Lions Running Attack 2017

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Blitz
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:20 am

A very interesting area of our Leos upcoming 2017 season will be our running attack.

2016 LEOS RUNNING GAME

Last season our Leos led the CFL in rushing yard with 2,082 yards. We also led the CFL In rushing attempts and had the highest gain per rush at 5.6 yds. :

In breaking down 2016 rushing:

B.C. Lions

Jeremiah Johnson: (11 starts): 809 yds (5.9 yd. average)
Anthony Allen: (starts) 406 yds. (5.0 average)
Chris Rainey: 309 yds. (8.6 yd. average)
Shaq Murray Lawrence: 51 yds. 3.0 yd. average
Terrel Sinkfield 51 yds. (10.2 yd. average)
Rolly Lumbala: 46 yds. (11.5 yd. average)

What really put us over the top, in terms of being the CFL's leading team in rushing was Jonathan Jennings, who added 363 yds. of rushing to our totals.

Our rushing totals should have been even higher had we:

1) not made the unwise decisions to insert Tim O'Neil for Hunter Steward and Levi Adcock for Antonio Johnson for a few games
2) had more diversity in our running attack than using mainly the inside zone read play all season, which resulted in a number of failed attempts at second and short yardage.

KEYS TO OUR SUCCESSFUL RUNNING GAME IN 2016

1. Offensive Line Play

But overall, one had to be very pleased with our running game last year. A key aspect of that success was our blocking up front. We were mostly successful running to the left side, with Jovan Olifioye making key blocks, Hunter Steward pancacking defensive tackles and often getting into the second layer as well, and the impressive play of Cody Husband, who was moved up from the practice roster and really developed into a starting offensive lineman by Doug Malone, who brought his notable coaching resume to our Leos in 2015. We had a lot less success running right.

2. Fresh Tailbac
The concept of using two different starters at tailback kept our tailbacks fresh last year. Jeremiah Johnson especially had a lot of jump in his step and moves after being rested. Johnson started 11 games while Allen started 7 games for us.

3. Chris Rainey

Chris Rainey was exceptional in his rotational role as a tailback last year. He averaged a phenomenal 8.6 yds per carry. He had to lobby Wally hard and often for an increased role in our offence.

4. Use of the Tailback in the Passing Attack

Chris Rainey added 252 yds of reception yardage. Jeremiah Johnson (131 yds), Anthony Allen (91 yds.) Rolly Lumbala (70 yds.) and Shaq Murray Lawrence (11 yds) added to the total as well. Our taibacks, by being used in the passing game brought added 555 yds of passing. In comparson, Andrew Harris pass reception total for Winnipeg was 631 yds. so we didn't lose very much in our passing attack by not signing Harris again while we improved our rushing numbers.

WHAT WILL OUR RUSHING ATTACK LOOK LIKE IN 2017.

It appears that our running attack could be impacted by two decisions for 2017.

ONE STARTER AT TAILBACK?

We signed Jeremiah Johnson to a new contract for 2017. Johnson had an excellent season for us in 2016. But we have not signed Anthony Allen.

Therefore, at this juncture, we don't know if Wally is going to use Johnson exclusively as our starting tailback or whether he will alternate him at times with an International tailback to keep Johnson fresh.

INCREASED USE OF RAINEY

We could keep Johnson fresh this season by giving him some games off or we could use Chris Rainey more at tailback. Rainey would love that and certainly his rushing average and his abilities as a receiver make him a dangerous weapon when he lines up at tailback.

With Chris Williams signed to the roster, Wally could spell off Rainey in terms of touches at returner by using Chris Williams in that role at times. Williams could spell off Rainey for kickoffs or use both, depending on the situation. Chris Rainey returned 58 kickoffs last season (23.8 yd average). Chris Williams was not used much in the role of a punt returner in Ottawa. He only returned 12 punts for a 9.4 average.

Chris Williams only returned 6 kickoffs last season for a 20.3 average whereas Chris Rainey returned 68 punts for a 13.9 yd. average. Chris Williams would have to be used more as a return man in 2017 to enable Chris Rainey to play more on offence.

3. OFFENSIVE LINE

Offensive line changes could also impact our rushing attack in 2017. If we trade Olifioye it would man moving Steward to left tackle (where he has played before and is his natural position), moving Kirby Fabian to left guard, and starting Vaillencourt at right guard. That would mean three positional changes for the offensive line if that happens. Steward was also able to open big holes at left guard last season as he had the size and strength to take on big defensive tackles. Consistency usually menas improvement for an offensive line and we will not be able to build upon the consistency we established in the second half of last season.

