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Numbers game: Redskins and the zone read

The zone-read option won’t be a focal point this season, that much we know. From the time Jay Gruden was hired he’s been consistent: He’ll run the zone read, but he doesn’t want it to be a primary play. He said it again last week to Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks and I wrote a little about it here.

Some points I didn’t make, but thought about them later today after some Twitter banter and also after listening to my guys Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro on ESPN980. First, and as I wrote last week, the Redskins should run it less because.

If that’s the case, it means Robert Griffin III has grown as a passer. Besides, if they use more three-receiver sets it will remove some of the sets in which they ran it in the past. (You can run it from various ways; the Redskins often used three in the backfield along with Griffin – a fullback and tight end.) Regardless, the better Griffin can throw, the more they can spread the field and use all the receiving talent around him.

Keep in mind, the Redskins use the zone-read fake to help in the passing game. It worked a lot more in 2012 than last year in that regard – part of that was teams did not fear Griffin running as much. But with a more dangerous Griffin combined with more dangerous talent – DeSean Jackson for starters – the Redskins need to keep this aspect of their passing attack. When it works, it causes linebackers to scramble out of position and lose lanes – and create running lanes for after the catch. The stretch-zone fakes are comparable (both fool the linebacker for around 1.7 to 1.9 seconds compared to 1.4 for a normal play fake).

Anyway, there’s a perception the Redskins ran this play quite a bit. Here’s a look at the top 10 teams that used the zone read (Note: The Redskins would have used it more had Griffin not entered the season coming off knee surgery.) The list also only accounts for running the ball from the zone read and not any play-action passes from this look. All the numbers are courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

Here are the top 10:

  • Philadelphia: 304 times (500 runs overall, so a 60.8 percent rate). It’s a bigger focus for the Eagles, in part, because they run so many packaged plays that incorporate the zone-read action. Other teams used that strategy as well, but few seemed to do it as much as the Eagles.

  • Buffalo: 169 (546 runs overall; 30.9 percent)

  • Carolina: 103 (483; 21.3 percent)

  • Seattle: 101 (509; 19.8 percent)

  • Oakland: 92 (437; 21.1 percent)

  • New York Jets: 86 (493; 17.4 percent)

  • Washington: 83 (453; 18.3 percent)

  • San Francisco: 66 (505; 13.1 percent)

  • Cincinnati: 28 (481; 6 percent)

  • Miami: 27 (349; 7.7 percent)

And here are the yards per run from that look for these teams:

  • Miami: 6.41

  • Philadelphia: 5.67

  • Oakland: 5.52

  • Washington: 5.33

  • Cincinnati: 5.25

  • New York Jets: 4.80

  • Seattle: 4.79

  • Buffalo: 4.44

  • Carolina: 3.95

  • San Francisco: 3.48