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The Zone Blocking Scheme Could Take Time?


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http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/dallas-cowboys/headlines/20141010-how-much-credit-should-bill-callahan-get-for-cowboys-improved-rushing-attack.ece

By RAINER SABIN Follow @RainerSabinDMN

Staff Writer

Published: 10 October 2014 07:14 PM
Updated:

10 October 2014 10:18 PM

IRVING — As the Cowboys have won four of their first five games, powered by a balanced offense, praise has been heaped on new play-caller Scott Linehan. But a lot of the credit should go to the man he replaced, a coach who was demoted and denied a chance to seek other job opportunities in Cleveland and Baltimore during the offseason.

Bill Callahan, after all, is the man who implemented the zone blocking scheme — the foundation of the team’s prolific running game that has opened a new dimension within the offense at the same time it’s helped stabilize the defense.

“He has been an integral part in the success,” center Travis Frederick said.

The Cowboys, once reluctant to rely on anyone but quarterback Tony Romo, are now carried by DeMarco Murray.

Murray is the league’s leading rusher, a player on a record-setting pace who has galvanized a team producing 160 yards per game on the ground, the second-highest average in the league.

The gains being realized have been years in the making. In 2012, when Callahan first arrived as the offensive coordinator and line coach, it would have been hard to envision the Cowboys pounding away at opponents like they have in the first five weeks of this season.

The year before Callahan was hired, Dallas was 18th in rushing and had a blocking front that included rookie seventh-round pick Bill Nagy, undrafted center Phil Costa and aging right guard Kyle Kosier.

Revamping the offensive line had become one of the organization’s top projects, and Callahan was brought in to oversee its development.

As the Cowboys procured better personnel — using first-round choices to select left tackle Tyron Smith, Frederick and right guard Zack Martin in a span of four drafts — Callahan nurtured the nuanced zone blocking system he installed.

The scheme, which requires precise coordination, was accompanied by a learning curve and growing pains. In Callahan’s first year in Dallas, the Cowboys ran for 1,265 yards — a franchise low over a 16-game season.

“It takes time,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You get better over time, when you do stuff and you get better players in there.”

In other words, it’s a process, as Garrett likes to say.

Last season, when Callahan served as the play-caller, things finally began to click. The zone plays that shunted Murray to the edge began to meld with the more traditional gap-blocking concepts, helping Dallas disguise its intentions.

With Callahan’s right-hand man, Frank Pollack, supervising the offensive line, the Cowboys showed signs that they could attack teams on the ground. In fact, over the last eight weeks of the season, no team averaged more yards per carry than Dallas.

“I think any style it’s a matter of being committed to what you’re doing and having the repetitive game reps and practice reps, really doing it over and over,” Callahan said. “And everybody being tied into it. Not just the line. You are building that timing and rhythm.”

But even though the Cowboys were experiencing tangible success, they weren’t committed to running the ball, choosing instead to desert the ground game at the first sign of struggle. Last season, only Atlanta had fewer rushing attempts than Dallas.

It didn’t appear as if anything would change when Linehan was hired in January during a staff upheaval that marginalized Callahan and left him with the same responsibilities he had when he came to Dallas in 2012.

Linehan’s title, which was passing game coordinator, hinted at his philosophy, and he had a history of leaning on his quarterbacks.

But Linehan has defied expectations by relying on the rushing attack Callahan helped grow.

“Bill and Frank do such a great job putting together some ideas for the run game,” Linehan said. “The concepts are very sound and fit very much what our offensive line does well and our running back does well. We have been building on that.”

Not much, however, is left to finish. The project Callahan undertook has been virtually completed. The running game that had been one of the Cowboys’ most noticeable weaknesses has become perhaps their greatest strength.

And only months after he was demoted, the impact Callahan has made is apparent. So how much credit does he deserve for Dallas’ early-season success?

“A lot,” Murray said. “Yeah, a lot.”

Playing the run

A look at how the Cowboys’ running game has improved during Bill Callahan’s three seasons with the organization:

Season 2012

Att. 355

Rk. 31

Yds 1,265

Rk. 31

2013

336

31

1,504

24

2014

163

T-3

2,354

1

*** Like I mentioned in the post I made the other day about us having 5 free agents after the season. Konz came from a zone blocking scheme in college, so did Cowboys O-lineman, Travis Fredrick and Zack Martin. As you can see from above when you are put in the right situation you succeed. That why I like our draft this year.

Edited by Truth B Told (TRU)
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Zone blocking requires coordination. It's not about the individuals, it is truly a team effort.