POTENTIAL INJURY

Another question mark going into this season is who will our backup International tailback be. Even if we decide not to use two different starters at tailback, we do need a good tailback should Johnson get injured. Wally is up against the SMS. That has meant he didn't have the money to sign Allen or a different but proven International tailback like Shakari Bell, Brandon Whitaker, or Curtis Steele as a second International tailback. Shaq Murray Lawrence has been underwhelming as a tailback and returner so far.

At this point, that will mean we would be going with a rookie International at tailback should Jeremiah Johnson get injured. Josh Harris is the only other Intnational tailback we have on the roster right now.

RUNNING GAME and TAILBACK OFFENSIVE STRATEGY

Our Leos used the inside zone read play almost exclusively last season, as they have for many seasons. Basically our running game has been to hand the football off to our tailback, with our offensive line either zone blocking left or right. We mixed in a delayed inside zone read last year for a couple of games, with a quick fake reverse prior to handing off the football to the tailback.

We basically count on our offensive line to make key blocks with a predictable attack and our tailback to be able to run to daylight, often using the cutback to do so.

We mix in an occasional tailback toss every 2-3 games and the very rare screen pass.

However, if we increased our diversity, our running attack could be much more dangerous. The stretch play (outside zone read), the fullback dive, (Lumbala was very successful with this play but we used it rarely), the quick toss, an occasional shovel play and trap play would make our running attack much less predictable.

While we ran the football successfully on first down last year, (in part because if you load the box on us on first down Jennings will often beat defenses deep with the pass) we had our struggles with second down and short. Basically, opposing defenses put more defenders in the box than we had blockers. A linebacker was often able to knife into the backfield, creating penetration, and stopping us short often on second and two. We need much more imagination on second and short and being so predictable hurt us).

THE EVOVLING ROLE OF THE TAILBACK

There was a time when having a big, fast, strong, bruising tailback was the way to go. Teams only used one tailback and he needed to be able to take the many hits of a long football season. Bu the game has changed. Tailbacks need to be able to cut back quickly and sharply with the zone blocking scheme that is so popular today. Rotational backs are used to spell them off.

The tailback is also being used more as a receiver. Gone are the days when the tailback, when used as a receiver, was mainly just used for swing passes and the occasional screen play.

With defenses using situational players, offences, by using no huddle strategies, can line up tailbacks as receivers and use them to run patterns, creating mismatches. Chris Rainey last season was highly successful when we used him on crossing patterns. But we need to get more imaginative in how we use Rainey and Lumbala (when we use Lumbala in the two back set or tight end set). We could use Lumbala on more screen passes. We could use Rainey much more effectively as a receiver than throwing quick swing passes to him when defenses are playing press man coverage because the defenders are close to the line of scrimmage and can quickly peel off their receiver to attack Rainey behind the line of scrimmage.

WRAP

One tailback instead of two? Potential offensive line changes? How often will we use Chris Rainey and how as our taiback when he is rotated in? The predictability of our running attack on second and short. The lack of a backup International tailback at this point. All are questions as we prepare for the 2017 season.
"When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team". (George Raveling)

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WestCoastJoe
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:11 am

Good discussion, Blitz.

JJ24 was exceptional last year. Be nice to have a high level of Int tailback to spell him for a few games.

Rainey can flat out run inside. The Second Coming of Willie Fleming is also of course very dangerous receiving out of the backfield. I recall way back in the day, some felt Fleming should just be a wideout, too small to be a running back. Wrong. No reason to try to 'save' Rainey for KRs. We have depth with Williams and Iannuzzi for KRs.

OL. With Dan D on the scene one always wonders if he will get too much into the experimental mode. Plus the Jovan Olafioye situation causes concern. Yeoman work by the OL last year. Kudos all around.

Diversity of attack. As with soft zone D, which Wally wants, one expects a simple, predictable, pound the D, running attack, as this is what Wally no doubt prefers. One cannot help but recall us trying to ram the ball into the endzone with Rolly, three attempts that the whole world saw coming, especially the defence, stacked and prepared, firing off the ball.

Yes, Jennings certainly opens things up with his elusiveness, and ability to run the ball. Very, very effective. Would that we game plan to take even more advantage of our talents.

