Quick Slant: How Adam Gase’s System Utilizes Running Backs
Shalom, readers of the Deep End! After a month long hiatus, your favorite fantasy football “expert” is back and as unfunny as ever! And in that time, while I was crushing fellow Deep End writer Christian Hunt like he was Tom Brady’s cell phone en route to a blowout Super Bowl victory, I stopped and thought, “What will I write about after fantasy season is over?” To which a voice in my head responded, “How to make rugelach in 3 easy steps.” Genius, right? Well, my editor thought it was dumb. So instead, here are my thoughts on how running backs fit into Adam Gase’s offense.
All of the praise surrounding Adam Gase and his recent offensive schemes, in both Denver and Chicago, has been centered on how he improves quarterback play with ingenious route combinations and creative play calling. But what we haven’t been hearing much about is how his scheming affects his offense’s running backs and their ability to positively impact the game. First, let’s take a look at the numbers; in 2013 and 2014, Denver ranked 15th in rushing yards per game. This is unremarkable to be sure, but considering the relative lack of talent at the position, and the preeminence of Peyton Manning, those numbers are quite respectable. In his first and only year in Chicago, Gase had his offense ranked 11th in the league in rushing yards per game, even though Matt Forte was injured for much of the season. In all three of these years, Gase’s offenses ranked between 15th and 20th in YPC average as well. Obviously, none of these numbers are anything special, and some are even mediocre. But, we all know Gase doesn’t ever employ a run-first offense; his offense lives and dies by its quarterback. So, how do RBs fit into his offense, you ask? Well, Jim, that’s exactly what I’m going to explain to you.
Gase likes to utilize running backs with different skill sets throughout the course of the game but, after watching several hours of coach’s film, I’ve narrowed down the three most important traits a running back must have to be productive in Adam Gase’s system.
1. Pass Protection
As I mentioned previously, Gase’s offense has lived and died by the performance of its quarterback. So, naturally, the running backs in his offense need to be capable of pass protecting in order to eliminate inside pressure and perpetuate the offense’s rhythm. Letting the team’s field general get hit or get sacked can disrupt the meticulous timing that allows the Gase offense to be so successful. This is especially prevalent when Gase runs the no huddle offense, or places his quarterback in the shotgun, as constant short distance completions are very important in setting up deep shots downfield. This clip of the record breaking 2013 Denver Broncos in their game against the Dallas Cowboys exemplifies this point very well.
On a 1st and 10, deep into Dallas territory, down by a touchdown with under 5 minutes left in the game, Gase instructs Manning to run the no huddle offense. Manning recognized pre-snap that a blitz was coming and assigned Knowshon Moreno to block the extra man, which was Pro Bowler Sean Lee. As you can see, Moreno performed a textbook pass block, giving “The Sheriff” the extra time needed to complete a deep pass to Demaryius Thomas, which would eventually result in a game-tying TD. The Broncos would win that thriller 51-48. Had Moreno not been a capable pass protector, Manning may have been sacked, making a pivotal drive in the game that much more difficult.
2. Receiving Ability
In today’s pass happy league, the best running backs must have the ability to catch and run with the football. This is all the more important in Gase’s offense, as he utilizes creative screens and dumpoff passes both to move the chains and to build his quarterback’s confidence. When Gase has a running back who is also a good receiver, route runner, etc., he can get even more creative with the way he designs plays. Take this one for example:
Backed up deep in their own territory, the Bears run the offense in shotgun to give Jay Cutler more time to work with against a fierce Rams’ pass rush, so Gase decides to call a simple halfback screen to keep the Rams honest. The Rams rush six, and the Bears’ promising rookie running back, Jeremy Langford, runs the screen route perfectly. Once Cutler sees that the linebacker doesn’t cover Langford, he dumps it off to him, and the play results in an incredible 83 yard touchdown. Langford’s ability as a receiver gave Gase the option to call a play that had an effect on the game’s outcome. He ran a perfect route, caught the ball before looking downfield (looking at you Demaryius Thomas), and had the vision and speed to turn a good play into a great one.
3. Vision and Patience
As we’ve discussed ad nauseam, the passing game reigns supreme in Adam Gase’s offense, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see a violent inside run every once in a while. To succeed in Adam Gase’s offense, running backs don’t need to be the fastest, strongest, or most agile in the NFL, but they do need to be amongst the smartest. Frank “The Inconvenient Truth” Gore, for example, has typified this idea over the last decade. The key to success when running the ball in Gase’s offense is to let the O-line create a hole, and find it. The fact that Adam Gase calls a lot of draw plays out of the shotgun makes this even more essential. Take this play for instance:
With the breakout of C.J. Anderson in late 2014, the Broncos started to call more run plays toward the end of the year. Here, you see Manning in the shotgun, as he calls a draw play to the left side of the field. After the snap, once the ball is in his hands, Anderson notices that the left side of the box is stacked, and a running lane has opened up on the right side. Anderson quickly cuts back, breaks a couple of tackles, and waltzes into the endzone for a 25 yard touchdown. Anderson’s vision and patience transformed a potentially negative play into seven points, based solely upon a split second decision on what he saw downfield. Gase loves smart playmakers like that, because it ultimately makes his job a whole lot easier.
How the Dolphins’ Running Backs Fit This Mold:
The answer would be a resounding “Damn, right!” if the Dolphins re-sign Lamar Miller this offseason. Assuming you actually saw the five times per game that Lamar Miller ran the ball this season, you all know how good the Miami native is. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield, with excellent speed and agility that can turn screen passes into 70 yard touchdowns. He has excellent vision and awareness, and can run outside or between the tackles. He’s also an above average pass-protector, to boot. Considering Miller’s lack of help across the O-line, his 4.5 YPC average and 8 TDs last season are actually very impressive. So, if Mike Tannenbaum can work out a contract to keep Lamar Miller in Miami for a few more seasons, I’m almost positive that he can perform and thrive in Adam Gase’s offense.