By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs
Find out how you can run the time tested Power scheme out of one back sets without comprising its integrity to the game or losing its downhill style as seen in the University of Pittsburgh's dominant run game this weekend.
By Mike Kuchar
Ah…the battle tested Power O. It rivals the veer option as perhaps the most utilized offensive scheme in football. It’s tried and true – tracing back from the days when Woody Hayes fed the ball to Archie Griffin behind a stout fullback and those dominate offensive lines at Ohio State. "Four yards and a cloud of dust," was not just a mantra but an offensive creed to live by. Even nowadays it’s rare to break down five minutes of game tape without seeing some remnants of the play show up at least a handful of times.
But, it’s the form of the scheme that we see changing. As coaches, we have all gotten frustrated banging our heads against the wall trying to run the scheme against an 8 or 9-man box. It seems as soon as you put two backs on the field, defenses will play some sort of eight-man front canceling gaps. But, the play is too aesthetic and too authentic to be dumped – its smash mouth football at it’s finest. So how can you run the scheme without comprising its integrity to the game or its downhill style?
As researchers we wanted the answer, so we searched to find it. The coaches we spoke with believed that instead of feeding the defense what it wants (by lining up and running right at them) they are finding ways to spread the field by eliminating that fullback-type and still keep the structure of the play the same. We’ve seen Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn "ride" the concept out of shotgun sets to a national championship using Cam Newton as his weapon. We’ve seen Rashard Mendhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers use the scheme to gash the rest of the AFC for over 1,200 yards this season during their race to Super Bowl. So while it is possible to run the scheme with one-back, in order for your production to be probable, we’ve found you’ll need to conquer these certain problem areas.
Case 1: Creating Conflict With the Play Side Defensive End Without uncertainty, we’ve found that it’s that pesky EMLOS (end man on line of scrimmage) that could cause the biggest headache when running the scheme. We realize that plenty of teams have now started to adjust the scheme by running it into the A/B gaps (which we will explain later) but if you don’t get the proper hat on that edge player the play could be squashed. We’ve found that how you block that player most likely depends on where he lines up. For all intents and purposes, we’ll use the following numbering system to declare his alignment:
- 7-technique: inside eye of the tight end
- 6-technique: head up the tight end
- 9-technique: outside eye of the tight end
Since we’ve found that the 7-technique causes the most concern, we will start there. A gap scheme by nature, the power play is designed to "create a wall" by using down blocking from the front side of the play. Coupled with a back-side puller that kicks out (can be a guard or an H-back) the play is designed to be run outside the down blocks and inside the kick out block. It was Jim Tressel, the head coach at Ohio State, who used to tell Maurice Clarett to get "cheek-to-cheek," meaning split the butt cheeks of the kick out blocker and the widest down blocker and run the ball in the alley. While Tressel may be brave enough to tell a talented back like Clarett where to run the ball, most of the coaches we spoke with aren’t as specific with their directives. Plus, defensive ends now are taught to wrong-arm all blocks to push the ball to the perimeter, which can make a kick out block next to impossible.
One way to diffuse this problem is simply to block down on the 7-technique with the tight end and eliminate any kick-out scenario. Our research found that 50.7% of coaches teach their tight end to do exactly that. Sam Pittman, a 26-year coaching veteran who is now the offensive line coach at the University of North Carolina, made his money with the likes of running back Michael Turner and Garrett Wolfe running the scheme. Pittman makes it real simple – he has the tight end handle the defensive end…period. No chip and release. No pass set. Just plain 'ol block him. "He (tight end) is responsible for C gap and when we teach the power scheme gaps always override people," says Pittman. The main coaching point is for the tight end to reach block the 7-technique by getting his back-side shoulder down and cutting him off from the gap.
North Carolina’s favorite formation to run it is out of the trey set (Diagram 1) which would mainly account for a six man box – with two safeties high to account for the possibility of three vertical threats. Pittman prefers to run it to the 3-technique side because it accounts for a natural double team by the onside tackle and guard, but the play can hit anywhere from the play side A gap out. "The key is to make that defensive end move laterally and get him out of that C gap," says Pittman.
Get Instant Access to X&O Labs’ Full Library of Game & Practice Video – Plus Full Length Reports and Interviews. Click Here!