We got the makins'... No doubt defences will do their best to adapt to the success we had in 2016.
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Jimmy Johnson's Game Keys: Protect the ball. Make plays.

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Gridiron Ernie
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:44 pm

The running backs -- so vital -- such an exciting aspect of the game -- my eyes lit up and my heart skipped a beat just seeing the discussion topic title here, Blitz! Thanks for starting it off, fellows. I've admittedly no brain for scheme, but in flights of fancy my wild imagination sees (as an occasional option) Rainey and Williams on the field at the same time to play out the double reverse (or at least confuse the defense with that potential). I know trick plays by definition can't ever be a staple, but with their combined speed, one faster than the speed of light one way, the other faster than the speed of light the other way... well, once in a while, by sheer speed, that tandem might just pull it off in a big way -- and I'd be screaming -- out of my seat!

On another note -- another potential reason to scream (but not at all in a good way) is if one of our quieter heroes year in year out -- Rolly Lumbala -- can't be adequately substituted for/replaced if and when (God forbid) necessary. Whether suddenly our situation changes, due to injury or advancing years (yes he's mighty durable, but he's now one among our most senior Leos), what do we know about his back-up Nate O'Halloran? I don't recall O'Halloran ever getting any playing time experience in the backfield, but I could be wrong there. I guess my point is, Rolly's been so solid for so long, it's easy to get lulled into taking that for granted. I'm hoping for and fully expecting another fine contribution from # 46 for 2017 -- and dreaming (here goes my imagination again) that they might actually use him as more than just a blocking back. As others here have time to time suggested -- a tight-end type alignment now and again. A Lumbala reception (or two) for a TD some time this upcoming season would be sweet.

And, WestCoastJoe, about the 'Second Coming of Fleming', potentially aka SCOF (I suppose)... I actually looked that acronym up online (too much time on my hands today!)-- and found 'Southern Culture on the Fly' -- (albeit about fly-fishing, still, that term seems an apropos alternate definition for a fleet-footed running back from Florida!) Like I said, too much time...

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WestCoastJoe
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:16 pm

Gridiron Ernie wrote: And, WestCoastJoe, about the 'Second Coming of Fleming', potentially aka SCOF (I suppose)... I actually looked that acronym up online (too much time on my hands today!)-- and found 'Southern Culture on the Fly' -- (albeit about fly-fishing, still, that term seems an apropos alternate definition for a fleet-footed running back from Florida!) Like I said, too much time...
LOL :thup:

For fans from the 1960s Willie Fleming is a God.
(1963) Fleming had his finest season as a professional football player, as he rushed for 1,234 yards on 127 carries for an incredible 9.7 yard average.[9] -- The Wik
In 1959, Fleming and the 7-1-1 Hawkeyes defeated the University of California (and Fleming's future BC Lions teammate, quarterback Joe Kapp) 38-12, in the 1959 Rose Bowl.[7] Fleming scored 2 rushing touchdowns in the game, and finished with 85 yards on 9 attempts.[8] -- The Wik
I had some reservations about calling Chris Rainey that. But it is all good. There are similarities in size, elusiveness and speed, as well as playing style.

I will always remember the way Willie Fleming played. Chris Rainey has that kind of charisma and excitement as a football player.
John Madden's Team Policies: Be on time. Pay attention. Play like hell on game day.

Jimmy Johnson's Game Keys: Protect the ball. Make plays.

Walter Payton's Advice to Kids: Play hard. Play fair. Have fun.

TheLionKing
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:43 pm

There will never be another Willie Fleming.

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Gridiron Ernie
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:15 pm

I understand the reservation, but you're so right WCJ, Willie the Wisp was/is indeed idolized, and head and shoulders above the many, and deservedly so. Especially by any among us who are now getting a bit long in the tooth (or by the young folk who've studied the archival footage.) And I, along with many of us here I'm sure, share your sense/anticipation for fully enjoying at least some measure of that charisma & excitement combo courtesy of Mr. Rainey, should he be more fully utilized in the backfield (as is his wish). Even as we likely all agree, as TheLionKing says, there’s only one Willie Fleming.

