Carr. Lynch had an absurd 8.3 yards per carry on power runs last season. As it went with most things that showed promise, it wasn’t utilized enough, with the team only getting Lynch 18 carries under the concept. Gruden will not repeat that mistake.

A return to the combination blocking scheme employed by former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave could benefit the team, as well. Allowing the linemen to knock the defense backward while giving Lynch freedom to pick his lane would be the best of both worlds.

Former running back Latavius Murray averaged 4.0 yards in 2016 en route to 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. The system termed “Gap-Duo” is often referred to as “power without a puller.” It centers on initiating combination blocks on defensive linemen, then having an offensive lineman “scrape” off to block the second level. This concept would fit Lynch perfectly.

It doesn’t take much to imagine utilizing new fullback Keith Smith as a lead blocker while the line knocks the defense off the ball. Lynch will be difficult to bring down when hitting the point of attack with a head of steam. There hasn’t been anything said to suggest this as a possibility, but the scheme familiarity, as well as the personnel match, make the idea intriguing.

Gruden is identifying his players’ strengths and employing schemes that take advantage of them. That sounds like an obvious plan of attack, but as Raiders fans can attest, common sense is not that common. Expect the offensive line to control games this season. The ability to run the ball has been underappreciated. It will not go unnoticed this season. If the Raiders are to return to the playoffs, it will start with the big guys in the trenches.