We are switching to this system and it will take time for it to develop. I can already hear the fans complaining mid-season that we can't run the ball.

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I don't think the Cowboys success at ZBS was due to experience. They used 3 of 4 first round picks on the OL and finally had Murray healthy(and in a contract year).

If a player is good at ZBS then they shouldn't need all season to gel. If they aren't good at ZBS then they will never gel.

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Someone posted some stats when shanahan was first hired. Every time he switched to a new team, the first year that team was below average in rushing. Then jumped to the top starting the second and third year.

I have gotten an undeserved reputation for posting negatively. While I am truly negative on some issues (and after our past two seasons, there SHOULD be some negativity), I more often preach about leavening expectations with reality.

I don't want all the Mary Sue Sunshines in here mid-October crying about how everyone and everything is a FAILURE! We are a rebuilding work in progress.

It will take time to restock talent.

It will take time for that talent to gel.

It will take time for Quinn to grow into his role.

It will take time to implement systems, and tweak them to fit our players.

I fully expect another race for the top draft pick this year. I do not view that as negativity. I am willing to invest a year into the team's learning and growing into a championship model. I do not ask for, nor expect, a winning record this year. All I need or want to see is growth, improvement, and evidence that the plan is coming to fruition.

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We did run some zbs last year so it's not completely new. Honestly it's more a health thing. Last years initial starters were quite good...injuries...I don't buy the no name OL thing anymore than I did mocks having us draft a 7th rounder to start at rb

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There will be growing pains but I like the pieces we have, at least for the most part. Morgan helped squeeze blood from the stone called the Seahawks' O-line talent with their own ZBS, I said repeatedly last year that Matthews' best fit in the NFL was as a ZBS LT and the main reason I didn't want him was that I thought he'd be a terrible fit as a MBS RT (funny how things have turned out), and Hawley, Asamoah, and Schraeder all fit well into a ZBS. There is the obvious void at LG but I'll just have to hope Morgan can make these pieces work together and help coach up whoever plays LG.

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You are giving us half of the story:

Dallas struggled with their commitment to the run, which delayed the progression of the ZBS. Callahan was a non play calling OC, which meant the problem (Garrett's inability to control himself, still existed). It was not until Jerra stepped and stripped Garrett of playcalling and gave Scott Linehan the control, that the true effects (repitition, exhaustion of the defense, confusion on play action, confusion of similar formations and misdirection) of the ZBS could be seen.

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2014/02/dallas-cowboys-owner-jerry-jones-says-garrett-not-callahan-was-teams-offensive-coordinator-in-2013.html/

Shannahan has had much quicker results, because there has never been any confusion. This doesn't mean we will magically finish #1 in rushing, but there won't be ANY playcalling power struggles and Shanahan has shown a willingness to stick with the run, that allowed the Browns to gash us up top and stay in a game they should have been blown out of because of their terrible QB...that ultimately cost us a playoff berth!

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You are giving us half of the story:

Dallas struggled with their commitment to the run, which delayed the progression of the ZBS. Callahan was a non play calling OC, which meant the problem (Garrett's inability to control himself, still existed). It was not until Jerra stepped and stripped Garrett of playcalling and gave Scott Linehan the control, that the true effects (repitition, exhaustion of the defense, confusion on play action, confusion of similar formations and misdirection) of the ZBS could be seen.

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2014/02/dallas-cowboys-owner-jerry-jones-says-garrett-not-callahan-was-teams-offensive-coordinator-in-2013.html/

Shannahan has had much quicker results, because there has never been any confusion. This doesn't mean we will magically finish #1 in rushing, but there won't be ANY playcalling power struggles and Shanahan has shown a willingness to stick with the run, that allowed the Browns to gash us up top and stay in a game they should have been blown out of because of their terrible QB...that ultimately cost us a playoff berth!

What would you say if Shanahan said the same thing?

We believe in the outside-zone scheme, Shanahan said. Its something I do believe in very strongly. And the main thing were going to get these linemen when they get in here is we just want to get them to run. Theyre going to run a lot more than they ever have before. Were going to try and challenge the defense from sideline to sideline, not just between the tackles.

And its a challenge to get guys to run and yet still be as physical as anybody. So theres an element there where its not just lateral, but its getting downhill, too. It takes time to develop. Theres nowhere Ive been where you get in right away and guys just get it. Youre usually asking them to do stuff that they havent done consistently throughout their career. But when you get the commitment from guys to do it, you rep it all the time, guys usually come around.

Edited by Samuel David Baker
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