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Offensive line takes a step back after Raiders tailor offense to Marshawn Lynch

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Marshawn Lynch excels in plays that require an outside zone blocking concept. The Raiders’ problem is that the offensive line isn’t as adept at the system. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Bringing in a hometown favorite in Marshawn Lynch added a stronger, beastly presence to the Oakland Raiders’ backfield. But following Beast Mode to The Town was also the outside zone rushing scheme, and it hasn’t benefited the team’s offensive line.

Throughout his four years with the Seattle Seahawks, Lynch leaned on the outside zone concept to rush for more than 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. However, blocking schemes can help a running back while limiting an offensive line, as evidenced in the Raiders’ play in the trenches in 2017.

Opting primarily for inside zone (32.92 percent of the time) and man blocking (28.47 percent) concepts, Oakland ran outside zone just 15.59 percent of the time with Latavius Murray leading the way for the team’s rushing attack in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.

The 2016 version of the Raiders’ offense also pulled interior offensive linemen at a much higher rate. Whether it be within power/counter blocking concepts or added pull assignments on outside zone runs, Oakland pulled their big men on 26.24 percent of its run plays, which is 7.67 percent higher than their totals this season.

In doing so, Murray & Co. ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and Oakland’s offensive line enjoyed notable success.

All four offensive linemen returned in 2017 but were asked to turn away from a tried-and-true ratio of inside runs and power/counter schemes.

The Raiders ran more outside zone concepts in their first six games than all of last season and continued to lean on the scheme throughout the year. After running outside zone on just 15.59 percent of its runs in 2016, Oakland’s rushing offense this season has been comprised of 32.92 percent outside zone plays.

Of course, the Raiders’ poor play up front has had a negative effect on the team’s primary ball carriers.

Oakland’s top-three running backs have averaged just 1.44 yards before contact per attempt through Week 15, which is 0.34 yards fewer than what the team’s top trio averaged last season, per PFF. As expected, the team’s smaller backs (Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington) have struggled with the added contact at the line of scrimmage, while Lynch has still managed to exceed expectations with his tough, gritty running style.

Among running backs with 150-plus carries this season, Lynch is tied for 10th in yards per carry (4.2), but he has experienced much tougher sledding than the other top backs. He has earned 70.89 percent of his yards after contact this season, which ranks second among the 16 backs to average 4.0-plus yards per carry on 150 or more attempts in 2017.

Lynch’s ability to earn yards after contact has kept Oakland’s rushing attack from complete disaster, but his presence has influenced offensive coordinator Todd Downing to lean on outside zone concepts. And it’s cost both the offense and the offensive line significantly.

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