Running Back Ezekiel Elliot's Fit in the Cleveland Browns Run Game

Incoming Cleveland Browns’ head coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants to bring balance to the offense through his power run game. How could Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot, the top running back prospect in the 2016 NFL draft, fit into Jackson’s system?

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Jackson wants to run the ball down the defense's throat, as demonstrated during previous stops in Oakland and Cincinnati. The second-time hed coach hangs his hat on the power run game, a gap-blocked system requiring offensive linemen to both down block and pull with the running back aiming for a specific hole.

Expect the trend to continue into the 2016 season, with Jackson dialing up his favorite power-game concepts including Iso, Power, and the Counter Trey. Before examining Elliot’s potential fit in the Browns’ running game, let’s breakdown the ubiquitous ‘Power’ (a Jackson-favorite) to look at the techniques, concepts, and traits needed to succesfully utilize gap-blocked concepts. We’ll start by looking at an example from the Bengals’ 2015 33-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

Power is a popular concept executed at all levels of football, from Pee Wee football up to the NFL. It is run by a variety of offensive systems and is considered by many coaches to be THE classic power run-game concept. Although running backs come in all shapes and sizes, the ideal back for the power-run game will possess vision, decisiveness, and physicality at the point of contact.

The blocking assignments for Power will vary based on the defensive front. here the Raiders are aligned in an odd front (Three down linemen with five players on the line of scrimmage), with eight box defenders to the Bengal’s seven blockers.  Based on the math, the defense should have an advantage on run plays as they outnumber the offense in the box, although as we will soon see how Jackson alters the math at the POA (point of attack).

As you can see from the image above, although the defense maintains a numbers advantage in the box, they do not have enough defenders to create a free hitter on anything run to the left side. The Bengals can use the tight end, left tackle, left guard, fullback, and pulling right guard to create a five-versus-four situation, with the extra blocker picking up any scrapping linebackers coming from the right side of the formation.

We’ll look at the blocks and technique moving from right-to-left:

  • The right tackle will ‘hinge’ block, or take a lateral playside step, then pivot to wall off any defender chasing the play from behind.

  • The right guard will pull, aiming for the D-gap outside the tight end’s shoulder. As drawn up, the pulling guard will look to block the SAM (strongside linebacker). If the puller can’t get to the SAM he will block the first threat to his inside shoulder, or “First threat to cross your face”.

  • The center and left guard will down block, or angle block the player to their inside, in this case the 1-technique (aligned over the center’s shoulder) and 3-technique (aligned over the outside shoulder of the left guard). The angles allow the blockers the create leverage and force on the linemen, sealing off the backside of the play.

  • The fullback will kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), the standup rusher. The fullback will attack his man inside-to-out, with his aiming point being the inside number of the defender. If the fullback executes this block correctly, the defender will be sealed outside the play.

  • The left tackle and tight end will execute the most important block, a double team on the 7-technique defensive end. This block MUST be secured, as the offense wants to win the D-gap by driving the defender off the line of scrimmage into the linebackers. Once the double-team on the defensive end is secured, one of the two blockers will climb the linebackers, aiming for the MIKE (middle linebacker).

  • The running back will take a hard jab step away from the play to both false key linebackers reading his flow for play direction, and to give the pulling guard time to cross the center. After receiving the handoff the running back will press the D-gap, looking to hit the hole and get vertical QUICKLY. He must read the pulling guard’s block as he enters the hole. It is his responsibility to choose his path based on the guard’s block correctly.

If the offensive line executes the play as drawn up, it will hit for good yardage.

The tight end and left tackle have done an outstanding job double-teaming the defensive end. Notice how they block hip-to-hip, increasing the force and power applied to the defender. Both will block using a ‘four hand, four eye’ technique, meaning that they will maintain four hands on the defensive linemen while concurrently looking to the second level to see who will climb to the linebacker.  This responsibility can change based on the linebacker’s path to the ball.

Look at the numbers at the point of attack. The tight end and left tackle have clearly won the D-gap, driving the defensive end off the line of scrimmage and away from the play’s direction. The tight end has just moved off the double-team to block the MIKE, while the fullback prepares to kick-out the Jack and the pulling guard prepares to fit up the SAM. Every defender is accounted for with a blocker.

