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Will The Redskins Shelve The Zone Read?

July 31, 2014

RICHMOND Va. -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden is providing a peek at his offense, and the famed zone read is barely seen.

The scheme was the 2012 sensation when rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III dazzled defenses to lead Washington to an NFC East championship. It also led to three injuries, the last requiring knee surgery that essentially blew Griffin's 2013 season, a season that ended with a  3-13 record.

The new coach isn't wedded to the zone read now that Griffin is healthy once more. Instead of resuming the play that freezes linebackers to let Griffin scramble for large gains, Gruden will make it just another option.

That is, unless it works too well.

Redskins 2014: Jay Gruden
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox

"I don't really envision us running it seven or eight times a game," he said, "but we'll see how the game dictates. It's just like anything else nowadays in football. If you run something similar, often, defenses will figure it out. We've got great coaches on defense in the NFL, so you've got to be diverse in what you do. You have to disguise what you do, and try to attack them the best way you can. If that's part of your game plan, you've got to make it work somehow, and if not, you've just got to make the other plays work."

The question is whether the short-lived success that was copied elsewhere was just a fad or a new tipping point of athletic quarterbacks changing the game. Last year showed it was more of a reaction than revolution. Defenses adjusted because that's what the NFL does -- nothing works for too long. It's always about creating hybrids.

"[Coaches] might view it as, 'You're right, maybe defenses are starting to sniff it out a little bit better,' Gruden said. "I'd view it as if you run it just a few times throughout the course of the game, maybe three or four times in two games.

"It's just something for the defenses to have to worry about and practice. They have to practice their fits. It gives them problems and it's something they have to work on diligently at practice. It's like everything else. If you run something too much, defenses will figure it out. I think it's a chance for us to be more diverse in what we do. You throw the quick game. You throw the dropback, play action, the outside zone, you sprinkle in some read option. It becomes tough."

But Gruden admits it's not easy limiting a play that works well. However, the price may be Griffin’s career if the play is run too often.

"There's no question, we're still working on that balance right now," Gruden said. "He's obviously very good at the read option. He's proven that he can do it, but he's also proven to come off a major injury here the last couple years. He's healthy, but there will be a balance. … It's another way to attack the defense and get the numbers in your favor offensively. How much we'll do is going to be on a game plan basis. It's something that will be talked about every week, for sure."

Ironically, keeping Griffin in the pocket may be just as risky as running in the open field.

"If you're going to drop back and throw it a lot, they're going to get hit a lot," Gruden said. "You want to take as much pounding off of him as you can. If he can do a good job of protecting himself, getting down, I don't think it'll be an issue. We just won't overuse [the zone read.]"

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