It has been beaten to death that the preseason isn’t indicative of what is going to happen in the upcoming year and that reading too much into can be a big mistake.
Players blow up every preseason just to end up on practice squads and veterans struggle just to play the best year of their careers, so on and so forth. These games are barely planned for and thus rarely are predictive of success on a team or individual level once the regular season starts.
However, there are tidbits of knowledge for each team sprinkled into every preseason game if you are looking in the right areas. An individual player might show a skill that has greatly improved or people didn’t know he had, or a team may show a different base coverage scheme. Maybe a team shows an affinity for quick, rhythm passing with timing concepts.
Happenings like these don’t mean that they will come true, but they are bits of information you can begin to read into and be on the lookout for when the regular season begins. This past week, the Chiefs showcased a few additions to their running game with some interesting run designs the Chiefs showed off vs the Atlanta Falcons compared to years past.
The Chiefs and zone running
For most of the Andy Reid, era the Chiefs have predominantly been a zone-blocking running attack, operating heavily with outside and inside zone running concepts with the occasional counter mixed in. These don’t appear to be going anywhere, as they still made up over 50 percent the Chiefs first team’s running plays.
The past two years, the Chiefs have drifted more and more to relying on outside zone as their primary running attack, as it fits their offensive line and running back personnel and will still remain as a staple of their ground game.
A run Chiefs' fans should be more familiar with over the recent years, outside zone with jet motion. Great job by Beasley (I think) to cross Schwartz and force the holding penalty. Want Wylie to make better contact at the 2nd level but he got there fast & LB had to go around him pic.twitter.com/RoW13GHwTL— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
A pretty common running concept for the Chiefs over the past few years is this outside zone/stretch run with Tyreek Hill flashing a jet sweep across the backfield. It’s a pretty basic blocking principle for an outside zone, which does probably change as the year goes with some center or play-side offensive guard quick pulling around the offensive tackle, but those are the kinds of nuance you don’t normally get in the preseason.
The Chiefs have excelled with outside zone, largely due to their athletic offensive linemen, who can work laterally and then shoot into space well. They drill breaking down at the second level and how to make contact with athletic defenders heavily, which also lends a hand to this running attack.
This play resulted in a hold on Mitchell Schwartz—most of the Chiefs outside zone runs this preseason have fallen victim to one offensive lineman not holding up his assignment, which is a potential downfall of the run design.
Something the Chiefs may consider utilizing more that still operates with similar principles as the outside zone is a heavier inside zone rushing attack. The inside zone hasn’t disappeared completely from the playbook, but it’s seen a smaller and smaller share usage compared to outside zone and even counter runs as you explore the progression from year to year.
The play before the "illegal formation" should be a TD off the Inside Zone. Wylie does a good job of helping his backside gap then getting to the 2nd lvl. Erving combos with Morse to set him up then knocks back the LB trying to slip in. Hunt's gotta see that one. pic.twitter.com/RopfwbRJcV— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
Inside zone is run from the goal line, and the Chiefs got a huge push to the play side with offensive guards Cam Erving and Andrew Wylie working up quickly to the second level.
While inside zone still requires athletic OL and lateral movement, it’s a little bit less about reaching defenders and pinning them but rather allows blockers to work vertically into a combination block then disengage to the second level. It’s been a super small sample size thus far, but the interior OL on the Chiefs seem to be having a little bit more success working vertically than laterally.
Erving, in particular, looks more comfortable when allowed to push straight ahead and then break down in space against a linebacker rather than trying to slide laterally and work around defenders in close proximity to him.
Both of these plays are traditional zone runs that much of the NFL has shifted too as OL become more athletic and they allow a little more leeway from their blockers.
The Chiefs made a switch to a majority zone-based running attack upon Reid’s arrival but still mixed in man and gap blocking from time to time, especially post-Jamaal Charles.
In 2016, the Chiefs began to phase out more of the power and nearly all of the man-blocking plays, apart from specific situational football (like in goal line, short yardage, etc.). As mentioned at the top, preseason isn’t great as a crystal ball but from time to time, it does show the smoke before the fire, so to speak.
New blocking schemes on the horizon
Chiefs come out of the gate mixing up their "norm" in terms of blocking scheme. A HB dive behind pretty straight forward man blocking, good combo by Morse and Erving then working to the second lvl. Would like to see Hunt follow Sherman but assume Fish's block effected decision. pic.twitter.com/FcVbkLPQyw— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 20, 2018
Here is a another example of Erving and the interior offensive linemen operating cleanly in a vertical-based blocking scheme. This was a halfback dive, in which the Chiefs ran a pure man-blocking scheme, something rarely seen since 2015.