The running back has a wide hole to hit due to outstanding up-front blocking. Notice the decisive cut to the hole, known as ‘pressing’ the hole. Plant one foot in the ground, push, and GO. The running back does a good job squaring his pads in the hole and reading the guard and tight end’s blocks for a 26-yard gain.

How could Elliot fit into this scheme? A look at his player profile suggests the bruising back would be right at home.

After running a 4.46 40-yard dash in front of hundreds of scouts, coaches, and general managers this Friday, the Saint Louse, MO native likely solidified his spot as the top back in the 2016 NFL draft.  The six-foot, 225-pound former Buckeye possesses the body frame to run through defenders and the acceleration to pull away. When watching the tape Elliot’s ability to break a tackle or run by a poor angle from safety jumps out immediately.

Elliot runs with great pad level, lowering his shoulders at contact to give defenders difficult strike points to make the tackle: shoulder pads, elbows, and knees. He demonstrates great leg drive, churning his feet at contact, to run through would-be tacklers and consistently falls forward for extra yardage. His outstanding balance allows him to run through leg tackles , particularly during the second half of games when his physical style of running has worn defenders down, making them hesitant to bring their full bodies into the tackle.

As we will see on tape, Elliot is very decisive with the ball in his hands, pressing the hole with few wasted steps. The future first round pick’s decisiveness and acceleration allows him to attack the second level of the defense with a full head of steam, creating poor tackling angles for linebackers and defensive backs.

Elliot is a player that takes pride in the physicality of his game, whether it was covering kicks on special teams as a true freshman or blocking in the open field for his quarterback as a Heisman contender. During the 2015 Elliot became a weapon in the pass game, pulling in 27 receptions for an average of 7.55 yard per catch.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s offense is often falsely labeled a ‘spread’ system, implying that the three-time national champion wants to move the ball through the air. Meyer actually runs a ‘power-spread’ variant with a focus on establishing a strong ground game to set up vertical play action opportunities. Other teams that run similar systems include Auburn, Clemson, and the Carolina Panthers.

While ‘Tight Zone’ is the play most-often associated with the Ohio State offense, a look at Ohio State’s tape reveals many of Jackson’s favorite gap-blocked concepts, including Power and the Counter Trey.

Elliot shows up on tape running the 'Power' concept to great success over-and-over during his two seasons as the Buckeye's starting running back.

Several of the techniques, concepts, and blocking angles we just broke down show up in Elliot's 2014 goal line touchdown during the 2014 Michigan State game. Notice the down blocks by the right side of the Buckeye offensive line, walling off the left side of the Michigan State defensive line to create a hole for the running. The right tackle (#76) does an outstanding job securing the double team the defensive tackle, before moving off the block to pick up a linebacker, with the backside guard (#54) pulling to meet the defender filling the hole. Elliot does a great job pressing the hole, getting North-South with no wasted steps for an easy 6 points. Notice how Elliot runs with square pads as he enters the hole, allowing him to bring maximum force to the point of contact should the pulling guard miss his block.

During Ohio State's 2015 upset loss to Michigan State, the ground game experienced its only success of the afternoon (and inexplicably did not return to the concept) running Power against an aggressive, slanting defensive front.

Again, watch Elliot take the hand-off, plant his foot in the ground, and press the hole with authority. The gifted back lowers his pad level as he feels contact, creating a strong base that allows him to fall forward for several extra yards as he picks up the first down. Elliot's 75-yard touchdown run off Power against Indiana demonstrates why Elliot's strengths make him a natural fit for Jackson's running game.

The future first-rounder decisively hits the hole, runs through first contact with low pads, and uses his acceleration to outrun the defense on the way to another long touchdown.

While uncertainties remain about the Brown's running back situation entering the 2016 season, drafting Elliot in the early-to-mid first round (which would require a trade-down) is likely viewed by the new front office as a misuse of assets. As constructed the roster simply has too many holes at key positions to entertain the idea of a luxury pick at the top of the draft. Should Elliot slide towards the end of the first round, the front office may change their tune as the talented back has the traits, skills, and abilities to excel in Jackson's offense and could be the catalyst to jump-start a miserable running game. The idea of Elliot as a Brown is certainly intriguing, but will it become a reality? We'll find out in April.

The OBR Top Stories