That said, and I'm just playing with words here a wee bit, but while to you and many Fleming was God, to me he was I guess more a 'holy ghost' you might say, in that due to our somewhat ‘hillbilly’ family situation (geographically and financially) as it was when I was a kid, I never actually saw Fleming 'live' -- not even via TV telecasts till some years after the fact, since my sole connection with the Lions games back in my little village all through the 1960s was the radio and my imagination (with a little help from the voices of the dynamic play-by-play guys).

By 1970 our family and our neighbours had televisions and my pals and I were finally 16 and got wheels, and came to Empire when we could -- but alas legendary Willie was already gone. It was a mighty emotional day several years ago now when the Lions honoured their legends and a snow-haired Mr. Fleming was among those that attended -- still can in mind's eye see that convertible as if in slow-mo circling the field. Beautiful.

But fast-forward to the present... concerning another wisp of a guy, I too am expecting great things from Mr. Rainey, more fully complimenting JJ24 in the backfield this season. Here's hoping there's another legend in the making that the young folks will one day look back on with singular pleasure. I feel that anticipation for Chris R., along with others who’ve expressed it.

Anyhow... Not to throw a wet blanket on things in signing off with this more general concern, but, weirdly, we don't seem to have a running backs coach on staff -- still only the "assistant" (Mike Lionello) is listed on website. Those of you who have coached or played -- is that an important piece missing? Or do running backs, given how much they depend on their innate talent, do well enough on their own? I know, by comparison, the Eskimos for example have both a running backs coach and a offensive line/run game coordinator. Just a-wonderin’.

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Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:38 pm

Gridiron Ernie wrote:On another note -- another potential reason to scream (but not at all in a good way) is if one of our quieter heroes year in year out -- Rolly Lumbala -- can't be adequately substituted for/replaced if and when (God forbid) necessary. Whether suddenly our situation changes, due to injury or advancing years (yes he's mighty durable, but he's now one among our most senior Leos), what do we know about his back-up Nate O'Halloran? I don't recall O'Halloran ever getting any playing time experience in the backfield, but I could be wrong there. I guess my point is, Rolly's been so solid for so long, it's easy to get lulled into taking that for granted. I'm hoping for and fully expecting another fine contribution from # 46 for 2017 -- and dreaming (here goes my imagination again) that they might actually use him as more than just a blocking back. As others here have time to time suggested -- a tight-end type alignment now and again. A Lumbala reception (or two) for a TD some time this upcoming season would be sweet.
O'Halloran caught my eye in training camp last year and obviously caught Wally's eye too. He made the active roster as a seventh round draft choice and played the first six games of the season on special teams, but he recorded just one special teams tackle in those six games and didn't dress again. I don't know if he fell out of favour or just got squeezed out.

Lumbala is the best blocking back in the league and often lines up at tight end in rushing situations. He seldom touches the ball (4 carries for 46 yards and 8 catches for 70 yards last year) but that's mainly because he's more valuable as a blocker.
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TheLionKing
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:55 pm

I would like to see Lumbala used more as a ball carrier. The defence don't usually account for him. Seems like every time the Lions decides to utilize him, he gains big yardage.

Blitz
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Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:22 am

Gridiron Ernie wrote:I understand the reservation, but you're so right WCJ, Willie the Wisp was/is indeed idolized, and head and shoulders above the many, and deservedly so. Especially by any among us who are now getting a bit long in the tooth (or by the young folk who've studied the archival footage.) And I, along with many of us here I'm sure, share your sense/anticipation for fully enjoying at least some measure of that charisma & excitement combo courtesy of Mr. Rainey, should he be more fully utilized in the backfield (as is his wish). Even as we likely all agree, as TheLionKing says, there’s only one Willie Fleming.

That said, and I'm just playing with words here a wee bit, but while to you and many Fleming was God, to me he was I guess more a 'holy ghost' you might say, in that due to our somewhat ‘hillbilly’ family situation (geographically and financially) as it was when I was a kid, I never actually saw Fleming 'live' -- not even via TV telecasts till some years after the fact, since my sole connection with the Lions games back in my little village all through the 1960s was the radio and my imagination (with a little help from the voices of the dynamic play-by-play guys).

By 1970 our family and our neighbours had televisions and my pals and I were finally 16 and got wheels, and came to Empire when we could -- but alas legendary Willie was already gone. It was a mighty emotional day several years ago now when the Lions honoured their legends and a snow-haired Mr. Fleming was among those that attended -- still can in mind's eye see that convertible as if in slow-mo circling the field. Beautiful.

