The Cleveland Browns 'Power' Run Game Part II: How Austin Pasztor Contibuted to Gap-Running Success

In Part I of our series studying the Cleveland Browns utilization of the gap-run game we broke down the data and analyzed tape of the offensive unit executing the famous ‘Power’ concept over the final five games of the 2016 season. In Part II we will continue our study with a closer look at Austin Pasztor, a late-season addition to the starting lineup who excelled in executing gap-blocked concepts from the left guard position.

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The former University of Virginia UDFA broke into the NFL the hard way, joining the 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad after being released by the Minnesota Vikings during final cuts. Pasztor started three games that season on the way to 27 career starts, including 20 at right tackle before his release by the Jaguars after 2015 training camp. Cleveland claimed Pasztor off the waiver wire just before the start of the 2015 season, seeing a versatile player that could provide depth across the offensive line at the guard and tackle position. The four-year pro saw spot duty until proving to be an unexpected bright spot, starting the final four games of the season in place of starting left guard Joel Bitinio, whose season was cut short by a series of ankle injuries.  Cleveland retained the 6-foot-7, 308-pound lineman when he signed a one-year $1.67 million restricted free agent tender on April 4th.

Pasztor proved to be a tough, gritty, smart, hard-working addition to a porous offensive line. We will continue our study of the offense’s gap-blocked run game by taking a closer look at Pasztor’s execution on ‘Power’ as both:

  •  Securing double-teams on the frontside of the play
  • A puller leading the tailback through the hole

While rightfully lauded for his work as a puller on gap-run concepts Pasztor also did an excellent job working double-teams with the center/ left tackle to secure the tailback’s C or D-gap aiming point.

Our first example takes us back to Cleveland’s 24-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Aligned in 11 personnel with the strength of the formation set to the field, the offense dials up ‘Power Left’ to take advantage of the run bubble between the 2  and 7-technique.

Joe Thomas and Pasztor will double-team the 2-technique, with one of the two climbing to cut off the scrapping WILL (#53) at the second level. If tight end Gary Barnidge can prevent the stand-up linebacker from squeezing the C-gap rookie tailback Duke Johnson should press the LARGE hole created by the run bubble. Let's look at the play in real time.

We see several good things happening along the offensive line, leading to a successful run play. Before focusing on Pasztor’s role, let’s briefly look at the line’s technique as a whole.

  • Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz does a decent job on his hinge block, forcing the edge defender to run around his outside to chase down the play from behind. Schwartz is a little slow getting his hands on the defender, but he MUST check the B-gap inside before hinging back which clearly slows down his pivot. He does not get the play killed so let’s give his technique a B+ grade.
  • Right guard John Greco executes an outstanding pull, obliterating the downhill MIKE in the whole and finishing with the pancake.
  • Center Alex Mack does a good job with his one-verse-one block on the 2i nose tackle. Although the nose tackle slants inside, Mack does a good job re-establishing his aiming point, maintain good pad level, and driving his feet.
  • Barnidge does a decent job preventing the edge defender from squeezing the C-gap Johnson wants to hit. I don’t like the hop he takes after his second step, as a quicker defender will take advantage of his high leverage to get under his pads and push him inside, but he does attack the inside shoulder of the defender and prevent the shed with active hands.

Thomas and Pasztor are the stars of this play. Their job is to double-team the 2-technique (heads up over a guard), driving him away from the hole. Once the 2-technique is secured, one of the two will climb to pick up the WILL. Both must be prepared to scoop as the players who climbs to the second-level block can change based on the defensive lineman’s angle and where the linebacker fits off that angle. The technique is to get hip-to-hip on the defender, with four hands on the block and four eyes on the second level.

Rather than driving straight ahead using a base block, Pasztor appears to use an angle step that moves him vertically and laterally down the line of scrimmage. Without the play call I cannot say with 100% accuracy why he took these steps, but I believe the most likely explanation is he is following a set of rules to use the defensive tackle’s 2-gap technique against him.

2-gapping defensive linemen are often taught to read the first step of their key to take them to the ball. Because Pasztor’s initial step is lateral and away from the play the defensive tackle steps hard inside as his key takes him there. This creates an outstanding angle for Thomas on the drive block aimed at the defender’s outside hip.

Watch how quickly Thomas and Pasztor secure the 2-technique and move him out of the C-gap. Quick feet, good pad level, and outstanding drive at the point of attack (DO NOT stop moving the feet at contact). The double-team is so effective that Thomas does not climb to the WILL as he has been cut off from the play by the interior linemen. Johnson presses the huge hole and cuts off Greco’s block (cut in whatever direction the lead blocker’s rear end is pointing).

