Gary Kubiak doesn’t always run a classic, Alex Gibbs-style full stretch zone blocking scheme. There have been plenty of outside zone runs and inside zone runs as well. Some sweeps have worked well for Ronnie Hillman.
As the team gets better and better on offense, the full stretch zone has begun to emerge more often. When you run a zone blocking scheme, an essential of the scheme is the combo block. I’ve talked about them before.
Coach Gibbs preferred the term ‘tandem blocks’, which I’ll be using today. The tandem should move the defender in the direction that the play is going to go. That distinctive linemen’s movement is what most fans think of as a ‘zone’ play.
At 5:32 of the third quarter of the Denver Broncos 29-10 victory over Green Bay, Clay Matthews had just limped off the field to the Packers bench. The ball was Denver’s on the GB 22-yard line, and they were moving it. After the time-out, Denver did what every team in the league does. They went after Clay’s usual area of responsibility, which was covered by Joe Thomas.
Thomas is a 6-foot-1, 227-pound linebacker with a single year’s experience. Put in a lesser player on defense and the coaches will inevitably attack him. That’s why why I’ve been harping on ‘elite depth’ all year and why Denver’s defense is No. 1 in the league. Your team is only as strong as its weakest player. Denver’s depth is breathtaking. Green Bay had been battling injury issues—theirs was just out of breath.
At the snap, both LG Evan Mathis and C Matt Paradis blocked the GB nose tackle. When he was under control (almost immediately), Mathis slipped off, leaving him to Paradis. Matt maintained control on the nose guard—that’s something he’s skilled at accomplishing. Evan moved up and blocked Thomas toward the sideline: it wasn’t even a contest. The blocks left a clean hole through which C.J. Anderson ran to daylight and his first touchdown of the 2015 season. Anderson had his first 100-yard game of the 2016 season.
While we’re talking offensive line, it’s worth noting that Pro Football Focus raised the Broncos OL ranking from 20th in the league to 16th, based on the Green Bay game. A piece of that growth is due to the improving play from one of the ‘maybe’ players of this year, Michael Schofield.
Schofield gave up zero sacks, zero QB hits and just 3 QB hurries (at least one of which was meaningless, since he held the block until Peyton Manning was out of the defender’s reach when the pass left his hand—it didn’t affect the completion). He had no penalties. What he did have was a good pass protection record and some solid run-blocking.
While pleased with Denver’s improvement, I would have loved to see the Broncos acquire Joe Thomas from Cleveland. When I watched Ty Sambrailo’s film around the draft, I didn’t think he was ready for a year-one starting slot. Ryan Clady's injury caused him to move up by necessity, but not by preference.
However, the tag-team combination of Ryan Harris and Tyler Polumbus, both of whom had left the Broncos previously, has worked better than I would have thought. That’s good—they’re all we have left for now.
For the tandem block, I don’t know how you could demonstrate it any better than Mathis and Paradis did against Green Bay. The Pack has a solid defensive line and good linebackers. The job the offensive line did against them deserves a lot of praise.
Animated images via NFL Game Pass.
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