What if he doesn’t want to get out the C gap? Now, you can force his alignment by creating another gap. Instead of lining up with just a tight end, we’ve found that some coaches are adding a tight/wing formation – much like Boise State does – and still run the power (Diagram 2). Now, that defensive end is forced to account for the extra gap and widen into the D gap. The tight end can now base block the defensive end by stretching him – which is what 34.8% of coaches do – and wrap the pulling guard for the front side backer. But, of course, the technique of that back-side puller is a whole other concern – one that had to be addressed in our research.
Case 2: Open vs. Square Pull Here’s a shocker. It was a close call, but 53.6% of coaches still favor the open pull over the square pull for the back-side tackle. Just for clarification purposes, the square pull is also known as the "skip pull" where a puller will drop step, crossover, and run keeping his shoulder square to the line of scrimmage. An open pull is exactly as it sounds – the lineman will open up his hips by throwing his elbow back and keep his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.
While it’s the majority of high school coaches that still teach the open pull (over 90% of college coaches favor the skip pull) we did manage to find an NFL coaching vet who still believes in its value. Pete Mangurian, a 19-year NFL offensive line coach, most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finds that because he has so many second level run-through’s in the front side B and C gaps he needs to make sure the pulling guard’s eyes are on the line of scrimmage and not at linebacker level. "We talk about losing ground to gain ground," says Mangurian. "I tell him to direction his eyes on the first target and read the EMLOS to find out if we’re going through him or around him. The main coaching point is to go full speed and run." This may be difficult to do in a skip pull scheme. "If any color shows up inside that tight end we are going to trap it." Mangurian even tells the back he has the same read. Since the Bucs run the play out of their nickel package (11 personnel) the back, which is offset and in the gun, is taught to follow the guard. "We tell the guard to pull on the inside edge of the hole. If we see the outside number of the defender than we log him. If we see the inside number of the defender, than we kick him out."
Case 3: Eliminating LB Run-Throughs in the A/B Gaps Most coaches we talked with during our research teach the power scheme as an A or B gap play. In fact, over 43% of coaches surveyed prefer the ball to hit in those gaps. In years past, the power was more of an off-tackle, C or D gap scheme, but since the quickest way to gash a defense is a straight down the field, coordinators have shifted their philosophy. Ideally, you’d like to get two natural double teams on the play – one on the 3-technique (B gap defender) and one on the 1-technique (A gap defender) but anytime you commit two offensive players to one gap, a defensive player becomes unaccounted for. If that LB is quick enough to diagnose the play and get through the point of attack, you may be in trouble. Enough trouble that 46.5% of coaches felt handling those run-through’s have been the most tedious task in running the play effectively.
Like any other run scheme, the effectiveness of the Power O relies on the technicalities of the offensive line. "We talk about inside footwork for our double teams," said Mangurian. "We want to create a violent vertical presence. We want to feel the inside half of the defender (d-lineman) and look at the LB. We need to keep our eyes on the LB. We step with the inside foot first, that’s most important." When Mangurian sees those LB’s getting some run through, he teaches his hogs one of two things. "We teach it just like the center’s job when blocking back on a nose or three techniques. Your fit on a run through backer is the same as a penetrating defensive lineman. We want our head across the front of his body and take away anything over the top by moving our feet. That’s if he’s a fast penetrator." What if he’s a reader? "If the backer is more stagnant, then we want to get our head across the bow and take away anything inside with our feet. It’s real simple. If I’m gaping back to my left and I got a penetrator, I put my face to his right shoulder to get leverage and stop his charge. If I don’t have a penetrator, I block with my right (play side) shoulder."
According to Mangurian, often times the back will see that back-side LB screaming off the top of a double team and will instantly cut the ball back to the vacated gap. Both the nose and the back-side LB are both playing the front side A gap which leaves the back-side B gap wide open (Diagram 3). It’s become an automatic fix for fast LB run-throughs. "Of course, we don’t really coach that up because he’ll be doing it way too much. But if he does it right we don’t say a word. We just ask him when he comes off the field where that back-side LB was."
Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research – please CLICK HERE.
We all know that part of being a good coach is being creative. We’re smart enough not to try and fit a square peg into a round hole. If something is not working, we either fix the problem or change the way we look at it. The Power O is a concept that has been around for over sixty years – how you run it is up to you. You may have the personnel to tighten the tackle box and bang heads with defenses with 21 or 22 personnel. But if you’re a lot like the coaches we surveyed, you have to find other ways to get it done.