The Stafford Offense: Power Game, 3 of 3

For the first part of this series, see The Stafford Offense: Power Game, 1 of 3.
For the second part of this series, see The Stafford Offense: Power Game, 2 of 3.

Football Blitzkrieg

First, go read this 2012 article by Bucky Brooks at New England Patriots diversify offense with power running game. In particular, bullet point 2 titled "Josh McDaniels is maximizing the talents of a versatile backfield rotation." Well, ignore the Zone Stretch part... but absorb everything else.

Now, throwing out that outside zone stuff, let's see what Brooks is using as his examples: Toss Crack, Counter, and Iso versus pass aggressive defenses loading up on DBs. We've already talked about Iso, which works inside... the other two things here are more tricky, and are really nice examples of outflanking the defense.

One of the masters of armored maneuever warfare was Heinz Guderian, who created the concept of blitzkrieg lightning warfare:

In order to achieve the initial momentum, Guderian thought surprise indispensable, and his operational methods illustrate that he went to great pains to achieve operational surprise whenever he could. A surprise armor attack -- surprising in its location, force composition, changing direction, and speed -- enabled his panzer units to punch through weak defensive areas into the rear of tactical defenses.

I remember reading in armored warfare books how Guderian stressed to his tank commanders the concept of mass at the point of attack. We do not feel around with our fingers - we hit with a mailed fist. Klotzen, nicht kleckern. Get the defense moving in one direction, find the weak spot where they can't cope with what you're sending, then punch through with maximum power.

I think we can apply the same ideas to running the ball. Send the puny second level defenders fleeing before the might of power run blocking.

Crack Toss

So far, we've talked about stuff hitting inside the tackle box, either Iso up the gut or Power O on the edge of the box in the B or C gaps. Matt Bowen's NFL 101 article Introducing the Power-Running Game shows a concept the Detroit Lions sometimes use to hit the perimeter outside the box:

The Crack Toss is one of the toughest concepts to defend because gaps move from a secondary support perspective when the ball reaches the edge of the formation.

Run from a bunch alignment, the Crack Toss allows the offense to block down (or "crack") on the edge with the play-side tackle pulling to block the cornerback in run support.

This forces the cornerback to use a "crack replace" technique (support edge when coverage blocks) and tackle.

And, as we often see, the cornerback will widen/give ground (causing a soft edge) when the play-side tackle pulls to create a running lane for the offense.

This is a pretty standard play that many teams use, and can spring some big gains to the outside. Make no mistake this is a power run play, not some dainty finesse play, and is sometimes called a power sweep.

2014 New York Giants, 4Q (8:14). 1st and 10 at the New York 39.

First let's look at Crack Toss going to the left. This is from the I Formation with 10 WR Corey Fuller "wide" and 15 WR Golden Tate in the "slot" doing the crack back block. 71 LT Riley Reiff will pull and lead, absolutely burying 26 SS Antrel Rolle after the safety tries to penetrate upfield. The follow-on block is 45 FB Jed Collins on 57 ROLB Jacquian Williams, who tries to slide over to push 35 HB Joique Bell's run path horizontal.

One thing to notice about the blocking on these wide sweep plays is that our blockers are frequently going to have a long way to go to cut off their assigned man. In the first diagram showing the blocking assignments, look how far 51 C Dominic Raiola and 75 RG Larry Warford have to go to get in position to wall their assignments off from the play direction.

Very often, blockers must cut block their man to get the job done: this is appropriate because all they need to do is impede the defender long enough for the play to get wide and turn upfield. In this second shot, notice Raiola and Warford boxed in red at the top are both getting up off the ground after cut blocking their assigned men. Similarly, you can see Reiff boxed in pink and Collins boxed in purple - our two lead blockers - both on the turf after going to the ground to get their guys.

Bell manages to weave through the lead cut blocks and a nice downfield block by Fuller keeps 20 CB Prince Amukamara from moving up to make the stop. Bell gained 8 yards on this run.

