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“Most coaches look at a 2-yard run and they look at it as a failure, a disappointment,” Schlereth said. “And Mike Shanahan understands the value of a nasty 2 and what it’s going to do for him in the play-action, what it’s going to do for him at the end of the game when those nasty 2s become 8s and 9s because a defense is worn out.”

Schlereth recalled a conversation with ex-New York Jets and Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini at ESPN headquarters last week in which he and Mangini discussed for an hour the difficulties of countering Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. No matter what Mangini tried, he couldn’t figure out how to defend it.

The way Shanahan and his offensive linemen explain it, it sounds so simple: Win battles in the trenches, let the running back follow the plan and watch the yards pile up.

“What you normally do with the zone blocking scheme is you get people running from maybe the hash mark all the way to the sideline and then if you see a crease inside, a running back, he hits it downhill running,” Shanahan said. “We feel if one person is a little bit slow or doesn’t stay in their gap, we have a chance to hit a crease. Try and never really lose yardage. You always get 3, 4 or 5 yards but if somebody gets tired, especially as the game goes on, you’re able to get some big plays.”

It’s hardly glamorous, but it’s one of the primary reasons the Broncos won two Super Bowls and the Redskins are 8-6 and control their own playoff fate.

That’s because what the running game produces, in addition to hard-earned yards and first downs, is a sense of uneasiness on the part of a defense.

“I think that’s really where he gives people fits,” Schlereth said, “because you basically get into a cat and mouse game, and the problem is, he’s always the cat.”

By engineering so much success with his zone-blocking scheme Shanahan also gets linemen and running backs to unflinchingly believe in what he calls. Even if a defense expects a run, there’s no reason to abandon the plan.

“We know that we can demoralize a defense that comes up there there and says, ‘We’re going to force you to throw the ball,’ and we say, ‘No, we dictate to you. You’re not forcing us to do anything. We’re going to do what we want to do,’ ” Schlereth said. “That’s a powerful position.”

So powerful that it’s worth wondering why more NFL teams don’t do it Shanahan’s way. “You’ve got to have 11 guys buy in,” Schlereth said. “I think it’s hard to coach. It’s hard to get everybody on the same page.”

Once that happens though, it’s full speed ahead.

“The challenge there is you have to win one of those spots,” Chester said. “If we’re right, there’s not really a great way to defend it.”