Cleveland Browns X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive Play #3: The Old-School Iso

In the second installment of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series we analyzed the Outside Zone-variant ‘Pin-and-Pull’ concept. Today we move on to a gap-blocked, big boy concept run at all levels of football, the old-school Iso.

Before continuing our analysis of a 2015 Hue Jackson-directed scoring drive, let’s recap play #2. The Bengals' offense attacked a structural weakness within the Browns’ defense, using the Outside Zone-variant ‘Pin-and-Pull’ to take advantage of the force defender’s ‘Block Down, Step Down’ rule. The play concept allowed the Bengals’ offensive line to win the D-gap, getting tailback Giovani Bernard into the alley where a hustle play by Browns’ linebacker Karlos Dansby prevented an explosive gain. In spite of Dansby's effort the offense still rang-up another first down (two in two plays) and is quickly approaching Browns’ territory.

Although we are only two plays into the drive, some general trends are starting to emerge:

  • The defense’s front-seven alignment is creating large run bubbles along the line of scrimmag
  • The offense has created numbers at the point of attack via well-designed blocking schemes
  • Disappointing play from nose tackle Danny Shelton. A slow second step and poor pad level has led to an inability to anchor the double-team and prevent a scoop to the linebacker, before being walled out of the previous play by a single blocker
  • Great individual plays by defensive lineman Randy Starks and MIKE Karlos Dansby have prevented the offense from gaining extra yards in spite of scheming leverage at the point of attack


Play #2 Recap

Down/Distance – 1st and 10

Formation – Twins Right

Concept – Pin-and-Pull Left (run to strong side)

Result – Ten-yard gain and first down


Play #3

Down/Distance – 1st and 10

Formation – I Formation Twins Right

Concept – Iso Weak

After starting the drive with consecutive plays aimed at the defense’s perimeter, Jackson chooses to shift his attack to the interior run bubble created by the defensive line's alignment using the gap-blocked Iso.

The Iso is a grown-man concept that attacks the A or B-gap using man-on-man base blocking. The center and guard will double-team the nose tackle before climbing to the back-side linebacker while the fullback fits the plays-side linebacker (hence the play name) through the point of attack. The tailback will fit off the fullback’s block at the second level, looking to get vertical quickly.

Due to the structure of the concept it generally does not lead to explosive gains, although a well-versed offensive can run it consistently for 4-5 yards a pop. Much of the concept’s power comes from the psychological toll it takes on the defense, particularly the linebackers as they must fit downhill quickly in order to meet the fullback at the line of scrimmage. This leads to violent collisions that most defenders want little part of come the fourth quarter.

The offense again finds itself in a first and ten with the ball spotted on the left hash. For the first time this drive Jackson utilizes ‘21’ personnel (two running back and one tight end), with the backs in an I-formation and the tight end aligned to the left in a ‘closed’ position (no receivers to his left).

The Browns’ defense counters with a four-man ‘Under’ surface for the first time this drive, aligning the strength of the front seven to the wide-side of the field with the nose tackle, MIKE, and SAM (in a four-point stance).

The weak-side run fits look a bit convoluted as it appears the rush linebacker will slant to play the C-gap with the cornerback (barely visible on the far-left of the screen) playing the D-gap and force. The offense can easily gain leverage at the point of attack by running ‘Power left’ and force Gipson (#39) to make the tackle from nine-yards deep. Although Jackson knows he can leverage to this side, he elects to take the low hanging fruit the defense is offering via a huge run bubble in the B-gap between the right guard and right tackle.

The run bubble creates an easy double-team and scoop from the nose tackle to the WILL, with the fullback inserting through the massive hole to block the MIKE. Although the concpet will be run at the strength of the defense (nose tackle, MIKE, and SAM), I am labeling the concept ‘Iso Weak’ as it is run away from the tight end.

