Darren McFadden Finding Success Running Outside of the Zone

Darren McFadden was one of the most feared running backs in the NFL under former head coach Hue Jackson from 2010 to 2011. Jackson rescued McFadden’s career from the zone-blocking scheme, only for Greg Knapp to bring it back in 2012. If the team is winning it wouldn’t matter, but the Raiders haven’t won enough games to make anyone forget.

The struggles of the zone-blocking scheme have been fairly obvious even to the casual observer. After six games trying to force a square peg into a round hole, the Raiders finally yanked back on the reins. The Raiders used the zone-blocking scheme only about a third of the time against Kansas City and found success running plays that didn’t deploy it.

McFadden ran the ball 29 times for 114 yards, but this shouldn’t be as evidence that the Raiders zone blocking has improved. Of the 114 yards, 69 came on three plays in the second half with a big lead and on plays that didn’t use the zone scheme. Without those carries McFadden rushed the ball 26 times for just 45 yards.

The Raiders used toss plays like this one to get McFadden going in one direction quickly. McFadden doesn’t have to do much thinking on plays like this. He can just use his athletic ability and speed to get positive yardage.

Just as important to the running game is the blocking and when the Raiders have used man-blocking they usually been able to engage the defenders and knock them backward. On this play the five offensive linemen all engage defenders at the first and second level.

With McFadden's speed, the offensive line only needs to engage their defenders for a few seconds before they become irrelevant to the rest of the play. Even if defenders can disengage from the offensive lineman, they will still have trouble making a solo stop on McFadden in traffic.

McFadden is used to plowing into the backs of his offensive line a...

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