The Stafford Offense: Power Game, 1 of 3

  1. The Curl Series - A chain mover pass play package designed to pick up 8 to 12 yards and take advantage of the vertical threat from Detroit's outside wide receivers, especially Calvin and Tate. (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)
  2. The Quick Post/Angle Iso Series - An underneath set of pass plays designed to attack the middle of the field by winning one on one mismatches with Ebron, Riddick, and Abdullah. (Part 1) (Part 2)
  3. The Power Game - The traditional core run package of Iso, Power, Counter, and Trap. This maximizes the value of athletic guard play and the fact we now have a superior blocking fullback, and minimizes negative yardage runs through aggressive gap blocking. Best against any two high defense that is strong versus the Curl or Quick Post/Angle Iso series.
  4. The PA Z Cross Series - A play action pass package built off the power run game that punishes zone coverages designed to take away the Curl Series or the Quick Post/Angle Iso series
  5. The Slant/Stick Series - A quick hitting three step drop package designed to get all wide receivers (both slot and outside) the ball quickly for YAC opportunities, specifically Tate, Moore, and Jones.

Review: Past Material on the Situation

Before we start with this section on the power/gap run game, let's link some of the background information all Detroit fans should be starting with:

Now that we are all reminded of how awful the Detroit run game has been since Lombardi was hired, I want to point out a couple of things from those old articles.

From Justin Simon's October 2014 What's Wrong article (emphasis added):

Problem 4: Offensive line

This might be the most obvious, and surprising, problem all year. The Lions brought back their entire starting offensive line from last year and seemed set on repeating the great season they had in 2013. They even kept the offensive line coach to ensure cohesion on the line, but it appears all of that was for naught.

It's tough to pinpoint just one issue with the line. They've played four right tackles this season so far. Both Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola look past their primes. And Larry Warford has been a completely different player in his sophomore season.

In my mind, this is the worst problem on the Lions offense because there is no quick fix. There might not even be a long-term fix for this season. In all the other areas you can somehow conceive the problem correcting itself, but I just don't see it here. I fear the Lions are going to have to figure out how to hide their line going forward, and that's never a good spot to be in.

What the hell happened? In Jeremy Reisman's October 2014 Film Review, three out of the four runs used to demonstrate how bad the Lions were at running the ball were zone plays. Only the third one under the "Right Tackle" subsection was not a zone play; you can clearly see the entire line moving laterally in the other plays.

This agrees with what i'd found in my own film review. Not only were the Lions predictable in when they ran (See Christopher Tomke's September 2015 Things of that nature), but they were running plays they were simply not very good at blocking for. The first part of my look at the run game against Arizona (Fixing Detroit's Rushing Offense, Part 1) found the Lions consistently failed to block the zone plays correctly, leaving the backs no chance to succeed. The only times the team found success running the ball (Fixing Detroit's Rushing Offense, Part 2) was when they discarded the zone plays and ran traditional gap/man blocked plays.

Alex Reno's "Fire Everyone" ragepost had this to say about the zone scheme:

How is it that your general manager drafts specific offensive linemen that are more suited for a power-blocking scheme and your OC is exclusively running a zone-blocking scheme? How is it that there is that much disconnect between the GM and coaches that Manny Ramirez is the only halfway decent zone blocker on the team that fits your scheme? HOW?

Further confirmation that zone blocking failures were responsible for derailing the running game came after Jim Bob's promotion. He flipped the play balance from Joe Lombardi and ran primarily gap blocked runs with a handful of zone plays instead of the other way around. As Christopher Tomke pointed out in his recent November 2015 Things of that nature, average success running the ball went up dramatically.

This is where we get the prescription of nearly abandoning the zone scheme entirely and installing a traditional package of gap/man blocked run plays. Instead of moving our linemen laterally to shuffle until a crease appears, we go north-south and let our big uglies punch their big uglies aside and make our own crease to ram a ballcarrier through.

The most basic of such gap plays is the Iso.

