The Cleveland Browns experienced success running old-fashioned 'Power'. Can it continue under Hue Jackson?

New Cleveland Browns’ head coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson makes no bones about his desire to run the ball right down his opponents’ throat. After running a zone-based run offense in 2015, can the 2016 Cleveland offense successfully execute Jackson’s smash-mouth run game?

Calling the 2015 season’s running attack underwhelming would be a kindness.

The group had very little to hang its hat on, averaging less than 100 yard per game and scoring a grand total of five touchdowns on the ground. The team gained a first down on only 26.4% of rushing attempts, good for 20th in the NFL, although it should be noted that many of the teams that finished below the Browns operated successful passing attacks that allowed their offenses to be less reliant on rushing first downs (Indianapolis, New England, New Orleans, Detroit, Jacksonville, etc.) Simply stated, the Browns’ run game was not very good.

Former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo primarily ran zone-based concepts such as Inside Zone, Split Zone, and Outside Zone, with a sprinkle of Draws and Traps mixed in. The offensive line and tailbacks struggled with Flip’s zone-based scheme for a variety of reasons, including breakdowns in individual technique, failure to execute blocking assignments, miscommunication that was the hallmark of Pettine’s regime, and ball carriers who failed to make decisive reads and cuts.

All too often the offense put itself in difficult positions due to negative gains on first down, forcing an already limited unit to become one dimensional in play selection. With no consistent playmakers to stretch the field vertically, it became a simple matter for the defense to sit on the short and intermediate pass game, particularly in the red zone. A lack of explosive plays from the running game put too much pressure on the offense to consistently execute methodical drives without the necessary personnel, leading to stalled drives and a lack of red zone scoring.

On the heels of six straight loses the inexplicable happened during a 37-3 drubbing delivered by the Cincinnati Bengals.

During a game in which the offense managed 68 total yards of rushing, the ground game executed a rarely seen (by the 2015 Browns) running concept to the tune of 22 yards on five plays. The numbers were certainly modest (4.4 yards per rushing attempt), but on a night in which the offense averaged 3.6 yards per rush any positives, no matter how small, stood out. The offense went on to run this same concept over the final four games of the season to the tune of 7.5 yards per attempt, suggesting the offense may have been on to something. So what was this mysterious concept Flip had been holding back all season?

To the chagrin of observant fans the play was the old school, tried-and-true ‘Power’, a play on the books since Week 1 but rarely utilized in favor of zone-based runs.

Power is arguably the most popular running concept in football. The play is executed at all levels, from Pop Warner up to the NFL. On any giving Saturday you will see Power run by traditional I-formation teams like Stanford, Power-Spread teams like Ohio State, and “traditional” Spread teams like Baylor. Aside from a select few teams that run a zone stretch system (Houston and Baltimore), the concept is found in a vast majority of NFL playbooks. Considered by many coaches to be THE classic running play, the play falls under the ‘Power’ run-game umbrella (not to be mistaken with the concepts’ name), a gap-blocking system requiring offensive linemen to both down block and pull with the tailback aiming for a specific hole.

After charting and crunching the numbers from every play in which Power was utilized over the final five games of the  2015 season, we have come to the same conclusion many fans have echoed this offseason: the Browns’ ground game was most effective running gap-based concepts, even with a patchwork offensive line. The sample size is certainly limited, but when merged with qualitative evidence (What do we see on tape?) a strong case can be made that the offense should have utilized gap-blocking concepts much earlier in the season and run them with greater frequency. So what do the numbers say?

Over the course of the five games we analyzed, the offense rushed for 714 yards on 141 attempts, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. When differentiating by zone and gap-blocked concepts the offense’s success running each scheme tells the story:

Cleveland Browns’ 2015 Run-Game Study (Final five games of the 2015 season)

Run Concept

Attempts

Yards

Yards per attempt

All (Zone and Gap)

141

714

5.1

Zone

111

489

4.4

Power

30

225

7.5

From the chart we can see that although Power accounted for only 21% of run-play calls, it resulted in over 30% of the teams’ total yards on the ground. We found that 57% of Power play-calls accounted for at least four yards per attempt, while 33% accounted for at least five yards per attempt.

