Howdy, Barkers! Welcome back to BC Boot Camp. As Coach Strong would look askance at any lollygagging, let's dive right back into things.
So far we've taken a look at coverage basics, gap and force responsibilities and how leverage plays a role in the run and pass games. With that foundation in place, we can start to dive a little deeper into specific aspects of the game, and the first one on our list is man/power-based blocking schemes.
This will be nothing close to an exhaustive treatment of the topic, but I wanted to highlight a few popular power schemes and take a look at where the ball is intented to go, the various types of blocks involved, and what's being asked of the various blockers in order to make the whole thing work.
As I graduated high school at a smooooooth 140 pounds, my hands-on experience in these matters is, ummm...limited. If you've got hands-on experience playing in or coaching the trenches, please share your insights and stories (O-linemen always seem to have the best stories) in the comments.
Let's start off with a classic - the Isolation play (click to embiggen):
The backside of this play – which as it’s drawn up is actually the strong (TE) side of the formation, is pretty simple:
Both the right tackle and the TE are blocking down on their opposite numbers (the strongside DE and Sam linebacker here) to keep them out of the play. Maintaining good position is more important than blasting anyone here – these guys don’t need to blow anyone off the ball, just make sure their defenders can’t get down the line of scrimmage to join in on the party. If you were dealing with a particularly disruptive DE and had a reasonably mobile QB, you might have the TE and tackle double the end and rely on bootleg action from the QB to keep Sam at home.
The backside guard and the center are responsible for the nose tackle and Mike linebacker. Priority #1 is making sure the NT doesn’t barge into the backfield and drop the back for a loss, and Priority #2 is getting out on the Mike so the runner has a chance to do damage on the second level. The guard could have trouble doing either of these jobs solo – the NT has a leverage advantage on him relative to where the ball is going, and since there’s no real misdirection at work the Mike could easily run over the guard’s block and make it to the play. Here, the solve is to have the center and guard start off in combination on the NT – hopefully, they’ll drive him off the ball a bit and give the guard a chance to work himself into better position in contact before the center comes off to cut off the Mike ‘backer. The bigger and badder the NT, the longer the center may need to stay on that combo…and the faster and more instinctive the Mike, the faster the center needs to get OFF that combo to cut Mike off in time. If the NT and the Mike are both plus players, the center and right guard have their work cut out for them.
Now, let's move over to the play side:
The left guard and left tackle are getting mildly fancy in order to gain a leverage advantage on the guys they’re blocking. This action is referred to as a TUG (Tackle Under Guard) block – the tackle fires out to block down on the 3-tech DT and hopefully drive him laterally, while the guard goes "over" the tackle (ideally with about a playing card’s width between their right hips as they cross) to hit and kick out the DE. If angle advantage and the element of surprise have proven sufficiently helpful, this is where the hole will be. Into the hole plummets the fullback, whose isolation on the Will linebacker gives the play its name. The back will follow, cutting off the fullback’s block and hopefully trucking a long way if the receivers have been industrious and gotten out to pester the safeties.
The hard work on this play is on the playside. It requires the LT and LG to have the agility to hit moving targets and the power to get some displacement so the hole isn't squeezed. Since most teams' LTs and LGs are more agile than their counterparts on the right side, hopefully it's not an unreasonable ask. The fullback is doing what fullbacks love to do do - blasting a linebacker - but he needs to get out on Will fast enough and hit him hard enough that he's not able to close the hole on his own. The fullback also needs quick feet and the ability to think on them. If the DE on that side is a monster or the defense is running some kind of slant or scrape exchange, that hole might be completely jammed:
At that point, the fullback running up the guard's ass isn't going to do anyone any good. When that picture gets ugly in the hole, the fullback needs to get around the corner to cut off Will and give the back a chance to bounce the play outside:
The back may be dealing with an unblocked corner out there, but if your back has to face an unblocked defender then the corner is the one you want to pick.
Next up, let's check out another classic power blocking play, the manfully-named Power O:
The Power O concept can be run out of a wide variety of formations and personnel packages, but let’s take a look at an example from a modern spread set with 11 personnel (1 back, 1 TE). The power in the Power O comes from the pulling guard – here, our left guard is pulling with the aim of getting through a hole on the right side of the OL and nailing the first thing he sees, which in this case will probably be the Mike linebacker. This usually ends up being a head-on block with no real angle advantage for the blocker, but he should have an advantage of 60+ pounds on whoever he’s about to say hi to.
This play lives or dies on how much space the back has to work with when he hits that hole between the left tackle and TE:
The pulling guard’s job is to give him the requisite vertical space by blasting Mike. The guard will need to be on his horse, since the double team/down block action from the RG and RT is probably inducing a Pavlovian "here comes Power" response from the Mike that will have him flying down into the hole.
The horizontal space is the work of the RT and TE. The tackle has some help here, as the right guard will help displace and beat up the 3-tech DT for a second before coming off to cut off pursuit from the Will linebacker. The TE has a tougher job as he’s got the defensive end all by his lonesome. Hopefully he’s getting help from a wide alignment and outside gap responsibility from the end, and ideally the offense has some complementary plays that will encourage the DE not to crash hard inside on first contact. We’ll be seeing a good bit of Power from Wickline’s run game this season, and there will be times when the alignment dictates mano a mano work for our TE. The inability for our TEs to sustain blocks on DEs during pulling plays was frequently fatal in the Harsin offense – hopefully two more years of weight work will have Greg Daniels ready to take on the challenge this season, with Geoff Swaim serving as another handy tool in the toolkit.