But fast-forward to the present... concerning another wisp of a guy, I too am expecting great things from Mr. Rainey, more fully complimenting JJ24 in the backfield this season. Here's hoping there's another legend in the making that the young folks will one day look back on with singular pleasure. I feel that anticipation for Chris R., along with others who’ve expressed it.

Anyhow... Not to throw a wet blanket on things in signing off with this more general concern, but, weirdly, we don't seem to have a running backs coach on staff -- still only the "assistant" (Mike Lionello) is listed on website. Those of you who have coached or played -- is that an important piece missing? Or do running backs, given how much they depend on their innate talent, do well enough on their own? I know, by comparison, the Eskimos for example have both a running backs coach and a offensive line/run game coordinator. Just a-wonderin’.
My favorite Leo of the great Joe Kapp/Tom Brown led Grey Cup competing teams of '63 and '64 was surprisingly Ronnie Morris, a Leo who played both slotback and defensive back for us. I was young and used to go and watch the Leos at every practice at training camp. One day, after a practice, Willie Fleming tossed a few footballs to me and it was a huge thrill. There was a show at that time called Time Out for Football and the program showed a very brief clip of Willie the Wisp tossing the football to me after practice, as the commentator said "Willie Fleming spends some time after practice with one of his young fans".

WILLIE AND CHRIS

Chris Rainey deserves the comparisons being made to to his talents and the talents of Willie Fleming. Fleming was 5'9" tall and played at 183 pounds. Chris Rainey is 5'9' and 180 pounds. Both can cut on a dime while running full speed. Speed and cutting ability were Flemings two main assets, as well as seeing the field and they are also Rainey's major assets. Surprisingly, Fleming, playing halfback for our Leos, was also a very tough, elusive runner when running inside. Rainey also brings the same attributes. Fleming was not just a scat back who ran to the outside. He liked the tough inside running. Chris Rainey does too.

Chris Rainey is also an excellent receiver, who can outrun defenders and make them miss, as did Fleming. Flemings 9.7 average per rush is often mentioned when he is discussed but often not mentioned is Flemings average yds. per reception, which are mind blowing: 1961: 24.2 yds. per reception 1962: 24.8 yds. per reception, 1963: 24.8 yds. per reception, and 1964: 16.5 yds. per reception.

No wonder most consider Willie Fleming the most exciting CFL player of all time.

USE RAINEY MORE ON OFFENCE IN 2017

From 1959-1961 Fleming was used for kick off returns but from 1962 on, the Leos coaching staff limited Fleming's work on kick off returns and used him much more as a running back and receiver. While I would like to see Rainey used on returns I agree with other posters that I would love to see Rainey used more on offence as a rotational back and have his workload shared in the return game with Williams and Iannuzzi. When you have a weapon like Rainey, you want to take advantage of his skill set. Rainey, just by coming in on offence, really opens things up for other players. Even decoying Rainey on offence brings significant advantage.

ZONE BLOCKING AND THE INSIDE ZONE READ

I understand why zone blocking has become popular in the pro game. Rather than attempting to man block the many different fronts a defense can bring, zone blocking is simpler, as each offensive lineman uses angles to block defenders in zone areas. But when a team like our Leos basically either zone blocks left or right for the running game and we only use the inside zone read running play either left or right, it's like eating oatmeal every morning. It becomes bland, relying mainly on execution. It also becomes predictable.

Offensive predictability advantages a defense. The major advantage an offence has is unpredictability. You don't want the defense to know whether you are running or passing. You don't want the defense to know how you will attack them in the running game or how you will attack them in the passing game.

By adding to the zone read play with a couple of trap block plays, by occasionally pulling a guard, by running a quick pitch or a power sweep (as Calgary does), by changing up with misdirection and handing the football off to your fullback, by using the stretch play, you spread a defense out. The running game needs to attack both the inside and the edges. It keeps the defensive ends honest, rather than sliding down the line of scrimmage. It prevents defensive tackles from just being 'stuffers' of an inside running attack.

One of the early advantages of the zone blocking scheme, which became so popular, was the tailback cut back play. The defensive end and the defensive tackle on the backside of the inside zone read would often over-pursue the flow of the play and get set up for the tailback cut back. The tailback would flow one way and then quickly cut on a dime to the backside of the play. But defenses have seen the zone read for so long that defensive lineman are now taught not to over-pursue the flow of the running play and are much better prepared for the tailback cut back these days. They focus on staying in their gaps on the backside of the play.