When eliminating the top (54 and 39 yards) and bottom (-4 and -2 yards) two gains from the sample, the offense still averaged over 5.3 yards per attempt running Power. With the departure of Flip to make way for the new coaching staff, we will never know exactly why he choose to continue running a zone-heavy offense in spite of this success, but continuing to push what may have been a square peg into a round hole certainly did the offense no favors.

Enter Hue Jackson.

The second-time head coach hangs his hat on the Power run-game, and after experiencing success running the scheme in both Oakland and Cincinnati expect to see a heavy dose of pullers, down blocks, and turn outs from the 2016 Cleveland Browns (For an introduction to the Power concept check out the OBR’s breakdown of Ezekiel Elliot’s fit in the gap-blocked run game). Our goal is to breakdown some tape from each of the final five games of the season to see how the various moving parts on the offensive line and running back position successfully executed the concept, and then project what level of success the 2016 offensive personnel can be expected to achieve running Jackson’s go-to concepts.

We will start our film study with a look at the aforementioned Week 13 37-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Already down 20-0 late in the second quarter, the offense started with the ball on their 21-yard line with 3:14 on the clock. The offense MUST get points here, as they will get the ball back to start the second half. There is a chance the squad can claw and scratch their way back into this football game, but they must score now.

The offense is aligned in 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) with the strength of the formation to the wide-side of the field (out of the screen). The defense is in a hybrid front with the right defensive end, nose tackle, and defensive tackle playing a 1-gap style while the left defensive end (aligned in a 6-technique over the tight end) plays a 2-gap style. With six blockers for six box defenders the offense should be able to establish leverage (numbers) at the point of attack if each player executes his assignment.

Let’s look at the blocks and breakdown some technique from left-to-right:

  • The right tackle (Mitchell Schwartz) will ‘hinge’ block, or take a lateral playside step to prevent a slanting end from crossing his face to the inside. After checking any threat to the inside he will pivot back outside to ‘close the back door’ on the defender. If the defender tries to avoid the Cal product by running behind him, Schwartz will simply continue to pivot, ‘logging’ or rolling the defender out of the play. Schwartz MUST wall off the defender in order to prevent him from running the play down from the backside.

  • The right guard (John Greco) will use a ‘square pull’ technique (remember there is no universal football terminology; different coaches will use different terminology for the pull we see here) in which he opens his playside foot so the feet and shoulders are parallel with the line of scrimmage as he crosses the formation, before wrapping though the hole. Greco is aiming for the C-gap between the left tackle and tight end, looking to block the SAM (#57) as he wraps through. If he cannot get to the SAM he will block the first threat to his inside shoulder, or “First threat to cross your face”.

  • The center (Alex Mack) will down block the player to his inside, in this case the 2i-technique (#95). Mack will aim for the near-side number of the defender and look to get his head across the outside shoulder to prevent inside penetration. Mack will start with a violent hand strike and maintain low pads while driving the defender off his spot. Notice the great blocking angle created by the down block.

  • The left guard (Cam Erving) and left tackle (Joe Thomas) will work in tandem to double-team the 3-technique (#97) off his spot. This block is vital to the play’s success as the running back wants to hit the C-gap on the defender’s right side. Erving will base block his man, attacking with violent hands, good pad level, and lower-body drive. Thomas will aim for the outside hip of the defender to drive him away from the play, looking to get hip-to-hip with Erving. When the block is secure one of the two must come off the block to pick up the scrapping linebacker (#55) to prevent the defense from putting a free hitter in the hole.

  • The tight end (Jim Dray) will kick out the 2-gapping right defensive end. He must hold his ground as the defender will likely angle inside to squeeze the C-gap after he reads Dray’s first step. The former Brown must attack the defender’s inside shoulder to prevent him from crossing the face and wreaking the play inside. If the defender attempts to escape outside, pivot and ‘log’, so the defender is run out of the play.