B.O.B. = Burton on Backer

X&O Labs' has an outstanding report on the isolation play, The Iso Study: Variations of Running the Isolation Play. First, let's establish what X&O Labs says an "Iso" play is:

By definition, an "isolation" play is just as it says, typically a man blocking scheme where an offense will insert their second level player onto a defensive second level player at the point of attack. Where you bring that second level player could come from anywhere. . . in most cases, that second level player will come from the backfield. Even with the advent and perpetual evolvement of the spread run game, 56.6 percent of coaches still run the isolation play out of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) and 62.2 percent of those coaches use the fullback as the lead blocker.

For a good example of what this play looks like, let's go to the NY Times' Fifth Down blog for an old Giants example, 36/37 BOB:

36/37 BOB has been part of the Giants’ core running game since 2004 (36 to the right, 37 to the left). It’s a weakside isolation play they run out of a two-back set, from different formations, with or without motion, and from almost anywhere on the field. Last Sunday, they used it very effectively, including a 45-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw at an important point in the game.

BOB stands for "back on backer," and refers to the isolation block by the fullback on the weakside linebacker. The play features a combination block on the frontside by the center and guard on the defensive tackle and middle linebacker, and another combo block on the backside by the guard and tackle on the defensive tackle and strongside linebacker.

Notice a couple of things about the diagram that matches the X&O Labs description of the Iso play. The offensive line of the Giants in the play diagram is fan blocking at the edges, meaning they are each picking a guy to block and pushing their guy outward away from the center. There is a nice description of fan blocking by Shakin the Southland:

The Fan is the opposite of the Down block; both are angle blocks. Here the OL is fanning outwards, angling away from the Center. The initial aiming point is usually the inside hip of the defender. It works well when the defenders are all taking outside shade alignments on the OL, and so it is normally pretty easy for the OL to execute. The running back almost always takes the ball right up the gut behind this blocking scheme, which is commonly an Isolation type of play.

The Center and Right Guard are pushing left against their guys while the man in motion and Right Tackle are pushing right against their guys. This keeps defenders engaged and therefore pinned while spreading the lanes - particularly the right side B gap between the Guard and Tackle (see below). This is the point of attack: the WLB is the guy you expect to have B gap responsibility. The play widens his gap and lets him attempt to fill it, at which point the offense's second level fullback hammer comes crashing down.

This is perfect for the personnel we have now. It is a play that will put a hat on a hat across the board and set up a matchup for our fullback to take out the defense's last man in the front capable of bringing down the ballcarrier.

Find 46 in these two GIFs from Tomke's post. Forget the ballcarrier - just look at the fullback and follow him.

Ten years ago, Lorenzo Neal said true blocking backs were disappearing as a roster need:

"It's a dying position," Neal said. "People say, 'We don't need a fullback, we can go with an H-back.' Those guys don't really like to hit or blow guys up. A lot of tight ends, if you ask them to go isolate on a linebacker or run a lead draw, they don't want to do it. Guys will tell me, 'Lo, I don't want your job.' "

"What happens with my position is, coaches and general managers start saying, 'OK, we can get by with the tight end because he can go out and catch balls,' " he said. "They feel you're overpriced. The turnover rate at the position becomes like a revolving door."

And it's usually the offense that suffers.

"You're getting five yards deep and so is the linebacker," he said. "That's 10 yards of space. So when you hit, it's a big collision. Linebackers, guys like [Denver's] Al Wilson and [Baltimore's] Ray Lewis, when they see a tight end in there blocking, they're licking their chops."

We have one of these Lorenzo Neal kind of guys who likes to hit people. I suggest we use him that way.

Inserting a Gap

In a normal "gap sound" defense, whether playing a one gap or two gap system, every hole between blockers is assigned to a specific defender who must make a play if the run goes to their gap. Here's a basic explanation from Dawgs By Nature:

For regular 21 personnel, there are initially seven gaps to account for. If you have a seven man front, that means there are enough defenders to plug every possible running lane.

Things get tougher for the defense, however, when the fullback is introduced into the running play. The fullback presents an extra gap that the defense must account for--a gap that a skilled offensive coordinator can place anywhere along the line.

In order to successfully defend the run against 21 (2 RB, 1 TE) personnel, the defense must do one of two things:

  1. Cover two gaps with one player OR
  2. Bring another player up to cover a gap.

Hence, "8 men in the box" to stop a run heavy formation that presents 8 gaps to fill. The defense may bring down a "box safety" and leave only one high safety: this is why two high vs. 21 personnel would be considered an anti-pass look that does not respect your ability to run.

