Tom Cable And The Unbalanced Line


I’ve spent a little time this week watching some tape of the Tom Cable led Raiders of 2010 (it’s a long story), and I came across something very interesting. One of the wrinkles his offense would deploy a couple times per game is the use of an unbalanced line.

To help explain what that means, let’s start with a picture.

Tight end Zach Miller is lined up at as the left tackle. The regular LT, Mario Henderson, is on the opposite side of the line between the right guard and right tackle. It’s called an unbalanced line because, if you look at just the offensive linemen, there is just one to the left of the center, while there are three on the right side of the center.

The advantage in doing this should be obvious. By moving one of the big uglies to the other side of the line, you have more big bodied run blockers than your opponent has big bodied run stuffers. An unbalanced line can also lead to defensive confusion, since gap responsibilities become confused when there isn’t a traditional alignment.

The disadvantages are also fairly obvious. This is clearly a one-sided formation, and one-dimensional formation. The Raiders are almost certainly going to run the ball here, and they are also almost certainly going to run the ball to the right side.

In one game I was watching, the Raiders, who were playing Arizona (because who doesn’t love a Derek Anderson vs. Bruce Grankowski match-up), used this formation twice. The first time they ran for a big gain. The second time should have gone for a big gain as well, but the RG completely whiffed on his block resulting in a one yard loss. The two big tackles, though, were both down field creating a massing whole for McFadden. The concept was working.

To make this work, a team must have a TE who handle the responsibility of blocking the DE in 4-3 defense, or the OLB when playing against a 3-4 defense. The Raiders were able to deploy this formation because of the abilities of Miller.

Seeing this got me thinking about the Seahawks and the possible usage of this type of formation in 2013. The common denominators here are Tom Cable, who’s now Seattle’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator, and TE Zach Miller. Both joined Seattle prior to the 2011 season.

Teams already have to spend time preparing for how to contain the read-option. Adding a wrinkle like an unbalanced line to the standard running game would only make preparing to face the Seahawks even more difficult.

On the other hand, Cable has been in Seattle for two seasons now and we’ve yet to see the Seahawks try this. That makes me curious as to why.

Perhaps Cable was only comfortable mixing up his offensive line in Oakland because he had a mostly veteran group that had spent years in his zone blocking system. Perhaps he recognizes that the Seahawks can run the ball effectively without introducing these strange formations. Perhaps the unbalanced line was actually the production of Hue Jackson (the offensive coordinator in Oakland) and not Cable.

We may never see the unbalanced line in Seattle, but it is fun to dream of some of the possibilities.