  • The running back (Isaiah Crowell) will pause a moment after the snap to give the pulling guard time to cross the center. After receiving the handoff at the mesh point with the quarterback Crowell will press the C-gap by hugging the hip of Thomas, looking to hit the hole with square pads and get vertical QUICKLY (known as pressing the hole). The former Georgia Bulldog must read Greco’s block as he enters the hole, as it is his responsibility to choose the correct path (or ‘fit’) off the guard’s block.

Now that we have the assignments down we can break down individual technique to see how the moving parts work together to put a hat-on-a-hat.

Crowell takes the ball for a modest but respectable 7-yard gain, putting the offense in a great down and distance situation with second and three

Before moving on to the next clip, let's slow down the play to assist us in breaking down where things went right and where things went wrong:

Starting with the backside of the play we can see Schwartz take his lateral step to check for penetration, then pivot to wall off the right defensive end. Notice how the defender gets under the former Browns’ pads with his right hand, forcing Schwartz up and shedding the block. We will see the importance of this failure to execute the hinge block in a moment.

The right guard’s square pull looks good, and Mack does a great job getting under the nose tackle’s pads and driving him off his spot.

The trouble starts with our next point of focus, the Erving/Thomas combo on the defensive tackle (#97). The 3-technique’s hard inside angle seems to take Erving by surprise, preventing an effective double-team on the defender. Notice how the rookie’s first step takes him away from his man, preventing a straight-ahead drive block and violent blow to the chest plate while Thomas attacks the hip. In fact, rather than blocking the defensive tackle Erving appears to be climbing to the second level to pick up the WILL without thinking about the double-team, a clear case of putting the cart before the horse (Note the blocking could have been designed this way, but I doubt it giving the importance of moving this defender off his spot). Erving stumbles as he climbs as to his block due to poor footwork and just manages to get in the way off the linebacker, although the tailback’s cut of his ‘block’ is what leads to the positive yardage.

Because Erving climbs to the second level so quickly Thomas must use the defender’s momentum to push (or block him in the back depending on which team you root for) him down the line of scrimmage away from the play. Again, I think this block was supposed to be a combo drive and down block, but without the play call it is impossible to say.

Dray gets manhandled by the defensive end, fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the defender from crossing his face into the C-gap. Not a good job here, but because Thomas has pushed his man down the line of scrimmage the tailback still has a hole to hit.

Greco will look to pick up the B/C-gap defender coming downhill, generally a linebacker looking to force the ball back inside. Watch as Greco meets the MIKE (#57) in the hole, coiling his hips to keep his pad level low and striking the defender from inside-out. I would like to see Greco hold his block longer, but overall good job.

S

Crowell does a great job reading his second level blocks, cutting inside of Erving’s defender to wall him off from the play. Good vision here.

Although the execution is far from perfect, the offense did what they needed to do to spring an explosive run. With that in mind why did the play hit for only 7 yards?

Return back to the hinge block by Schwartz. Remember that Schwartz must first check the inside gap with his parallel step then pivot to wall of the defender from the play. Now go back and pick out who made the tackle.

Football is a game of minute details. What may seem like an insignificant lapse can blow up an entire play. This play should have hit for an explosive gain, but the offense left yards on the field due to a simple lapse in technique.

After utilizing Power five times in the Bengals blowout, the offense came back to the concept early in a 24-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Facing first and ten early in the first quarter, Flip dialed up Power out of balanced formation using 12 personnel (one tailback and two tight ends) from the middle of the hashes with both Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray on the field. The defense is aligned in a 3-4 ‘Okie’ front with three 2-gapping defensive linemen over the center and both tackles. The defense accounts for the D-gap on each side of the formation with two edge linebackers. The MIKE (#51) and WILL (#53) will fit the run off the defensive linemen’s blocks

This time Flip elects to go with Power right, likely running the play towards Jim Dray as he is the better blocker of the two. The blocking assignments we looked at in the previous example will not change dramatically here. The keys blocks are the center/right guard combo on the 0-technique (aligned head up over the center), the down block on the left defensive end (#92), and the turn out by the tight end.