The image puts the extra gap all the way at the right as a strong side "E" gap, but as Rufio says, the extra gap can be plugged in anywhere the offense chooses. You pick a point of attack and designate the second level guy your fullback is targeting. The one gap that linebacker was supposed to cover now becomes two possible gaps:

"Inserting" the fullback through the line of scrimmage like this creates an extra gap for the defense (especially linebackers) to worry about. And because the tailback can cut to the left or the right of the lead block, deeper defenders on both sides of the formation have to make the right reads. Since Iso’s run into the teeth of the defense, they’re usually short-gainers, though this is compensated for by their playaction potential–it’s hard for linebackers to not creep up when they’ve got two backs making a beeline for them.

This is how Iso is designed to work - your lead blocker takes the linebacker and turns him to one side; the ballcarier following him reads the lead block and runs behind the fullback's butt to keep the blocker between the defender and the runner.

Example Iso Runs

2014 Atlanta (London), 3Q (14:58). 2nd and 10 at Detroit 20.

The design here is targeting 59 MLB Joplo Bartu. The Detroit offensive line will fan block to spread the lanes while keeping the first level engaged/pinned while 45 FB Jed Collins locates and pushes Bartu aside. There is actually a force defender - 23 LCB Robert Alford - outside the shot, which is why 89 TE Kellen Davis is set to go way out to Detroit's far left (our right).

As Stafford nears the handoff to 35 HB Joique Bell, we see the linemen engaged and widening at the left A gap (shaded in blue) between 67 LG Rob Sims and 51 C Dominic Raiola. This is as "up the gut" as it gets. Although it may appear 55 OLB Paul Worrilow is roaming free, it's just that 75 Larry Warford hasn't quite gotten to him... yet. Our targeted iso player, Bartu, has two big holes in the line to worry about, and Collins actually cleverly gets him started wide toward the B gap before cutting back inside of Sims.

Collins lays a shoulder into Bartu, holding a lane between himself and Raiola. Notice how Warford moves laterally after getting to the second level to cut Worrilow off instead of rushing straight at him; Warford positions himself to push the defender away from the designated left side A gap lane.

Bell took it straight ahead here for 9 yards. Making the tackle? Deep in the Falcons secondary, it's 36 SS Kemal Ishmael.

2014 at Minnesota, 3Q (9:41). 1st and 10 at Detroit 29.

Here the Lions are running a weakside iso play where 75 RG Larry Warford is going to move up and seal off the backside linebacker 50 ROLB Gerald Hodges instead of going for the guy right in front of him, 54 MLB Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley is the iso target. Everyone fan blocks as expected and 45 FB Jed Collins locks in an intercept course for Brinkley.

One key running backs sometimes use to read their lead blockers is the position of the lead blocker's helmet relative to the defender's helmet. If the blocker's helmet is to the inside, cut it inside behind him. If the blocker's helmet is to the outside, bounce it out around him. Bell has options here because Collins' block is happening way out in space - should he cut to the right or left around Collins? Jed Collins' helmet is to the inside, so even running head up Bell knows Collins' base is going to secure the inside lane for him. Similarly, Warford has great positioning.

Remember when people were wondering if Joique Bell lost a step early in the year? Look at the run path he takes here against the Vikings: he's going north-south with small sidesteps to scoot around blockers. Sidestep behind Collins' butt - head north-south. Sidestep behind Warford's butt - head north-south again. Sidestep behind Ebron's butt - head north-south again.

This play went for 13 yards.

It is really not that hard: Bell needs to be a north-south runner that bangs it inside. Reno is right - stop running him sideways and keep him running forward. Probably want to do this a lot with Zach Zenner and George Winn, too. While Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah are shifty cutback runners who can really dance, the first three guys are the type you point in the right direction and get out of the way. They aren't super elusive, but they run hard with straight line power, burst to the hole nicely, and fight like hell for tough yards.

That Burton guy is pretty good, too. We ought to showcase him some, and Iso does just that.

Next Time: What Happened to Larry Warford?

I bet you want to know.

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