Our breakdown of the blocks will move from left-to-right:

  • The tight end will ‘Arc’ release outside the rush linebacker in order to block the back-side contain player (Gipson). If he is unable to reach Gipson, he will wall off the cornerback from the play.
  • The left tackle will use a technique similar to the hinge block we analyzed in the first article of the series. Rather than aggressively stepping inside to check the B-gap before hinging out, he will immediately pivot 90 degrees to wall off the linebacker.
  • The left guard block on the 3-technique is less of a base and more of a ‘Reach’ block. The blocker’s primary goal is to reach the inside shoulder of the defender to prevent penetration. Notice the lateral first step with the inside foot followed by a 45-degree pivot towards the defender with the second and third, swinging the guard’s butt into the A-gap. This footwork creates a power base by putting the blocker’s hips and shoulders square with the defender while acting as a wall between the pursuit and the ball.
  • The center and right guard will double-team the nose tackle, getting hip-to-hip and climbing to the scrapping WILL when they feel the hips collapse. Based on the nose tackle’s alignment the right guard is the most likely candidate to make the second-level block, but both must be prepared to go if the defensive line runs a slant.
  • The right tackle executes identical technique to the left tackle. Normally he would take a hard step inside to check the B-gap before pivoting to block the SAM, but he does not need to check for interior pressure as the fullback will insert via this hole to block the MIKE.
  • The fullback will insert between the right guard and right tackle to meet the MIKE in the hole, aiming for the outside of the guard’s hip. If the MIKE scrapes outside, attack the inside number to seal him. If he attempts to squeeze the gap, attack the outside number and push him into the nose tackle. If the MIKE comes straight downhill get ready for a collision (and possible concussion) because two very large men are going to meet head on.
  • The tailback will start the play by reading the first play-side defensive lineman. If the 1-tecnique crashes the A-gap, hit the B. If the 1-technique slants into the B-gap (very unlikely here as he is tilted away from the play direction) press the A-gap. After making this initial read the tailback will read the block of his fullback. A good rule of thumb is to cut in whatever direction the fullback’s rear end is pointed as his body position will cut the defender off from the ball.

At the snap the tight end immediately arc releases outside the 7-technique to stalk the free safety. This is not a block that the tight end will get to often, but when he does the play will hit for big yardage as middle-of-the-field secondary support has been eliminated. Notice how Eifert uses his hands to secure a clean release. These seemingly small technical details make him one of the best in the game.

Yet again we see the nose tackled mauled by a double-team combo. The second step is slow and the pad level is high. In order to neutralize the double-team and prevent the jump through to the WILL Shelton needs to:

  1. Fire off the ball with two quick steps and low pad level
  2. Punch the center’s chest with violent hands
  3. Keep moving his feet to swing his hips into the right guard
  4. Lower the left leg to lean into the blocks
  5. Push the center’s right shoulder with his left hand while gripping and pulling the right shoulder with the left (this will help swing his hips into the right guard).


To see how it's done, watch Jamie Meder hold the double-team to keep Craig Robertston clean here. Notice the quick feet, violent hands (he bench presses the center), and hip flipped into the guard.

Because the MIKE has scrapped outside the B-gap the fullback will attack his inside shoulder in order to kick him out. We can see the two preparing for a teeth-jarring collision momentarily. This is a man’s block.

Due to Shelton’s inability to anchor against the combo block the right guard has scooped to the WILL, ensuring that the offense has a hat-on-a-hat at the point of attack. The only free hitter in the screen is free safety Tashaun Gipson, who must come from the opposite side of the formation to make a tackle.

We can see Gipson filling from the back-side of the play, however his angle of attack takes him right into the path of the 3-technique, taking him out of the play. I’m not prepared to put all the blame on Gipson for this one because I don’t know how he is coached to fill in this spot. His angle to the ball was fine until the 3-technique cut across his face while engaged with the left guard. Regardless, because Gipson is now out of the play there is no contain player leaving a huge hole in the alley that Bernard hits with a nice jump cut. Only a hustle play from strong safety Ibraheim Campbell prevents this play from going all the way.

The play resulted in another Bengals’ first down after an 11-yard gain, putting the offense into Browns’ territory with momentum on their side. Through three plays we have seen three serious deficiencies within the interior defense:

  • Schematic weaknesses thru technique and run bubbles
  • A lack of effective anchoring against double-teams
  • Guards and centers scooping to the second level to block scrapping linebackers, leaving no free hitters in the box


In our next installment we’ll see the offense throw for the first time this drive, going empty (five-wide) to run the 4 Verticals/Shallow concept that has become very popular in NFL circles over the previous three seasons.

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