I can’t remember a year when I was ever more excited to watch pre-season football than this one. Not only am I a long-suffering Vikings fan, but I also have experience in the type of offense they’ll employ in the season ahead.
In 2006 I was invited to join the coaching staff at Wayzata High School, just when the Trojans were coming off a state championship. I started working with the sophomore team. The next year I was promoted to varsity, where I coached running backs.
It was at that time that I was introduced to the “Zone Blocking System” as taught by the “Godfather” of that system, Alex Gibbs of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Under Gibbs, the Broncos rushing attack averaged an NFL best 140.5 yards per game from 1995-2004. During that stretch the team used eight different offensive linemen, five different Broncos RB’s topped the 1,000 yard mark, and oh yeah, at one point the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls.
We had similar success with the system at Wayzata, where going to the state tournament was an annual event, and where the Trojans won state titles with undefeated teams in both 2008 and 2010.
Without going into great detail here (but maybe at a later date), the Zone Blocking System allows you to take smaller, more mobile offensive linemen, and take advantage of their athletic ability to move and cut block rather than account for a defensive lineman one-on-one.
Instead of taking the handoff from the quarterback and looking for “daylight” at the line of scrimmage, the running back reads the moving offensive lineman to anticipate what the defense is giving and where the hole is going to be.
“Play-Action,” where the quarterback appears to hand the ball to the running back only to keep the ball and roll away from pressure to throw is a key element to the Zone Blocking System in that most plays looks alike which keeps the defense guessing for precious seconds while the play is developing.
What does this have to do with the 2019 Minnesota Vikings? Coaching under Alex Gibbs in Denver at the time of their greatest success were current Minnesota Vikings Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison and Tight End Coach Brian Pariani. It’s probably worth mentioning that the Vikings QB Coach is Klint Kubiak, Gary’s son, and one has to guess, another probable staunch advocate of the Zone Blocking System.
So, what are the advantages of the Zone Blocking System as far as the Vikings are concerned? Here are a few:
If the O-Line can master this system they can have greater success against physically superior opponents (See: Chicago Bears defensive line, etc.).
By employing Play-Action, it forces the defense and disruptive forces like Chicago DE Khalil Mack to slow their upfield pursuit while trying to determine pass vs. run. As a result, QB Kirk Cousins has more time to throw the ball.
A successful run game equals possession of the football, which means that while your defense is resting, the other team’s offense (and QB’s Aaron Rogers, Matthew Stafford, Mitchell Trubisky, etc.) is also put into the role of spectator.
Only time will tell how this system will play out, but for a team where the offensive line struggled last season, QB Kirk Cousins needs help to alleviate pressure, and when you have a potential game-breaker like Dalvin Cook, it all seems to make perfect sense.
So, while it’s only pre-season, I’m excited about the Vikings move to the Zone Blocking System and to be watching pre-season football. Skol Vikings!