clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Ryan Torain Happened

Getty Images

This was supposed to be a game where running dominated. The weather was bad and both teams ranked at the bottom of the league in defending the run. I scoffed at the notion that the Bucs had much to worry about with Torain coming off an injury and said that it would NOT be another New Orleans/ Carolina performance. I was wrong. Ryan Torain rushed for 173 yards and 158 in the first half. Mike Shannahan took the zone-blocking scheme with him to Washington, one that Tampa was supposed to have familiarity with after Jeff Jagodzinksi attempted to implement his version of it. One time Jagz assistant Steve Logan is our running back coach and should have had quite a bit to do with the gameplan.

The reason we one the game was, in part, due to adjustment Morris made on defense. Torain had 18 of his 24 carries in the first half.  The adjustment came with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half but took until the end of the half to get some grip. Some of the loss will have to be put on Shannahan for getting away from the hot hand. It's inexcusable. Regardless, I will attempt to show you what happened and the adjustments Tampa made. The images are screen shots courtesy of NFL.Com highlights.

Maybe the headline of this article is slightly misleading. Yes, Ryan Torain happened on Sunday, However it was more of the zone-blocking scheme that Shannahan has 'perfected' that truly happened. First, as you may recall from when we went to the zone blocking scheme, it's all about letting the defensive line dictate the holes. The zone scheme was created to offset stunting lineman, something TB has done fairly often as of late (trying to get a pass-rush). The zone-run scheme (specifically the inside zone, which is what Shannahan utilizes) is best served with a one-cut back. A back has no hole designated to run through. He relies on his offensive lineman to block zones and allow the DL to take themselves out of the play. When that happens, a hole opens, the RB makes one cut (often against the grain) and get's through that hole. Since lineman are blocking 'zones' if a hole is open they move to the second level to seal off linebackers. Here is a piece I wrote for another site before last season.


This is a 1st and 15 play on the Redskins first drive (Torains 50+ yd. run). This is immediately after the snap. As you can see Torain is in a single back set with a fairly balanced set in front of him. White is somewhere between a 5-7 technique and has C Gap responsibilities on his side. I'm not certain who the player is whether it's Sellers or Fred Davis (my best guess). Regardless, because that zone is taken care of, he will move to the next level. Next to White, Miller is in a 0-1 technique. The fact the he slants to the A Gap on the strong side tells me he's either playing two gaps and is making a 'business' decision to go to the strong side or Ruud has A Gap and Hayes B Gap. At least from a basic football standpoint, it's simple. As you know, though, the NFL has some complex defenses that are justified risks based on hours of game-film. Lichtensteiger will ensure that the gap is sealed by C Rabach who is getting to Millers outside shoulder. McCoy is shooting the B gap on a slant from the 4 technique. Here is the result of the play:


There really wasn't much of a read of Torain to make. As, I think, Corey Dillon once said "I could have walked my whole family through that hole." Barber and White take away any chance Torain has of getting to the sideline. Miller, who effectively took himself out of the play, takes away any chance of cutting it back. Ruud doesn't fill, but pursue latterly and Hayes blows his responsibility. It's clear Hayes has no business coming off of White shoulder when there is two people already covering that. However, because of that, Fred Davis (assuming) is able to get a body on Hayes. Because Ruud doesn't attack the LOS, he get's sealed off and has no chance. Lynch is the only safety on this play as Jones is man up on Moss. This was a failure on several levels. Ruud was playing pass-first, Hayes was in the wrong spot and Miller wasn't making any reads, rather just slanting recklessly. This to me shows a lack of preparation for the zone-scheme. This play resulted in a huge gain early in the game and got Torain firing on all cylinders.

Here is another 1st down play backed up near the 10 yard line (similar situation). One thing I have harped on Miller for this season is his tendency to play at the linemans shoulder pads. This mitigates his tremendous strength and decreases his leverage. When I say Miller is on skates, it's because he can be move so easily because of his high he plays. Here you can see that Rabach has the advantage of driving the pile. Miller is likely again playing a 2 gap scheme and the linebackers are playing pass-first. McCoy is diving through the B-Gap effectively, but this is also because the G is letting him. Liecthensteiger is playing his outside shoulder. In this play, Sean Jones is again at the LOS (something the Bucs had gameplaned) for him to get down the LOS on run plays. This is supposed to take back any cut-back angles Torain has. This is a counter play and Fred Davis is pulling (something I said the Broncos Redskins would do a lot). Bennett (I think) is released by the tackle and skipped over by Cooley. Davis job is to come crack down on the end.



