Defending the Run: When ‘Block Down, Step Down’ Goes Wrong

This post is an excerpt taking from a much-longer breakdown of the Cleveland Browns’ poor run defense posted at The Orange and Browns Report

Our final example examines both the schematic weakness and the information overload Browns’ defenders complained about throughout the season.

The Bengals utilize 11 personnel with an inline tight end and twin receivers to the right-side. The Browns’ set the strength of their defense to the tight end, utilizing a 1, 5, and 9-technique. The entire front is 1-gapping, as ILB Craig Robertson will run blitz his left A-gap at the snap. To his side, the 3-technique will play the B-gap and the 5-technique will play the C to cover all run fits.

The offense elects to run a Jackson-favorite, the Pin-and-Pull:

The center, right guard, and right tackle will block the backside of the play like outside zone, attempting to reach block the defender to their left. The left side of the line gets more interesting.

The frontside of the Pin-and-Pull creates favorable blocking angles by:

  • Using a down block by the tight endto seal the 5-technique
  • Pulling the tackle to pick up the stand-up 9-technique (Barkevious Mingo)
  • Pulling the guard to attack the first threat to cross his face from the inside

This blocking scheme is very effective against the Browns’ alignments because it keeps the tight end and left tackle from having to reach block the 5-technique and OLB, a difficult task.

Here’s where the schematic weakness and overthinking comes into play. Focus on Mingo in the tape below:

Most viewers probably screamed at their screens, wondering why Mingo shot inside and blocked Dansby from scrapping to the ball when the play was clearly coming towards him. The reality is Mingo is coached to take this inside step.

Edge defenders in Pettine’s run scheme are taught several different techniques to beat ‘reactionary blocks’. The techniques change for a reach block, down block, bim, turnout, flow away, etc. The defender must identify the block type he is facing then react using the correct technique. This is where much of the talk about disenchanted players being forced to “think” too much came from, as the defender must identify the block and mentally run through 7-8 different techniques in a split second. If he is just a hair slow, the probability of executing the correct technique plummets. It’s paralysis by analysis.

When Mingo reads the down block by the tight end, he is coached to use the ‘block down, step down’, or BDSD rule. He will attempt to get hands on the tight end to disrupt his block, then follow his hands inside and replace the tight end’s hips at the line of scrimmage, squeezing the gap.

As Mingo squeezes the gap, he will take himself right into the puller coming his way to kick him out. From here he will use a ‘wrong-arm’ technique in which he initiates contact with his outside shoulder into the blocker’s upfield shoulder, followed with a rip through the armpit of the blocker. By attacking the puller’s upfield shoulder the ball should be spilled outside, where a scrapping linebacker exchanges gaps with Mingo to become the force man (keep everything inside).

A great wrong-arm will trade two blockers for one defender. At the very least, the defender must create a train wreak in the backfield:

As we can see the wrong-arm does not have to be pretty to be effective. If the defender can create a pile-up and force the ball wide (most gap plays are trying to win the C or B-gap) he has executed his assignment.

Mingo follows his coaching by stepping down, but because the offense is pulling linemen from the frontside of the play he has no chance to execute his wrong-arm before the pullers are past him.

Dansby does a good job reading his key for play direction and gets a decent jump on the ball as he must replace Mingo in the D-gap, but the reality is he has too much distance to cover with the frontside pull. The left-side of the defense is out-leveraged.

Pettine and the defensive coaching stuff could do several things to clean up this schematic weakness. The easiest adjustment 9and least effective is to simply move Mingo out a step or two so he has time and space to execute his wrong-arm on a same-side puller. Dansby can scrape at full speed to attack the second puller if Mingo doesn’t trade two-for-one. Assume Robertson does not run blitz (which didn’t happen very often) and you have your free-hitter (although Robertson or whoever plays his position in this spot must FLY to the ball).

Another adjustment is to simply slide the play-side 5-technique overtop the left tackle (now a 4-technique) and 2-gap the B and C-gaps.  If the 4-technique can hold the tight end/tackle double-team and Mingo wrong-arms the guard, Dansby and Robertson (he’s not run blitzing here) have a free run to the ball. Even if the tight end/tackle are able to scoop Robertson, Dansby is still unblocked and now has force on the ball.

Finally, instead of using a spill technique Mingo could play force and attack the first puller’s outside shoulder with his inside shoulder forcing the second puller and the ball back inside. Dansby attacks the guard’s outside shoulder, pushing the ball further inside to a scrapping, unblocked Robertson.

There are fixes to these issues, but it requires flexibility and a willingness to take a long hard look at what is working and what is not.

Link to entire article.

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