Next up, let's check out Wham:
Whoops! Gotta take better care with the file names of these .jpgs! Here's the football version of Wham:
Wham blocking action can be reeeaaallly fun to watch when it works. Here, the offense is in 12 personnel with one back and two TE/H-backs facing a seven-man Over front from the defense. Going from left to right, we see something unusual off the bat:
As the left guard is stepping back and out towards the weakside DE, the the left tackle gets after the Will linebacker off the snap. This is a variety of Fold block, where the two linemen are basically exchanging positions and man-blocking another defender. It’s similar in concept to the TUG block we saw in the Weakside Iso diagram, but a Fold block generally involves one of the players getting out on a second-level defender rather than both OL engaging down linemen.
The guard’s fold motion puts him at a terrific angle to kick the DE out of the play, and while the LT has to hustle after Will he has the advantage of an immediate get-off to help him make it in time.
As we move towards the playside, the center is also getting straight upfield at the snap to get a hat on the Mike linebacker:
Of course, this action from the LG and C means that the sea has just parted in front of the nose tackle. Many NTs will take this as an engraved invitation to fly upfield with visions of five-yard losses dancing in their heads.
Unfortunately for the over-eager NT, those visions swiftly turn to fields of stars accompanied by a loud ringing thanks to our friendly neighborhood H-back. This is the block that gives the Wham play its name - just as if he's been cottaging with George Michael (0:50), the NT is about to get blasted in the head from an unexpected direction. The H-back fires out laterally and nails the NT as the latter sprints upfield. It’s a tremendous use of leverage, momentum and the element of surprise that can allow a willing blocker to take out a guy who has him by 50 pounds or more. This kind of lateral block from the opposite side of center is a great way to discourage reckless penetration from the DL. It’s usually referred to as a trap block when it’s coming from a pulling guard or tackle, and a wham block when it’s a detached guy like an H-back, fullback or (particularly ballsy) receiver. Wham action allowed the 49ers’ Delanie Walker to repeatedly earhole an over-eager Ndamukong Suh and spring Frank Gore for a pair of 40+ yard runs in the Schwartz/Harbaugh Handshake Game back in 2011.
Continuing down the line, the right guard is blocking down on the 3-tech DT. The guard needs to be a mauler here and get some lateral movement on the DT in order to fully open the hole that the runner will be targeting. The LT and in-line TE will do some quick combo work on the end before the LT heads upfield to get on Sam.
Originally, that was going to be it for this piece. But as Sean Lee's ACL tear has murdered yet another Cowboys' season in its crib, bear with me while I wax nostalgic on a play that forms the Man Blocking Holy Trinity along with the Packers' Power Sweep and Joe Gibbs' Counter Trey. I speak, of course, of the '90's Cowboys' Lead Draw:
It’s noteworthy as the signature play of the NFL’s last real dynasty. It’s noteworthy as a play that singly suited the talents of all involved, and it’s noteworthy as an example of how a simple concept can create virtuous circles within an entire offense.
When this play was run for a back of Emmitt Smith’s incomparable vision, the notions of ‘playside’ and ‘backside’ became very fluid concepts. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s take the play as drawn here and call right of center the playside and left of center the backside:
The funky block angles drawn up for the left tackle and left guard on the backside represent the "draw" half of the play’s name – a draw play is a run that follows pass action from other members of the offense, and on this play that action typically came from the LT and LG dropping back into a pass protection set. The playside DT and DE would typically initiate an upfield pass rush in response to those drops from the OL, at which point the guard and the tackle would seal them out of the run lanes.
On the playside:
The most common approach to dealing with a 1-tech NT was a quick combo from the center and right guard. It usually fell to the guard to finish off that block while agile center Mark Stepnoski came off to get a linebacker. Man-mountain RT Erik Williams would crush the strongside end, while TE Jay Novacek would...sort of get in the way of the Sam linebacker.
All-time badass FB Daryl Johnston also keyed the play with his terrific vision and instincts. As the play is drawn here, he'd be heading out right off Nate Newton's ass to get the Mike 'backer. But the next time the play was run, he might head out the back door to get Will, or arc out to kick out the Sam 'backer while Novacek went upfield. Those simple adjustments let the play attack different guys from different angles, and Johnston was also masterful at adjusting to the action in front of him to change his angle and pick off targets of opportunity.
Remember Emmitt's vision? It's what made this play so well suited to his talents - comparing this diagram to the other plays above, it's clear that Lead Draw was a lot more agnostic about where the hole was supposed to be than other plays. The same blocks by the OL and the same initial reactions by the defense might see the ball follow Johnston through the B gap on one play, bounce outside of Mark Tuinei on the left side on another, or follow Stepnoski to daylight on the third.
Emmitt's vision allowed Dallas to run this play over, and over, and over...which in turn let it buoy other elements of the offense. LT Mark Tuinei was a technician and a (literal) street fighter, but he was athletically limited in comparison to many of the Hall of Fame pass rushers he faced over the years. But when you run Lead Draw 15 times a game and drop back to pass another 30, that's 45 times the DE is faced with the exact same action from the left tackle. Aggressive upfield or inside moves could easily lead to Emmitt scampering out the back door for 30 yards, so the threat of this play forced DEs to employ a more cautious and reactive game (while also keeping Dallas out of those pesky 3rd and 8's).
On the other side of the line, Jay Novacek was an angular dude who was never going to be more than a "get in your way"-type blocker in the NFL. But the linebacker who aggressively attacked him downhill to fight through his block was a linebacker who often saw the ball thrown right over his head to Novacek in the seam. The action of the Lead Draw play was also perfectly suited to play action passing, which again forced all of the linebackers into reactive mode rather than allowing them to attack with reckless abandon.
Okay! Thanks for indulging my quick trip down Nostalgia Lane. That's it for Man/Power blocking - if you've got any questions to ask or comments to share, please fire away. Next up we'll take a deeper dive on alignments and assignments for defensive fronts before heading back to the offensive side with looks at Inside and Outside Zone.