Again, the interior offensive lineman gets a good push up the middle, flattening some defensive linemen and getting hands on linebackers to open up running lanes. Mixing in man-blocking elements similar to this can allow the Chiefs to keep front sevens from slanting and trying to shoot running gaps of the predictable outside zone heavy running attacks.
Anthony Lynn and the Buffalo Bills had a devastating rushing attack a couple years ago in part because of Tyrod Taylor’s ability to run but also due to the multiple rushing attack they utilized once he took over.
A defense couldn’t slant its defensive linemen in fear of power schemes with down blocks, they couldn’t run blitz the second level, in case there was an outside zone the opposite direction or couldn’t simply stand and two-gap in fear of pure man-blocking form the big uglies.
It’s not always simple to install multiple blocking styles in a short amount of time the NFL teams have with players in the offseason anymore but when you have all five starters returning (or, the fifth being on the team and seeing playing time last year) it makes it easier to build on what was there last year while adding some new concepts.
Good vision by Darrel Williams on the IZ, the trap blocks lands and he's able to slip inside of it and work upfield. If Ehinger gets any push on the LB, this is Williams vs a DB with a head of steam. pic.twitter.com/J6AmN9Kgoo— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 18, 2018
The Chiefs come out in a spread formation, and if you told a defense they were about to run the football here, they’d guess outside zone with a slim chance of inside zone.
The Falcons slant their line toward the running back while the second-level linebackers work to the opposite side of the formation. The overhang and apex defenders stay put reading the play all to cause disruption through the zone-blocking principles and limit the cut options by the running back.
Fortunately, for the Chiefs, they ran a power trap out of this formation and the down blocks to the backside of the formation leveled the slanting defensive lineman.
The backside offensive guard came across for the trap block and effectively took out the two remaining defensive line while the play-side offensive tackle immediately worked up to the second level. The block at the second level could have been a hair better but overall this play completely caught the Falcons off guard based on the past tendencies of the Chiefs in terms of their running design.
"Smashmouth" Power, I really like the idea of having the OT take the DE instead of moving to the 2nd level. Instead of using one of the two pulling players to wham/trap block, both can get through the gap as the backside bubble holds the LBs. Now, just gotta drive/seal the NT. pic.twitter.com/f8WjzCm5j4— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 18, 2018
This is another power run blocking scheme but with a bit of a twist.
Yes, it’s out of the spread again and there is a bubble attached to the backside which appears to just be dressing to freeze the linebackers for a second while the backside (strong side) offensive guard and tight end pull around.
We get the down-blocks from the play-side guard and center and where this sees a slight difference is with the play-side tackle.
With the running back lined up to the play side of the formation, a typical power scheme (or counter, which this could just as easily be called) would have the tackle work quickly to the second level and allow the first pulling blocker to wham the defensive end.
The issue with that occurs against teams with aggressive ends that attack the quarterback, thus mesh point, without worrying too much about the run. With the either a counter step or the fake bubble to allow the pulling blockers to cross the formation, a single defensive end can blow up this entire play immediately.
Allowing the left tackle to stay home and seal the defensive end from the play allows both pulling blockers to be aggressive up through the hole into the second level. The fake bubble acts as enough pause for the LBs that there isn’t any ground lost at the point of impact of the second-level blockers.
Matt, what does this actually mean?
Just in this single preseason game, the Chiefs effectively used four separate blocking schemes: outside zone, inside zone, gap/power, and man. Of those four different schemes, the gap blocking schemes had the highest yards per carry, but as highlighted above, the Falcons simply may not have expected that blocking scheme to come at them. The Chiefs still ran the highest volume of zone, specifically outside zone, blocking schemes so monitoring the utilization and success of each design will be something interesting to keep an eye on going forward.
It’s impossible to tell how much stock will be put into the film of a preseason game but advanced scouts working for early season opponents of the Chiefs certainly have taken notice of these differences.
The Chiefs’ new outlook on blocking scheme versatility may not have its own section yet in the playbook for the game plan against the Chiefs but there will certainly be notes about it and if it continues to pop up here against the Chicago Bears in Week 3 of the preseason or early on in the regular season all opponents will take notice.