UPPREDICTABLITY IS AN ADVANTAGE FOR THE RUNNING ATTACK

By attacking the edge in the running game, an offence forces the defensive end to play honest and that opens up gaps for the inside zone read play. But if an offence does not attack the edge with the running attack, the defensive ends are not forced to line up as wide and that plugs the inside much more.

If an offence is almost exclusively an inside zone read running team, as our Leos are, second down and short becomes very predictable and the defense will put extra defenders in the box and run blitz us. That is what Winnipeg did last year and they stuffed us on second and short. Calgary did the same thing in the WDF. We need to address this in 2017.

If we are going into this season with only one tailback (Jeremiah Johnson) rather than using two starters as we did last season (Johnson - 11 starts, Anthony Allen - 7 starts) we will need to keep Johnson fresh in one way or the other.

HOW WILL WE DEPLOY THE TAILBACK POSITION IN 2017?

So how will we do that. Since it does not look as if we are going to sign Anthony Allen or any other free agent running back due to SMS concerns our other choices are:

1. Use a new International tailback as a starter for some games to spell Johnson off. A back like Josh Harris, at 5'10", 210 pounds with good speed might be an option. We obviously liked what we saw in Harris during his time on our practice roster last year. Harris was injured a few times in his last 3 seasons at Wake Forest but he does have elite speed.

2. Increase the use of Rainey in the backfield. Chris Rainey wants to play offence more. He brings a 'difference maker' elment to an offence and he can run inside, outside, catch the football well out of the backfield and also line up as a receiver.

3. Rotate in Shaq Murray Lawrence. I am not positive about this option. We used Shaq \Murray Lawrence as a rotational back at times as well and kick return man in 2016. Murray Lawrence had not seized his opportunities so far and only averaged 3 yds. per carry in 2016. He also has been uninspiring as a return man.

4. Utilize Rolly Lumbala in the running game more. Rolly Lumbala is an excellent blocker. He is used mostly as an off-set back or tight end. Lumbala could be used a a tendency changer for the running game as well as a misdirection screen man more often. As TheLionKing astutely notes:
I would like to see Lumbala used more as a ball carrier. The defence don't usually account for him. Seems like every time the Lions decides to utilize him, he gains big yardage.
The fullback misdirection screen was a favorite play of our Leos and Sean Millington made many huge gains from the play. Why we don't use that play with Lumbala is frustrating as he is often ignored by pass defenses.

USE OF THE TAILBACK IN THE PASSING GAME

While we are focused on the running game in this thread, the tailback position can also be a key position in the passing game. We need to incorporate our tailback not only more often but in different ways than just using the quick swing pass or the dump off.

Last season, Brandon Whitaker caught 81 receptions (6.8 yds. per reception) out of the backfield for Hamilton, Andrew Harris had 61 catches (9.4 yds. per reception) for Winnipeg, and Jerome Messam was a favorite target downfield for Bo Levi Mitchell with 54 receptions (9.0 yds per reception)

Anthony Allen had 16 receptions in 7 starts while Jeremiah Johnson only had 12 receptions. Only when Chris Rainey comes into the game (30 receptions) do we look for our tailback in the passing attack. Making our starting tailback more of an integral part of our passing offence, as does Calgary, Winnipeg, and others can we diversify our offence better and make ourselves much more difficult to defend.

Last season, defenses focused on defending Manny and Burnham deep and deep intermediate. They often cheated off our outside slotback and our field side wide receiver and double covered then with man underneath while deploying two safeties deep. That defensive strategy not only opens up the field side wide receiver or outside slotback but it also necessitates covering the tailback with a linebacker - a tremendous advantage for an offence that knows how to deploy the tailback in the passing attack.

However, other than using Rainey on occasion for crossing patterns, we mainly used our tailbacks, when we did, for quick swing passes and defenses, playing press man coverge, were most often able to come up quickly on the play.
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Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:28 am

Blitz wrote:I understand why zone blocking has become popular in the pro game. Rather than attempting to man block the many different fronts a defense can bring, zone blocking is simpler, as each offensive lineman uses angles to block defenders in zone areas. But when a team like our Leos basically either zone blocks left or right for the running game and we only use the inside zone read running play either left or right, it's like eating oatmeal every morning. It becomes bland, relying mainly on execution. It also becomes predictable.

