Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan loves how the zone read slows defenses

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The Redskins are not planning to take the zone-read option out of their offense. Head coach Mike Shanahan made that clear weeks ago.

But if you still need to be convinced, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan provided another wave of heavy support for the zone read Wednesday.

In Kyle’s first media session since before the Redskins’ playoff loss, he explained how beneficial the zone read was in slowing opposing defenses. He also reiterated how quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered his injuries while scrambling, not while running the zone read, and acknowledged his role in helping quarterback Griffin make decisions that help to preserve his health.

Here’s the full Q&A of the portion of his press conference that centered on the zone read:

Q: How different do you think the offense will be from what you ran last year?

KS: “I really can’t answer that until I see the defenses we face. There’s nothing that we’re going to do that says, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this, or we’re going to do that.’ The thing that’s awesome about having a guy like Robert is Robert is capable of being great at anything. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dropping back, play-pass, bootlegs, zone read, options—it really doesn’t matter. He’s capable of being great at all of it. That’s what’s fun when you coach a guy like that. You really don’t have to force anything. We’re doing to do whatever the defense gives us. If they give us that, we’ll take it. If they take it away, I enjoy throwing the ball and doing other stuff, too.”

Q: Would you have had to tweak the offense anyway to stay ahead of the curve?

KS: “Yeah, you do that every year. You do it week to week, you do it quarter to quarter. That’s something you always got to stay ahead of. You’d like to anticipate those things so you’re prepared going into a game. But every once in a while, a defensive scheme will surprise you in the game, and you’ve got to recognize it, and hopefully you have a plan in there to adjust and to counteract and call a play that does what they’re doing. And if not, you’ve got to discuss some stuff on the sideline or get a better game plan the next week. That’s really the basis of my job, is trying to always anticipate that stuff and practice the players through all situations so whatever the defense presents, we’ve got something we can come at them with.”

Q: When you reviewed last year’s plays, were you pleased with how many designed runs were called for Robert?

KS: “I was real pleased with it. I think it really helped us. It’s about a third of our running game, at the most. The majority of our running game is outside zone like it has been since I’ve been coaching, and I know it has been that before that in the Denver scheme with the zone blocking. But as far as the zone read and everything, it has opened up a lot. Those aren’t really designed quarterback runs. They’re designed to give the ball to Alf. When the whole defense is not accounting for the quarterback and taking everyone else, that’s when he goes the other way. I kind of enjoy the zone read because the quarterback is not taking it unless there’s no one to hit him. If there is someone to hit him, you’re usually handing it off. So the zone read is something I feel in the long run helps the quarterback.”

Q: In calling plays, do you think the full scope of possibilities are still open, or do you have to take any steps a playcaller to limit Griffin’s exposure to injury risk?

KS: “When you think about last year, we got to get better at coaching certain things, as I think we did throughout last year and situations and how you can account for the free hitters when you don’t have a man for that player and when the only guy who’s not accounted for is the middle third safety about 30 yards away. I think we got better at that as the year went. The last game we struggled with that would be about Cincinnati, which I think was like Week 4. But as far as that stuff, I think some of the zone read stuff was the least he got hit. It’s the scrambles and stuff like that where when guys aren’t blocked and stuff, there’s seven guys in coverage who are coming at him in all directions going airborne to hit somebody. Those are the times I really get worried.”

Q: In your mind, then, is the zone read not flawed? Does his health depend more on his decision making?

KS: “I’m not saying that. You just look at all the zone-read clips. Not many big hits happened on that because usually everyone is blocked. You know who isn’t blocked. Look at the big hits. Look at what plays they were. The three injuries were pass plays. They weren’t the zone read. The zone read is something I learned throughout going through the year that I think really helped us. It’s the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator. Guys just sitting there scared to death just watching everybody, not moving. I really enjoyed, actually, sometimes being able to drop back and not have four guys just teeing off from the quarterback, all trying to hit him in the pocket.

Q: So you don’t want to change the offense, do you?

KS: “No. …He stayed healthy last year running the zone read. You really hope no one gets hurt. It’s hard to control injuries. That’s why you don’t ever want to call Quarterback Power. I’ve seen a lot of teams do it. I’ve done it once, and I’ll never do it again. I’ll tell defensive coordinators I might do it…When you do the zone read, everyone is accounted for. There’s not many free hitters.

Q: “Will Robert make better decisions (throwing the ball away, sliding) in Year 2 as a result of experience, or does he need to be coached? How will that take place?

KS: “I’m Robert’s coach, so it’s my job to help him with everything. It’s not just Robert. I think it’s every quarterback who’s ever played the game. Guys got to get used to sliding, knowing when to fight for yards, when not to fight for yards. I think it’s harder for guys their rookie years because the speed of the game is a lot different, where you used to have a little more time to slide. Now people get up on you a little quick, and when someone gets up on you quick and you slide at the last second, that’s when you get hit under the chin and stuff. You’ve got to slide early and anticipate things. It’s not just Robert. It’s all quarterbacks. I think a lot of rookie quarterbacks take time to get that feel. They learn through experience, and I think Robert had a lot of experience last year. I think he’ll definitely be better from that, and we’ll keep harping on it. I think it will come natural for him.”

Q: Did Robert dislike throwing the ball away than most young guys?

KS: “I don’t know about that. I think with Robert, he’s so confident that he doesn’t have to. I don’t think he had to in college very much. Whoever that guy was there, he would just outrun him or he would make him miss. Some guys, most of the other quarterbacks on our roster have probably been throwing the ball away since high school. They weren’t going to outrun that guy. But Robert has outrun that guy his whole life. Now, all of a sudden, ‘Oh, that guy got me. He had a better angle on me.’ Now you’ve got to learn: What do I do on this? Well, some guys have been doing it since eighth grade. Robert is just starting to do it. I think it will get easier for him with reps.”

Q: Does the pistol formation give you more versatility in disguising what you want to do?

KS: “Yeah, that’s the whole key to the pistol. I laugh when people talk about the ‘Pistol Offense.’ You can run the zone read out of the pistol, so it gives you the threat to run the zone read. But the good thing about the pistol is it’s the exact same as your entire offense. The quarterback is taking about three steps back behind the center, so instead of reaching his hands under the center, he’s just reaching out to catch the ball. But the back is still behind the quarterback, so you can run your entire offense. Nothing changes, and I think that’s the key to everything. The zone read is a good play, but if defenses know it’s coming, I don’t care how good it is. People will stop it. The whole key to the zone read is that, just the threat of the zone read. We want to run our offense. We want to do what we’ve been doing, but you better honor the zone read because it is a good play. And if you’re not honoring it, you’re usually going to get about 15 yards before contact.”

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