Cleveland Browns Film Room: Beating an Odd Front with the Pin-and-Pull

With the announcement that newly-appointed Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson will call his own plays, a review of the 2014-2015 Cincinnati Bengals’ offense provides a potential template of what fans can expect next season. A review of the tape shows several tried-and-true run and pass-game concepts Jackson leans on to move the ball. Building off my previous post (Counter/Power), I want to continue looking at base run concepts the new play-caller ran last season.

Although Jackson is well-known for running a gap-based scheme (Iso, Counter, Power), a look at the game tape shows several zone-based concepts including tight zone, split zone, and outside zone. Today I want to break down a clever variant of outside zone that I’ve observed several times through six games, the Pin-and-Pull.

Pin-and-Pull marries the best of both major run blocking schemes (gap and zone), combining reach blocks (zone), down blocks (gap), and pullers (gap) to create blocking angles and numbers at the point of attack (POA). The concept is particularly effective against teams that run odd fronts, with three interior lineman and two standup linebackers on each side of the formation. We’ll examine exactly why below.

When running outside zone the running back usually reads the block on the EMLOS (End Man on Line of Scrimmage). This read should take the ball carrier to the proper gap, allowing him to hit the second level with a full head of steam. The offensive player responsible for the EMLOS will use a reach block, stepping laterally with the first two steps, aiming for the defenders outside number, and swinging the butt out into the alley to cut off the defender from the ball.

Unless the defender is aligned heads up or shaded over the offensive player, the angle and distance needed to make a reach block is very difficult to execute. If the offense were to run outside zone left in the image below, the play would likely be dead from the start as the left tackle simply has too much distance to cover in order to reach the ROLB. Enter the Pin-and-Pull.

In order to run outside zone successfully against the wide alignment by both edge defenders, offenses will tweak the front side (direction the play is going) blocks to create better angles and reduce the distance to the EMLOS. This adjustment is accomplished via alignment and pre-snap motion. Backside blocking principles will remain the same.

On this particular play, the Bengals are purposely breaking tendency by running outside zone out of shotgun towards the running back’s alignment, rather than away as most teams will do a majority of the time. The quick toss also gets the running back to his aiming point, just outside the motioned tight end’s shoulder.

The Bengals come out in Quad Gun Near, utilizing ‘11’ personnel (the first number counts the running backs on the field; the second number counts the tight ends on the field).  The offense sets the strength of the formation to the boundary, or short side of the field. This often indicates a play tendency as most offenses align the formation’s strength to the wide-side, or field, where there is more space in which to work. In this case, the defense’s alignment will leave them short a man to the boundary; the play direction is no accident.

The offense utilizes tight end motion to create a stacked look, out of which the pin block will be executed.

The blocking assignments for the Pin-and-Pull will vary based on the defense’s front (covered vs. uncovered for example). The Chargers are aligned in an odd front (Three down linemen with five players on the line of scrimmage), with seven box defenders after the defense adjusts to the tight end motion. We’ll look at the blocks moving from left-to-right:

-The left tackle will cut off the 4i DE, preventing him from chasing the play down from the backside. This isn’t a killer block; the goal is to impede the defenders progress enough to keep him away from any cutbacks by the running back.

-The left guard has a tough block here, as he is responsible for the 0-technique lined heads up over the center. He will use a bucket step to turn his body towards his aiming point and work to the tackles outside shoulder. Like the left tackle, this block does not need to be a killer. The goal is to get hands on the defender and move him laterally down the line of scrimmage.

-The center will check the play-side A-gap and climb to the MIKE if possible.

-The right guard will use lateral slide steps to reach the 3-technique. After making contact with the defender’s outside number, the blocker will wall off the pursuit by swinging his butt out towards the alley.

-The right tackle and motioned tight end will execute the pin-and-pull blocks. Again, visualize the right tackle attempting to reach block the LOLB. Not happening. The motioned tight end will down block the LOLB (although he ends up heads-up over the linebacker, making his block more difficult than it needed to be), while the right tackle pulls to lead the running back around the sealed edge. The puller will look to attack the first threat to his inside shoulder (generally a linebacker fast flowing to the ball).

-This play has the added dimension of a wide receiver (#82) crack block on the cornerback adjusting to the tight end motion. Ohio State fans are familiar with the concept, as Urban loves to crack linebackers with his wide receivers on outside zone and sweep reads. Break down, strike the chest plate inside the arms, and move the feet to sustain the block.

-The running back will first secure the pitch and press the corner of the formation, breaking just outside the tight end pin and wide receiver crack block. It is the ball carrier’s responsibility to read the pulling tackle’s block and make the appropriate cut inside/outside.

Notice the inside seal created by the tight end and wide receiver. This is EXACLTY what the play is designed to do. With a pulling lineman out front to pick up the first alley defender, the play should hit for good yardage.

The puller will look to pick up the flat defender or first threat to cross his face from the inside.

Next the play from a wide and tight angle:

The tight angle tells the story, as the blocking angles and numbers at the POA become visible. If the pulling tackle hadn’t been beating across his face, this play had a change to go all the way if the running back could cut back across the safety’s face.

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