Offensive predictability advantages a defense. The major advantage an offence has is unpredictability. You don't want the defense to know whether you are running or passing. You don't want the defense to know how you will attack them in the running game or how you will attack them in the passing game.

By adding to the zone read play with a couple of trap block plays, by occasionally pulling a guard, by running a quick pitch or a power sweep (as Calgary does), by changing up with misdirection and handing the football off to your fullback, by using the stretch play, you spread a defense out. The running game needs to attack both the inside and the edges. It keeps the defensive ends honest, rather than sliding down the line of scrimmage. It prevents defensive tackles from just being 'stuffers' of an inside running attack.

One of the early advantages of the zone blocking scheme, which became so popular, was the tailback cut back play. The defensive end and the defensive tackle on the backside of the inside zone read would often over-pursue the flow of the play and get set up for the tailback cut back. The tailback would flow one way and then quickly cut on a dime to the backside of the play. But defenses have seen the zone read for so long that defensive lineman are now taught not to over-pursue the flow of the running play and are much better prepared for the tailback cut back these days. They focus on staying in their gaps on the backside of the play.
I like the zone run, as a former offensive lineman it is a lot easier, and simpler to block, simply to pick up the next guy over. The theory is that at some point a hole should open up, and if the running back is patient, should find that hole.
Almost every team in the CFL, NFL, NCAA, CIS, and even junior and minor programs use the zone run or some variation.
The zone run can also benefit teams with a mobile qb, as it can open up the zone read with the qb reading the backside defensive end. If the end plays contain, and continues up the field, the qb hands the ball off, if the end crashes in, the qb keeps the ball and runs outside, as the end has broken is contain assignment. This can also lead to a play action pass, as the qb can keep the ball and choose to pass it instead.
The zone concept is probably one of the most versatile offensive plays an OC can have in his playbook for the reasons I mentioned above. It allows for players to be creative on the field, and can be harder for a defense to predict, since the same blocking scheme, and motions could be used for a variety of plays. This is opposed to the old style running game where the offensive line would work to open a specified hole, however as soon as the defence plugs that one hole, the play is pretty much dead.
Zone blocking is also great for a younger offensive line, as we had last year. I know many on here have been critical of Dorazio for over complicating blocking assignments, yet zone blocking is about the easiest thing to do. Furthermore, many have been critical of Wally's od school thinking, the zone concept is a relativity modern scheme, and has led to recent success with teams like the Seahawks, and Carolina Panthers.
In sum, the zone concept is incredibly versatile, and allows the qb and the running back to be creative, and when you have guys like Jennings, Johnson#24, and Rainey, this concept is a building block for success.
That being said, I do like the old fashioned trap plays and counter plays, with a pulling guard or tackle, and I think it would be a nice mix if we ran some of those plays a few times per game. Although the risk with pulling a lineman is when you play against a smart linebacker, defencive players from a young age are taught that if there is a pulling guard, thats usually where the ball is going.
I would also like to see us use Lumbala more. IMO he is the best fullback in the league. Whether it be lined up as a tight end, or in the backfield, I think we should try and get him a few touches every game, either through quick passes, or through fullback dives. At 238 lbs he outweighs most linebackers and is a load to bring down.
One concept that I have not seen mentioned on here in a while is the screen pass, although considered a pass, screen plays originate behind the line of scrimage. Screen passes to the running back are a great way to counter an aggressive defence, as the defensive lineman are already up field, and the offensive lineman are already downfield. Also the bubble screen to slotbacks is a great way to counter a passive zone defense.
Just my :2cents:
Cant wait for June :beer:

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Tue Mar 21, 2017 2:07 pm

The zone run can also benefit teams with a mobile qb, as it can open up the zone read with the qb reading the backside defensive end. If the end plays contain, and continues up the field, the qb hands the ball off, if the end crashes in, the qb keeps the ball and runs outside, as the end has broken is contain assignment. This can also lead to a play action pass, as the qb can keep the ball and choose to pass it instead.


That being said, I do like the old fashioned trap plays and counter plays, with a pulling guard or tackle, and I think it would be a nice mix if we ran some of those plays a few times per game. Although the risk with pulling a lineman is when you play against a smart linebacker, defencive players from a young age are taught that if there is a pulling guard, thats usually where the ball is going.

I would also like to see us use Lumbala more. IMO he is the best fullback in the league. Whether it be lined up as a tight end, or in the backfield, I think we should try and get him a few touches every game, either through quick passes, or through fullback dives. At 238 lbs he outweighs most linebackers and is a load to bring down.