2014 New Orleans, 3Q (7:31). 2nd and 3 at the New Orleans 13.

Now for something completely different going to the right: the Lions come out with Bell as a lone setback even though 45 FB Jed Collins is on the field. Collins begins the presnap period split out to the left to shift the defense, and then comes in motion across the formation to force the Saints to adjust:

The Saints are confused as to who is responsible for making the adjustment, and two players move over toward Collins in his new slot position on the right. 32 SS Kenny Vaccaro boxed in pink and 50 ILB Curtis Lofton boxed in purple wave over to 57 ILB David Hawthorne to move over, and he does. At the same time, 25 FS Rafael Bush deep in the rear decides he is going to align over Collins.

At the last second before the ball is snapped, Lofton (purple) and Bush (pink) realize what happened and try to wave Hawthorne (yellow) back over to a better position inside. As Hawthorne attempts to get back into position, the ball gets snapped.

Collins and Fuller, the two players lined up outside the tackle box to Detroit's right, both attack the defenders to their inside: Collins pushes 93 OLB Junior Galette in front of him while Fuller goes after Hawthorne. This leaves 28 LCB Keenan Lewis unengaged as the crack replace defender on the edge... but thinking he needs to follow his coverage assignment Fuller, Lewis actually backs up and gives away the perimeter. He and Bush are boxed in yellow here. They are the edge and fill defenders who our pulling lead blockers are supposed to hit.

Remember this was a single back formation - the playside tackle will pull to lead the toss, and that's 66 RT LaAdrian Waddle... but Collins is cracking back inside like Fuller. Who is going to take the other defender? In this case, not one but two playside offensive linemen pull (boxed in purple): 75 RG Larry Warford also comes trucking around to blow up a poor defensive back.

Warford locks on to Lewis, who wants no part of that. Warford whiffs on his block only because Lewis keeps backing away to avoid contact, effectively taking himself out of the play.

From behind the Detroit offense, you can see how nice the double crack back seals off the edge. Watching pre-ACL injury Waddle and Warford rolling downhill full blast at defensive backs to clear a path for Bell is impressive. Detroit picked up 11 yards on this run.

2015 at Seattle, 2Q (9:21). 2nd and 7 at the Detroit 35.

Did we run the Crack Toss this year? You bet, and from all kinds of formations. Here's Ebron and Tate doing a double crack back with Burton from H-back alignment plus Reiff and Tomlinson all pulling in front of Abdullah to the left on the road at Seattle:

This is the kind of play that makes me think there's potential. Tomlinson missed a block, but was in position - and even with that missed block, Abdullah picked up five yards! Abdullah's ability to stick his foot in the ground and explode upfield is crazy. Tomlinson will get up to pro speed as he gains experience and make that block more often, turning that into a 15 yard gain instead.

Split Zone

Shamelessly borrowing once again from Matt Bowen's NFL 101 series (Introducing the Zone-Running Game), we have a play Detroit sometimes runs to good effect in its own unorthodox way:

The split zone is a variation of the base zone-running game with the F/H-Back pulling opposite the blocking scheme up front to kick out the cutback defender.

Also called a "bim" technique/block, the H-Back (or tight end off the ball in Ace/12 personnel) pulls to create a cutback lane versus the defender who is left unblocked. Think of a trap block versus the edge defender who is squeezing to the play-side flow.

Remember how we've pretty much blasted zone rushing for the last couple of months? Well, here's the thing - suppose you want to sprinkle in some zone run plays and you have a team that can't zone block very well. There may be good reasons to want to include some as a change-up in your offense. What do you do?

Run the zone plays that look (and work) a lot like a gap man blocked play. Consider this base gap scheme install from the O Line Think Tank:

Well, the most logical step is to start with pure gap schemes and work from there. We start with a play that is often called gap or duo where every player is just responsible for the gap to the backside of the play. It is similar to a veer blocking scheme in that everyone can just down block. We choose to gap double team as a base instead, but it reaches the same thing outcome schematically. In some seasons this play isn’t used very often and just serves as a building block.