The blocking scheme takes an unexpected turn as the nose tackle (#93) and WILL (#51) execute a run stunt, exchanging gap responsibilities at the snap. Because the nose tackle shuttles laterally away from the play, the center/guard double-team is off. Greco must get to the WILL NOW as he is shooting the frontside A-gap to stop the play in the backfield, however he is unable to get hands on the defender before the ball is forced back inside to the pursuit. I would not label this a failure in technique. The defense dialed up and executed a run stunt at the perfect moment.

Schwartz does a decent job influencing the left defensive end (#92) away from the play with his initial steps, but fails to get under his pads and continue driving him down the line of scrimmage. Watch the defender work his way back into the play via his fight with Schwartz.

Dray does a good job preventing the edge linebacker (#55) from squeezing the C-gap. Watch both where the tight end starts and where he finishes the play. He is barely moved off his spot, a win for the offense as the defender wants to constrict the running lane. On the other side Barnidge effectively hinges the backside defender to prevent the play from being run down from behind as we saw in the previous example.

Finally, the puller (Greco) clears the downhill MIKE out of the hole although the MIKE’s angle to the block forces the ball back inside to the defense’s spill players.

Because #51 shoots towards the playside A-gap so quickly he is able to shuffle down the line into the play’s aiming point (the C-gap), leaving Crowell with nowhere to go with the ball. The third-year pro is able to cutback and squeak through the line for a short 4-yard gain, but he tone has been set.

Early into the 4th quarter looking to salt away a 24-3 lead, the offense ran Power for their longest gain of the day.

The offense again shows 11 personnel with twin receivers to the right-side of the formation and a single receive to the left. The defense aligns the strength of their front to the wide-side of the field, likely expecting a run in that direction due to the tight end and extra space.

We see our usual Power blocking assignments here. A backside guard pull, a playside double-team on the 2-technique to clear out the C-gap, and a climb to the WILL.

Starting from left-to-right across the screen we see several examples of good technique and tough offensive line play. Start with Schwartz, manning the right tackle spot. His hinge block is outstanding, first checking his inside gap and then pivoting 180 degrees to wall off the stand-up linebacker. Mack doesn’t kill the play with his down block on the 2i here, but he is clearly outmuscled. He fights superior strength with leverage, but stops his feet at contact allowing the nose tackle to put him on skates. Not a block to write home about, but he slows the nose tackle just enough to get the job done.

The double-team by left guard Austin Pasztor and left tackle Joe Thomas is a thing of beauty. Watch them work in tandem to drive the defensive tackle (#64) out of the play before climbing to the WILL (#53) and cutting off his pursuit of the ball. You can see Thomas hit his aiming point (the defender’s outside hip) perfectly and sliding to the linebacker as soon as he feels the hip collapse.

Dray gets put on skates by the outside linebacker’s (#55) superior strength and speed, severely squeezing the C-gap. Fortunately for the offense Dray gets bailed out by an outstanding play from Greco, pulling from the backside to meet the MIKE in the hole. Watch Greco stonewall the edge defender’s progress and still get to his block on the MIKE (#51). This is a great example of outstanding effort and good football IQ to recognize Dray needs help.

Crowell does a great job pressing the hole with authority and ‘getting skinny’ to slip through the crease created by Greco’s effort. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (#17) appears from the left-side of the screen to ‘stalk’ block the free safety, screening the defender just long enough for Crowell to get an angle and accelerate towards the sideline. Although the stalk block on a safety rarely gets there, if the receiver makes the block or simply gets in the safety’s way you will usually see a long gain. Crowell does the rest, gaining 54 yards and setting up another score.

In part II we will break down more technique and take a closer look at late-season addition Austin Pasztor, who excelled in his role blocking the gap-running game.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE


The OBR Top Stories