One concept that I have not seen mentioned on here in a while is the screen pass, although considered a pass, screen plays originate behind the line of scrimage. Screen passes to the running back are a great way to counter an aggressive defence, as the defensive lineman are already up field, and the offensive lineman are already downfield. Also the bubble screen to slotbacks is a great way to counter a passive zone defense.

Really enjoyed reading your post Lionsfan65

Just to be clear, I'm not opposed to using the inside zone read. The blocking is simpler than man blocking as you astutely note, the tailback can look for a hole on the strong side of the play, bounce it outside, or cut back against the flow of the play.

However, at the pro level, no matter what you use, if defenses get too used to seeing it and you use it almost exclusively, then you are not taking full advantage.

Actually zone blocking is new school recently, but its origin, at least at the pro level, was in the 60's. The Packers, of the Lombardi era were known for their power sweep but they were mainly a zone blocking team. In the 1980's Bill Parcell's New York Giants were also a zone blocking team. Now, all CFL teams use zone blocking and more than half of NFL teams employ a zone blocking scheme.

If I was designing a running attack I would have three base plays: the inside zone read, the outside zone read (stretch play) and the quick toss designed to go outside. The first two plays would obviously utilize zone blocking. But I still believe a running attack needs more variety, especially at the pro level.

The zone read quarterback keep is an excellent play to use against a defensive end that crashes down. The inside zone read option is different than the inside zone read our Leos employ. The zone read option allows the quarterback to read the defensive end and to fake to the back and run outside. The Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson use this play effectively as do a few other NFL teams. Henry Burris was very tough to stop on the zone read option when he played for Calgary. However, when is the last time you saw Jonathan Jennings fake to Jeremiah Johnson or Chris Rainey and then run outside. We probably did it twice all of last season (but with impressive results)

Using the zone read option would make good sense to diversify our running attack and stop defensive ends from crashing down or coming up with a big run when they do. Jennings is quick and smart and also gets down quickly.

You can still add some trap and counter plays. Calgary does that very well. They also employ a pulling guard to lead block for Messam on power sweeps. It adds a mixture. Yes, linebackers were trained to follow a pulling guard. But we see such few plays with a pulling guard these days I'm not sure that is an instinct any more for a linebacker. The decoy pulling guard and running a play where the linebacker has vacated is a tried and tested strategy. A fake outside toss, with a pulling guard and then throwing to the spot the linebacker has vacated has usually been effective.

If there are two offensive concepts that I belive strongly In is play action and the screen pass. If I could choose my favorite football play it would be the misdirection screen. We really should have used the screen pass a lot last season but we didn't. When teams run press man coverage, the defensive backs have their backs to the football as they cover the receiver downfield. Using two safeties for deep double coverage really opens up a defense to the screen pass.

Running the receivers off deep means the linebacker is covering the tailback. Getting three big offensive lineman in front of Rainey or Johnson, with a lot of open field and only one linebacker in the way, is a recipe for a big play. Even better still, would be to swing the tailback out and use Lumbala as a pass blocker in an off-set two back set. If Jennings looked downfield and than at Rainey, and then came back with a misdirection screen to Lumbala on the other side, Lumbala could run a long way, especially with three blockers in front of him.

For some reason, Buono's offensive playbook does not employ the screen pass, except very rarely. Whether we had Chap or Dorazio or Khari Jones or George Cortez at the controls we have rarely been a screen team.

Screens and swing passes are essentially extensions of any given team's run game. You're not handing the ball off from quarterback to running back or receiver. Instead, what you have are quick, short, very high-probability passes that rely a great deal on run-after-the-catch ability and blocking at the point of attack.

In the NFL, running backs like LeSean McCoy and Danny Woodhead are used quite often to catch screen passes and make defenders miss in space.

Our vertical deep passing attack would be highly complimented by a well-designed screen game. But too often last year, when we do screen, its usually been a hitch screen and we deploy it against press man coverage, which doesn't make a lot of sense. It seems like we dial up the play, no matter what the defense is in.

The tailback screen to Rainey, well exccuted, is a purrfect play for a Chris Rainey or a Jeremiah Johnson. They are very effective in space and you especially want to get a player like Rainey in space, with the football.



Cant wait for June
"When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team". (George Raveling)

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