Move the fullback over to the left as an H Back. Doesn't that look a lot like the split zone play from Matt Bowen at the top of this section? Everyone blocking down (to the left) and a kickout block on the backside edge (on the right). Remember: this is a pure gap scheme base play we are talking about. It is something we should damn well expect the Lions can block well.

If you think about how split zone is set up, it's designed to make the linebackers commit to the offensive line flow in one direction: "an H-Back, Fullback, or Tight End will come across the formation for a kick out block, creating a natural crease for the running back to cut back. The kick block makes the play a bit like a trap." The way Detroit runs this play, the backside cutback lane that gets widened by the kickout "slice" block is almost always what gets taken by the ballcarrier, turning split zone into a de facto long trap counter play.

2014 at Carolina, 3Q (12:20). 1st and 10 at the 50 yard line.

Here's an example of what I mean. Detroit runs split zone at midfield from a single back look with 87 TE Brandon Pettigrew as the H-Back kickout blocker. 12 WR Jeremy Ross is on the backside and will run a flat route to draw away his cover man, 25 CB Bene Benwikere. Everyone blocks down (to Detroit's right) and Pettigrew goes counterflow to deliver the slice block to unblocked 97 DE Mario Addison.

Initially, 75 RG Larry Warford is uncovered and must flow from a double team to a second level defender. Instead, Warford stands up and bounces right to left pushing against his neighbors trying to decide what to do. This is not quality zone blocking - Warford is indecisive and ends up not hitting anybody because he takes too long to figure out what to do. As the play progresses, he finally sees his man 58 OLB Thomas Davis attacking inside and Warford scrambles to get over to him unsuccessfully.

Normally, if Warford aggressively double teams 92 DT Dwan Edwards with 51 C Dominic Raiola, that could open a frontside hole for 35 HB Joique Bell to fire through as a regular inside zone play. Instead, we have a big pile of mush on the right and Bell makes a decisive cut to the backside hole behind Pettigrew for 12 yards.

Notice at the snap, Davis, 59 MLB Luke Kuechly, and 21 FS Thomas DeCoud all take a hop to their left in the same direction of the OL flow and away from the "primary" cutback lane. This is pretty much what you would want out of a counter play. Our zone blocking on the frontside isn't very good, but it doesn't matter because Bell isn't taking the ball there anyway.

2014 at Carolina, 3Q (10:15). 1st and Goal at the Carolina 7.

As with the crack toss play we looked at earlier, here's a split zone play where Detroit gets the defense off balance with presnap motion. 80 TE Joe Fauria comes in motion, drawing over 25 CB Bene Benwikere with him. 58 OLB Thomas Davis and 59 MLB Luke Kuechly flip flop now that there's no double TE heavy side on Detroit's left, and put Kuechly back in the center.

At the snap, the offensive line blocks down to the right while Fauria comes back across the grain and slice blocks 94 DE Kony Ealy on the left side. 87 TE Brandon Pettigrew, who is actually lined up in front of Ealy, releases out to the flat to draw the second level defender out (Davis). Again, the second level defenders all take a step frontside, which gives the blockers a nice angle to bottle them all up and clear a cutback lane for 21 Reggie Bush:

Boxed in yellow is Fauria diving at Ealy, pushing him a bit off track to clear for Reggie to take it down inside the 2.

As pointed out above, the play is almost like a base gap play that you can build other plays from. If you have one more blocker - say, a fullback like 46 FB Michael Burton or maybe you hold the backside tackle - who can either substitute as the kickout on the backside or lead through the hole, you now have a weakside iso play. Football Concepts has a nice post outlining how you go from this:

To this:

From a blocking standpoint, Iso Weak is almost exactly the same. The key difference is that the backside tackle and tight end exchange responsibilities. The tackle will kick out the backside end and the tight end will pull through to the backside linebacker.

Split zone is a nice play that can splash inside zone into the offense (if we ever get good at zone blocking), but until then we can use it like a regular counter and set up a weak side iso.

Next Time: Play Action

Now that we have a core power running game built on gap man blocking, we can install some play action passes. Many of the longest pass plays for Stafford have come from play action passes, particularly the delayed Z Cross play we'll examine first.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.