Here is the result:



Jones is 4 yards in the backfield and doesn't have an angle on Torain. Miller gets driven out of the play. Davis effectively get's a block on Bennett. All the LB's are accounted for. Again, there isn't much of a decision for Torain to make and Hayes makes a tackle 13 yards downfield.

One last example:


The play comes off of two consecutive runs that combined for 35 yards. The result of this play is a 10 yard run. While it's not the longest of his runs, it's just as successful. The first thing I notice is that there has been a slight adjustment. The Skins have their WR out on this play and Sean Jones is now backed up to a safety position. The LB's first move is towards the LOS, indicating that they are trying to make a difference against the run. Ruud's first step is, by design, still back (or lateral)  though. Stylez is not attempting to get penetration, rather playing against the run and trying to maintain control of the T. Trent Williams has more of an inside shoulder position, turning White out just slightly. Miller is rushing to the B gap (and is yet again higher than the G). McCoy is getting to the weakside A gap and (Bennett?) is holding the B/C gap on his side. Once again, it's sort of a counter play. Sellers is pulling against the grain and looking to seal off the end (who is once again being ignored by the T who is taking McCoy out of the play). Cooley is taking the edge in case of a situation in which Black is either blitzing or Torain wants to cut all the way out. The key to this play is the SDE. Here is the result:


You see McCoy has a very slim chance of making a tackle in the backfield. His speed gets him past Rabach quickly enough, but if Torain is able to make that cut at all, McCoy won't make the TFL. Moss? makes a crack-back block on Ruud and is able to seal him off. Cooley has Black dead to rights. Torain has to cut against quite a bit of grass, but the hole is there. He makes his one cut and everbody is out of position. S.Jones is taking an angle inside of Ruud, which is a mistake. If he comes off the outside of Ruud it's a 3-4 yard gain. Instead, it's a 10. Biggers and Lynch make this play on Tampas side of the field.

The front 7 has got to be making plays in these situation. Yet, in 2/3 the plays shown it's a DB making the play. In the other, Hayes is able to make a nice pursuit and get Torain from behind.

Unfortunately, there is no highlights of a play in which I can accurately show the adjustments made. So, for this you will have to trust me (and the stats). In the second half, Torain averaged barely over 3 YPC.The sample size is small (6 carries) but the results are telling. As I said earlier, these adjustments were made in the first half and started to take effect on about 4 of his carries in the first half.

First Adjustment: Gap responsibilities. Morris ensured that all gaps were accounted for and that players focused on those. The gaps were mostly covered. When they weren't:

Second Adjustment: Players on the edge/ Jones, Barber, SDE pursued down the line of scrimmage. Instead of staying at home and allowing a pulling guard/FB/TE to seal them off they attacked. This closes up holes in a zone scheme. Of the 6 carries in the second half 3 were made by DE's, 2 by Miller and one by Lynch (12 yard gain). Millers tackles were a result of the third adjustment:

Third Adjustment: They stopped slanting/stunting so much. It should have been Morris game plan from the start. It's ineffective and detrimental when facing a zone-blocking scheme.

Fourth Adjustment: They moved OLB up and when S.Jones was around the LOS, he was used to get down the LOS to close cut-back lanes. The negative result of this was it opened up that passing game (as witnessed by the end of the first half). McNabb was able to go deep often because the middle was more open and Lynch was playing to the strong side of pass plays.

There is no question that the injuries have hurt the defensive line. However, what hurt more was being completely under-prepared for an offense that doesn't lack game film. Perhaps it was the thought that the Skins would replicate the previous weeks (like against Minnesota) when they were absolutely awful in every attempt to run the ball and were fairly successful in the air and stuck to it often. To me the gameplan going in was to generate a pass-rush against McNabb first and use what they thought was superior talent on the line to stop the run. I suppose it was a gamble based on previous weeks that just didn't pan out.

Luckily (two missed FG's, a botched EP, a muffed KR, etc) the Bucs were able to manage enough points for a victory.