I would like to see a better square in Johnson’s frame as presses the hole, and I do not like the swinging arm as it will affect his balance. A scrapping linebacker will knock the heck out of him (and possible the ball) because his body is not prepared to absorb anything more than a weak tackle-attempt (high pads, uneven shoulders, and swinging arm). However, an eight-yard gain is gold for an offense that struggled to gain meaningful yards on the ground.

Our second example demonstrates Pasztor’s intelligence as a puller, adjusting on the fly to create a positive gain after a teammate fails to execute his own assignment.

Again aligning in 11 personnel, the offense wants to take advantage of a field (wide-side) run bubble created by the Kansas City Chiefs defense.

Although we see several examples of poor technique here we will zone in on rookie Cam Erving (#55) at the right guard position, as his lack of execution forces Pasztor to adjust his block just as he enters the hole.

The defense has overloaded the boundary (short-side of the field) and is showing blitz as the offense is in second and long, tipping the defense to a likely throw. We see another run bubble between the right guard and right tackle as the defense has shifted their strength away from the field, giving the offense a numbers advantage at the point of attack if they recognize the situation. With no in-the-box linebacker to the strongside, the offense should be able to scheme Pasztor’s block on defensive back Tyvon Branch (#27), who is positioned just outside and over the tight end.

The play concept’s success is contingent on Erving’s ability to block the stand-up linebacker aligned on his inside shoulder, as this defender must be cut off from the B-gap.

When watching the tape below focus first on Pasztor as he pulls from the left guard position, then move back to Erving’s block on the linebacker.

As Pasztor turns the corner into the B-gap his focus is clearly on the defensive back, but notice his helmet turn inside just after turning upfield. Because Erving has allowed the linebacker to shed his block and scrap to the hole, Pasztor must follow his “first threat to the inside shoulder” rule. Ideally the pulling guard should meet the downhill defender (in this situation #27), but he must first account for the most dangerous threat to the play, Erving’s man. With a free run at the tailback the defender will likely make the tackle at or just past the line of scrimmage, minimizing the gain and putting the offense in a third and long situation.

Pasztor’s demonstrates outstanding intelligence and effort to cover his teammate's failure to execute. Watch as he not only cuts off the scrapper (#51) but moves back upfield looking for work on his original assignment (#27). Because the tailback can see the filling defender as he comes downhill, the versatile lineman's heads up play gives Johnson a chance to make an open field move on the free hitter.

Before moving on to our final piece of film let's take a quick look at the backside of the play as we see why the hinge player must first check his inside gap to prevent backside leakage before pivoting. Remember the backside EMLOS must first take a step inside to check the B-gap as a hard-slanting defender can blow up the play before it starts. Because Thomas checks and then picks up the threat to his inside gap, the outside rush defenders are eliminated from the play as they must cover too much distance running around Thomas and down the line of scrimmage.

Good play call and great recognition by Pasztor to maximize the play’s gain.

Our final example shows Pasztor pulling on ‘Ghost Power’, or ‘Power’ run to the same side as the tailback’s alignment. Recall that in the previous examples the offensive unit has run ‘Power’ away from the tailback’s alignment. By running to the back’s alignment the offense breaks tendency and will often catch the defense in a run slant away from the play’s direction, creating positive blocking angles for the entire offensive line.

This play is a great example of what can happen when an offense catches a defense guessing wrong on a run slant. Notice how the ‘loose’ 3-technique aggressively slants across the right guard and center, allowing Erving to easily wash him down the line of scrimmage while creating a simple jump through for Schwartz to reach the WILL (#54).

The SAM slides to replace the 3-technique but inexplicitly holds his ground rather than filling the hole, compounding the error by jumping out of Pasztor’s way to wall off two defenders from the play. Without making contact the right guard’s pull has taking three defenders out of the play, allowing Johnson to fit of the block and scamper for a 54-yard gain (notice the nice stiff arm finish on All-World safety Earl Thomas).

We will never know why the MIKE did not fill the hole here. Did he decline to make a business decision and clack pads with the puller? Did Pasztor’s speed around the corner catch him off guard, leaving him with no option but to avoid the block? Was he simply playing his run fit? Whatever the cause, the Swiss army knife right guard again played a key role in springing an explosive gain on the ground.

With the loss of starting center Alex Mack and starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz the Browns’ 2016 offensive line will certainly look markedly different from a season ago. With Joe Thomas maintaining his left tackle spot and Cam Erving working full-time at center, players like John Greco, Alvin Bailey, Michael Bowie, Joel Bitonio, Austin Pasztor, as well as players acquired via the NFL draft and through future roster moves will fight it out to create a (hopefully) cohesive unit that executes Hue Jackson’s favorite run concepts. Who those players are and where they settle in at is likely a question that will not be answered until after the preseason facing live bullets. In spite of the lack of any consistency in the running game last season, I remain cautiously optimistic that when the dust settles fans will witness an improved running attack.


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