Continuing in our quest to complement the Power O, let's examine the specific type pressure it puts on the defense and then how that pressure can be accentuated with complementing plays. Previously, we spent some time considering the defense, especially the playside defenders. Harsin’s first goal is to give those defenders a little more to think about than just busting up the Power play.
It’s essential to break the field up into different areas and apply pressure to each area. In this chart I’ve broken up the field accordingly:
The first step in complementing the Power play is building off of our primary pressure on the playside defenders by giving them a few more things to worry about.
Strongside Outside Pressure
Outside runs are a natural complement to off tackle runs like the Power O because they apply conflicting pressure to the Power O’s playside defenders and especially the end man on the line of scrimmage. Do the defenders need to bunch up inside and protect the B-C Gaps or fly outside to prevent the runner from getting to the edge on an outside run? Putting defenders in conflict with some complementing plays will strengthen the results of all of the plays involved. So let’s take a look at a few plays that group nicely with the Power O to apply pressure to the strongside defenders.
Flex Outside Zone
The Flex Outside Zone is mix of a zone running play with man assignments. It’s sometimes called the Pin & Pull because some of the offensive linemen are going to block down (pin defenders) and the others are going to pull around them and attack the perimeter setting up an outside zone run.
The conflicting action here fits nicely with the Power play. The defensive end goes from needing to avoid getting sealed from the inside on the Power play to needing to avoid getting pinned from the outside on the Flex play (the proverbial damned if you do damned if you don’t). Any defensive stunt that features a EMOL shooting inside is going to be severely punished by this play.
The linebackers are also susceptible to picking up a bad key from the down blocks and taking false steps toward the C gap instead of high tailing it to the outside to take on the pulling linemen. If they do follow those pin blocks down, they are going to make it that much easier for the pulling offensive linemen to get out in front of them on the outside and this play could be going for an easy touchdown. If they try to key off the quarterback they are going to see the same first few steps and body orientation as the Power O (and every other play in this progression) so no luck there. Despite that, if they are able to correctly key and diagnose the play they need to get outside quick and defend a gap because the zone blocking is going to set up multiple new running lanes for the running back.
Let’s check out the Flex Zone at full speed from the Spring Game:
Here it is again from Boise State in a Straight I:
Harsin seems to favor this play against a cover 2 zone. The way we will run it, there will be combo blocking on the playside defensive linemen (the "pins") that will work up to the backside linebackers, unless we feel like our tight end can dominate the down block in which case we will use the H-back/F-back as part of the outside zone front. I think Boise State playbook rules have the center always pulling on this play with either the playside guard or tackle so I would expect to see the same for us.
As with any good tactic, one counter attack isn’t enough. When you introduce doubt, follow that up with some more doubt. The next running play that fits nicely in this progression is the weakside Inside Zone.
Weak Inside Zone
This run is basically a zone counter because it is designed specifically for the backside cut to the strongside. Once again the defensive end is prone to positioning himself too far inside to protect the edge and to add to the problem the linebackers are also going to flow away from the edge because of the action of the play. That leaves the backside of this play with an extra blocker (H-back or Fullback) to pick up the force player and a weakened backside edge, ripe for the homerun play. But why get sucked inside in the first place? The elephant in the room for the defense, particularly for the linebackers, is the threat of attack to the weakside of the formation. This is the running play in the progression that would scare the crap out of me as a DC because of how it leverages the defense's instincts to open up the strongside alley.
Here’s the second team offense making hay against the first team defense on the cutback:
And Boise State slicing up Hawaii on the same play:
We’ll see the inside zone again later when we look at attacking the weakside of the formation. It’s a versatile run that fits into almost any running scheme, but it especially sings when the cutback lanes open up. It’s also great for play action passing because the blocking is easy to transition into pass protection.
At first it might seem like the Toss Sweep is retread over area that the Outisde Zone already covers. The difference is timing. The Outside Zone is trying to setup a coordinated blocking wall to give the running back a lot of different running lanes. It’s a test of the defense’s discipline on the outside. The Toss Sweep is a quick hitting assault on the alley that is designed to get the running back in space and get to second level blocks as soon as possible. They attack the same part of the defense but at different tempos and with different types of pressure. We will use Jet Sweeps as well to similar effect but the Jet Sweep will hit the alley even faster than the toss sweep.
Texas ran the Toss Sweep a couple times in the Spring game from a Big formation:
They also showed the Strongside Jet Sweep:
And here’s the Toss Sweep from Boise State from the Offset I:
Remember those playside defenders who have the lion’s share of responsibility to stop the Power O play? Think about this progression from their point of view. The Power play is a full frontal assault on them; they need to bunch in the C gap and avoid getting sealed to the outside or blocked down. Then Flex play gives them false keys on the pin blocks and requires them to get out in space and defend a new set of gaps 15 yards wide of where they used to be. The Toss Sweep hits them quick and tries to pin them again which requires them to defend the alley with no hesitation. Finally, the Inside Zone lures them to the weakside and then begs them once again to please not get pinned inside.
The Power O when taken alone is a physical play, but one that can be attacked and marginalized. However, when we counter balance the base package intelligently the defense’s difficulty in the run game increases by several orders of magnitude. Bunch them tight then spread them thin. Hit them hard then challenge them to a footrace. Introduce doubt and punish it. To further muddy the waters for the defense, next time we will stir in the base weakside runs and eventually we will add in play action so that we can get the full view of how the base package will seek to exacerbate the defense. Hope you enjoy the topics. As always, discussion is encouraged and appreciated.