|Bud Wilkinson may have introduced ball-control
offense with his Oklahoma Sooner teams of the 1950s, but
Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins turned it
into an art form, thanks to John Riggins and the
irrepressible "Hogs." Already 33 years old at
the start of the season, the 6'2" 235 pound Riggins
ran the ball 38 times for 166 yards against Miami in
Super Bowl XVII. Against Dallas, in the NFC Championship
game, Riggins pounded out 140 yards on 36 carries; and in
the preceding playoff game against Minnesota, he carried
the ball 37 times for 185 yards. In four post-season
games, Riggins piled up an incredible 610 yards.
Although Riggins' performances were spectacular, the Redskins' offensive line cleared a wide path through opposing defenses by controlling the trenches. Led by Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm and Mark May, the Hogs allowed Joe Gibbs to turn a powerful running game into a complete ball-control offense. At quarterback, Joe Theisman was the perfect complement to the running game. He led the league in accuracy, completing 64% of his passes. Although he threw for only 13 touchdowns, his high percentage passes kept the Redskins moving relentlessly down the field.
Four years later, Gibbs won his second Super Bowl, dismantling the Broncos 42-10. Bostic, May and Jacoby opened holes big enough for rookie Tim Smith to run for over 200 yards. Adding to Denver's misery was quarterback Doug Williams who passed for over 350 yards, including two touchdown bombs of 50 and 80 yards. By stretching a defense that was already unable to stop the run, Williams gave Washington an unfair advantage with his ability to go deep. However, Theisman and Williams still had one weapon in common - a power running game that delivered 3½ yards per carry, over and over again.
In order to design an effective ball control offense you must remain true to the basic concept for four quarters. The goal is very simple: Run the ball three times for 10 yards, or throw for 5 yards on two of three passing downs. The ball control offense may not make the highlight films, but it is hard to argue with a Super Bowl ring.
Although gaining 3½ yards per carry seems easy, it requires the right plays and personnel to keep it up for 60 minutes. First of all, fumbles are simply not allowed. If you aspire to build a ball-control offense around a running back who cannot hang onto the ball, you are doomed to failure. The 1982 Redskins recovered their only fumble in post-season play, while the 1987 Super Bowl champions lost the ball once during the entire playoff schedule.
Once you identify a dependable running back, you need to design a play book with conservative running plays. Stick with dives, power slants and counters; forget running wide. Your goal is to run north and south, and burn up the clock. Use tight ends and big blocking backs to help the guards and tackles.
If your first down running play fails to net 3½ yards, don't panic. You only need two very short pass completions to get the first down. You only need to clear out the first five yards past the line of scrimmage. Send at least two receivers deep to clear the area, and vary the direction of your swing routes. Remember, you only need five yards per catch. If you must air it out, wait until the defense tightens up to stop your running game. Watch the opposing safeties. If they move up to the line of scrimmage to support the run defense, it is time to go deep. When you strike fear in their hearts with a 20-yard completion, go right back to the ground game and resume the punishment.
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