Power Blocking Scheme vs. Zone Blocking Scheme: Which Do You Prefer?

Joe Robbins

After leading the league in rushing in 2012, I ask, which scheme do you prefer? The Zone Blocking scheme that is working for us today? Or the Power Blocking scheme of the Hogs?

During one of the slowest times of the year, all we can do is enjoy what happened last season or envision the possibilities of what next season will bring. In 2012, not only did the Washington Redskins win the division, but on the backs of Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and our offensive line, we produced the #1 rushing offense in the entire NFL. Mike Shanahan, a master of the zone blocking scheme, was able to integrate concepts from RGIII's college offense at Baylor while not jeopardizing his own scheme, to produce one of the most explosive attacks the Redskins have ever seen. Some may say, that if the running game continues its success, it could rival that of the famous "Hogs," from which this very site derived it's name. Hogs Haven has a good combination of younger and older fans, but in a time where "Should the Redskins Sign Tim Tebow?" generates more discussion than the Memorial Day Classic Series (Art Monk, Eddie LaBaron, Sonny Jurgensen, Mike Sellers, Brig Owens, Brian Mitchell and Darrell Green), I think it's time for the older fans to speak up. Do NOT get this confused with a "Do we have the personnel to run a power scheme" article. We dominated the 80's with a power running scheme and it looks like we have the building blocks to dominate now in a zone blocking scheme. So I ask, which do you prefer? Let's start with some of the differences between the two schemes, shall we?

I could write a much more detailed description but I'm not trying to bore anyone so I'll give you the simple explanation. In a power blocking scheme, size and power is everything. You want large athletes with top-end strength. Long arms are ideal in this scheme to reach all blocks and make up for limited athleticism. Power blockers typically identify their block pre-snap and must be able to drive block at every position. The "hogs" were a perfect example of that (they were considered power blockers at the time even though their average weight was only 273). The zone blocking scheme is the exact opposite. You are looking for lighter, more athletic individuals. Strength is not as important, and neither are long arms, as angled blocks help nullify most of the need for both. A zone blocker's most important characteristics are quickness and the ability to work as a unit to identify defenders on the go. Our current Washington Redskins run this scheme with extreme success. So which one is better? Is there an answer? Let's compare.

Joe Gibbs/Joe Bugel (Redskins 1981-1989)

Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel came to the Redskins together in 1981 and coached together until 1989. They installed a power blocking scheme and in 9 seasons, the Redskins won 2 Super Bowls, while making an appearance, in a losing effort, in a third. Joe Bugel developed the "hogs" dominating offensive line that included Hall-of-Famer Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Mark May, Jeff Bostic, and George Starke among others. Here are the Redskins 1981-1989 rushing stats:

Year


Attempts


Yards


Yards/Carry


TDs


1981

532

2157

4.1

19

1982

560

2029

3.6

8

1983

629

2625

4.2

30

1984

588

2274

3.9

20

1985

571

2523

4.4

20

1986

474

1732

3.7

23

1987

500

2102

4.2

18

1988

437

1543

3.5

8

1989

514

1904

3.7

14

TOTAL AVG.


534


2099


3.9


18


(Editor's Note: I had to average out the 1982 season over a 16 game period due to the player strike.)

Mike Shanahan/Alex Gibbs (Broncos 1995-2003)

Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs came to the Broncos together in 1995 and coached together until 2003. They installed a zone blocking scheme and in 9 seasons together (like Gibbs and Bugel), the Broncos also won 2 Super Bowls. Notable names on their line were Tom Nalen and Mark Schlereth, but like previously stated, the zone scheme is more about the five offensive lineman working together as a cohesive unit instead of having individual superstars. Here are the Broncos 1995-2003 rushing stats:

Year


Attempts


Yards


Yards/Carry


TDs


1995

440

1995

4.5

14

1996

525

2362

4.5

20

1997

520

2378

4.6

18

1998

525

2468

4.7

26

1999

465

1864

4.0

13

2000

516

2311

4.5

21

2001

481

1877

3.9

7

2002

457

2266

5.0

21

2003

543

2629

4.8

20

TOTAL AVG.


497


2239


4.5


18


As you can see, even though the Shanahan/zone blocking system has the advantage on yards per carry, both schemes can be extremely effective if coached and run the right way. So I ask, what scheme do you prefer? If you were coaching an NFL franchise, what scheme would you go to war with? Is the power scheme becoming out-dated due to the size/speed freaks the NFL Draft churns out every year? Is the zone scheme the weaker scheme because of its drawbacks in the redzone? Which one helps the passing game more?

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