After known power run game advocate Greg Roman was fired as Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator two games into the 2016 season, Anthony Lynn, a coach with a zone blocking scheme background, took over.
He knew he had to make due with Roman’s playbook, but as it turns out, Lynn incorporated a lot of the zone running plays he learned in his time under Mike Shanahan. Remember, Lynn himself ran in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme in Denver, and got his professional coaching start with the Broncos.
In fact, the 2016 Bills should be labeled as a zone running team based on these percentages:
The breakdown of run plays by concept in the 2016 NFL season: pic.twitter.com/TzWI7E9sTl— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) March 14, 2017
Of the 69.3% of “normal” running plays, only 20.3% were man or power plays, a staple of the Stanford - Jim Harbaugh - Roman offense.
But nearly 50% of those runs were “zone” plays.
These distinctions are vital not only to reflect on the 2016 campaign but also to glance at what’s ahead for the 2017 Bills offense under the direction of Shanahan disciple Rick Dennison.
How effective were the Bills on specific run plays? As you likely know, Buffalo’s entire rushing attack was elite in 2016, but this tweet from Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus adds important to tell this intriguing story:
Yards before contact per attempt by run concept for NFL offensive lines in 2016: pic.twitter.com/BFmhlWDktj— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) March 14, 2017
Under Lynn’s watchful eye, on a yards-before-contact basis, the Bills were the best inside zone running team in the NFL by a wide margin.
Their 3.39 yards-per-carry average was more than a half yard better than the third-place Cowboys and a yard better than the fourth-place Browns.
As far as the outside zone play, only the Falcons (2.11 yards-before-contact-per-carry) performed better than the Bills (2.00 YBCPC).
Buffalo was fantastic on power run plays too (2.75 YBCPC), yet the utilization of either type of zone run (inside or outside) averaged a combined 2.74 yards before contact per carry, while either a man or power play equated to 2.0 YBCPC.
Dennison has spent his entire NFL coaching career learning the intricacies of the zone-blocking scheme under either Mike Shanahan or Gary Kubiak.
And based on the immense success Buffalo had with the inside zone run play (and the outside zone run play) in 2016, there won’t be nearly as big of a learning curve as many expected — or, really, any learning curve at all — going from a Roman / Lynn coordinated rushing attack to the run game Dennison will institute in 2017.