X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day

Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson has earned a reputation as an outstanding offensive mind and play-caller during previous stints with the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals. What does Jackson's reputation look like on the field of play? What concepts and techniques can the Dawg Pound expect to see this upcoming season from an offense in dire need of a working run and pass game? To answer these questions the OBR brings you the multi-part series, “The Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Pla

'A Play a Day' will look at a variety of run and pass plays with a focus on concept, alignment, and technique, along with the good and the bad on both sides of the ball. The OBR’s goal is to help our members gain a better understanding of Hue Jackson the play-caller and increase general football knowledge. Let’s set the scene and dive into the film!

Our featured scoring drive is pulled from the Bengals’ 31-10, week-eight victory over the visiting Cleveland Browns. The Bengals are currently leading 7-3, and have just taken possession of the ball for the third time after forcing a three-and-out from the Browns’ offense. After an Andy Hill touchback the offense will start the drive at the 20-yard line.

The offense has run a total of 14 plays with a balanced 7/7 run-pass mix.  The Bengals’ first possession led to a Jeremy Hill rushing touchdown, while the second resulted in a quick three-and-out. Jackson has already put together an eleven-play, 63-yard drive scoring drive and is likely starting to get a good feel for how the Browns’ will defend the weekly game plan’s featured concepts, formations, and alignments. Many offensive coaches will script the first 10-15 plays of a game to determine how the defense will react to what is happening on the field; now is the time to put these observations into action.

The Browns’ lack of scoring offense has clearly manifested itself at this point in the season, putting extra pressure on the defense to force a quick change of possession due to field position. In addition, the Bengals deferred the opening kick-off, meaning their high-powered offense is likely looking at a minimum of two more possessions this quarter before receiving the ball to start the second half.    

Play #1

Game clock – 11:16

Down/Distance – 1st and 10

Formation – Tank Wing Strong

Concept – Counter OF Left

The offense will open the drive with the ball spotted between the hashes on the 20-yard line due to an Andy Lee touchback.

The Bengals align in 22 personnel (two tailbacks and two tight ends) with the strength of the formation set to the right side. Although there are equal numbers of skill players to each side of the ball (the X receiver is aligned to the left side on the line of scrimmage), most defensive coordinators will set the strength of the front seven to the tight end (#85) and wing (#81) as the ball is more likely to go that way. For our purposes, we will designate the offense’s right side as the strong side and the left side as the weak side.

The defense counters with a 3-4, under front, creating a five-man surface on the line of scrimmage with three defensive lineman and two linebackers. The interior linemen are aligned in a 2i and 4-technique to the strong side, with a 3-technique the weak side. The outside backers’ line-up two yards outside the EMLOS, with the MIKE aligned over the nose tackle and the WILL splitting the SAM and rush linebacker. Strong safety Ibraheim Campbell (#30) has dropped down to provide strong side run support and possibly cover tight end Tyler Eifert on a pass play.

A good offensive coordinator will immediately spot two features of this specific defensive alignment:

  1. The 4-technique (heads up over the right tackle) is playing a two-gap technique, however there is no run defender in close vicinity to fit off his movement post-snap. This will lead to an open gap if he cannot control his man.
  2. If the strong safety and cornerback are included in the count, the defense outnumbers the offense by one man in the box. The numbers might add up on paper, but in reality the count is a mirage as the safety and cornerback’s depth and alignment prevent both from playing a gap at the line of scrimmage. In actuality the offense has numbers to the weak side.

Jackson elects to open the drive with the gap-blocked ‘Counter OF’ concept, a variant of the famous Joe Gibbs Counter Trey.

The key features of the play are a double-team to win the C-gap, two pullers to kick-out and block linebackers, and a hard jab step by the tailback to false key the defensive front (most defensive linemen and linebackers are taught to read the ‘backfield triangle for a run/pass and play direction key).

Jackson’s play call is outstanding due to two factors:

  1. The defensive alignment has created weak side run bubbles
  2. Lack of tacklers at the point of attack.

Let’s move on to the blocking assignments and technique, moving from right-to-left:

  • The wing-back (#81) will pull across the formation and lead the tailback through the C-gap. He will look to block any linebacker filling the hole. If a defender does not show, he will attack the first threat to cross his face from the inside.
  • The tight end (#85) will use a ‘hinge’ technique to prevent the EMLOS (End Man on Line Of Scrimmage) from chasing the play down from behind. At the snap he will take hard step inside to ‘check’ the C-gap then pivot with his back to play, “shutting the door” on any back side chase.
  • Like the tight end, the left tackle will use a ‘hinge’ technique. He MUST NOT allow the 4-technique to beat him inside as the defender could train wreak the wing’s pull and chase the ball down from behind.
  • The right guard will use a ‘square’ pull, looking to kick out the EMLOS. The square pull starts with the blocker opening his play side foot away from the line of scrimmage and turning so the shoulders and hips are parallel. He will move down the line so he meets the defender directly along the line of scrimmage outside the designed hole (the C-gap here). If the defender penetrates too deeply into the backfield the blocker will ‘log’ him out of the play by making contact, pivoting with the back to the ball, and rolling him into the backfield. This defender is giving a free release by the left tackle and fullback in order to encourage him to move upfield, setting up an easy trap block.
  • The center will down-block the 2i-technique. Attack at a 45 degree angle with low pad level, punch with both hands, and keep the head inside (on the defender’s right shoulder pad) so the defensive lineman cannot penetrate towards the play. Notice that the 2i’s alignments create a great blocking angle.
  • The left guard and left tackle have the most important block on the play, a double-team on the 3-technique. Working in unison they will get hip-to-hip, with four hands on the lineman and four eyes on the second level to read the linebacker’s flow. As soon as they feel the 3-technique’s hip give, one or the other will climb to pick up the scrapping linebacker.
  • The fullback will climb to the WILL (located on the left hash), sidestepping the EMLOS as he will be trapped by the right guard.
  • The running back will take a hard jab step away from the play to false key linebackers reading his flow for play direction, to set up angles for the down-blocks and pullers by freezing/false-stepping the linebackers, and to give the pullers time to cross the center. After receiving the ball the running back will press the C-gap, looking to hit the hole and get vertical QUICKLY. He must read the pulling wing’s block as he enters the hole. It is his responsibility to choose the correct path based on the block (read the blocker’s rear end; cut in whichever direction it is pointed).

Because there is so much going on in terms of technique and action, let’s break the play down further:

·       The offense has created numbers at the POA with five blockers for four defenders. An offense that consistently gains leverage in this situation will rack up yards on the ground. The backside of the front seven is walled off from the play due to outstanding hinge and down blocks from the right-side of the offensive line.


Notice the hinge steps by the tight end and right tackle. Again, if properly executed the technique will prevent inside penetration and allow the wing an unencumbered pull to his trap block.

·       Danny Shelton is eliminated from the play by the center’s down-block due to a slow second step and poor leverage. A center should not be able to get under his pads so easily. A first-round nose tackle should demand a double team here. Shelton does not.

·       The left guard and left tackle’s double-team starts out well, with the tackle climbing to Karlos Dansby as soon as he feels Strak's hip go. We’ll see why the block went downhill from there further along in the piece.

·       The fullback is unable to get to the WILL due to great technique from Armonty Bryant at the rush elinebacker position. As soon as Bryant identifies the down-block from the right tackle he steps inside to replace his hips (thus squeezing the gap to decrease the size of the hole), gets hands on the fullback to prevent a clean scoop to the WILL, and attacks the outside shoulder of the puller to wall off the ball carrier. Note: If Bryant was supposed to wrong-arm technique here he should have attacked the blocker’s inside shoulder. Without the specific play-call it’s hard to say if he was a force or a spill player.

The WILL (Craig Robertson) and 3-technique (Starks) make the play here due to Bryant’s aforementioned work on the fullback. Because Bryant prevented the fullback from scooping Robertson, he was able to attack the ball from outside-in, blowing up the puller and forcing the tailback to make a hard cut inside to the pursuit.

·       Starks does a great job holding his spot against the double-team by moving his feet, establishing leverage by getting under the blocker’s pads, and shedding the block to make a bone-jarring hit after Robertson forced the tailback back inside.

The play resulted in a one-yard gain, a huge win for the defense in light of the run bubbles and lack of numbers at the point of attack. The play-call was outstanding, but great individual effort and technique from Bryant, Robertson, and Starks stymied what should have been an explosive gain. This is a prime example of the Jimmies and Joes beating the X’s and O’s.

Unfortunately, Starks did a little too much celebrating after his big hit, leading to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gifted the offense 15-yards and a first down. A good team can get away with an after-the-snap penalty like this one. The Browns are not a good team and cannot afford to give up ill-advised penalties in a division game against a playoff-caliber team.

In our next installment we’ll breakdown a beautifully-executed ‘Pin-and-Pull’ concept, a variant of Outside Zone that utilizes both zone and gap-blocked principles.

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