Zone blocking is nothing new in the NFL. But it seems that the Saints are going back to an outside zone blocking scheme to try to reinvigorate their running game with this style of blocking. As Larry Holder reports, Pierre Thomas said the Saints have run plays using an outside zone blocking scheme before:
In the past, we weren’t that good at our outside zone running. We were mostly good running the inside zone runs. We’ve seen from studying the past. What can we do better? It’s to get better at those outside zone runs. That’s one thing we’re really emphasizing on and focusing on those outside runs.
Knox Bardeen of Bleacher Report writes about how important the Saints running game is to the offense in 2013. When you look at his stats, you can see how unbalanced the Saints offense really is. A return to the running game is important for the success of the offense. Considering the increased focus on the running game this offseason by Sean Payton, a change in scheme is important, if nothing else than to give the back more 0ptions.
You can see from some of the moves the Saints made this offseason highlighted by Jason Smith and Terron Armstead, as well as asking Jahri Evans to slim down, that they want their linemen to be faster and have more movement. Movement has always been a part of the Saints offensive line due to the multitude of offensive plays they run, especially when you consider the amount of screen passes the Saints run. But this is a little different. Zone blocking sometimes sacrifices size and strength in order to maintain the speed and agility needed to run the scheme. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles would excel in this type of running scheme because they are patient but explosive runners. Mark Ingram has also had experience in the zone with the Saints and at Alabama.
It is important for the Saints to do something about their outside running game. The running game is consistently a problem in New Orleans. It forces Drew Brees to throw more and makes the defense play longer. The obvious benefits of a good running game mean that there is more variety on offense, more of a chance to surprise the defense, and the clock runs quicker. We all better hope that this scheme helps our running game or we will see another season of Drew Brees throwing too much and watching our defense getting pummeled.
For further reading on zone blocking, David Hooper of SB Nation for the Tennessee Volunteers has an excellent article on zone blocking that focuses on the specifics of inside zone blocking. Steel34D also writes an article that describes the zone blocking scheme as a whole. He touches on inside, outside, and everything in between.