X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #5: The Iso/Lead

In our fourth installment of ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ we analyzed our first pass-attempt of the series, a ‘4 Verticals/Shallow’ concept. Today we move back to the ground game with an Iso/Belly.

Play #4 Recap

Down/Distance – 1st and 10

Field Position – Ball spotted on the left hash of the Browns’ 45-yard line.

Formation – Gun Empty Right

Concept – 4 Verticals/Shallow

Result - Incomplete Pass

The Bengal's offense attempted to attack via a personnel matchup, going Empty Right with Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert aligned as an inline receiver to the weak-side. After running the coverage off with 4 vertical routes Eifert ran an underneath shallow, matching him up on the weak-side linebacker (WILL). An outstanding collision by the backer' forced Eifert to flatten his route out, leading to an errant throw and incompletion from quarterback Andy Dalton.

A quick review of some trends we have seen through four plays:

  • The defense’s front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Hue Jackson has attacked the outside gaps two out of three running plays with the Counter OF (C-gap) and Pin-and-Pull (D-gap). On the third play he attacked a large weak-side run bubble
  • The offense has created numbers at the point of attack via well-designed blocking schemes 
  • Continued disappointing play from NT Danny Shelton. A slow second step and poor pad level has led to an inability to anchor double-teams and prevent jump throughs to scrapping linebackers
  • Great individual plays by defensive lineman Randy Starks, MIKE Karlos Dansby, and SS Ibraheim Campbell have prevented the offense from gaining extra yards in spite of having leverage at the point of attack. Unfortunately individual effort will cover up for structural deficiencies only so long


Play #5

Down/distance - 2nd and Ten

Field Position – Ball spotted on the left hash of the Browns’ 45-yard line.

Formation – Heavy Wing Right

Concept – Iso/Lead

After going five-wide the previous play, Hue Jackson flips the personnel group by bringing in three tight ends and a single tailback (13 personnel). He likely went heavy here for two reasons:

  1. The Brown's defensive alignment to 22 personnel on a previous play created large run bubbles
  2. Force the defense to sub on-the-fly as they match personnel packages. Jackson knows this unit has major issues with communication.

Although the offense is facing second-and-ten Jackson can treat this like a running down because the Browns' have shown no ability to consistently stop the run. A 4-5 yard gain will give the offense a bevy of options to attack with on third down. It appears Jackson believes his best bet to gain some yards here is through the ground game, which says much about the Cleveland defense in light of the down and distance.

Looking at the offense's formation, we see a wing and tight end to the boundary (short-side of the field) and a single tight end to the field (wide-side). A single 'Z' receiver is aligned off the line of scrimmage to the right outside the image.

The offense will attack the defense via an Iso/lead concept for the second time in three plays. I am labeling this an Iso due to the tailback's deep path in the backfield and blocking scheme up-front, although the play does not utilize a fullback to isolate on a second-level defender. The play is not a true lead either as the tailback appears to read the play-side defensive lineman, rather than dropping his head and hitting the A-gap as quickly as possible.

Yet again run bubbles and box numbers tell the story before the ball has been snapped. The defense has seven-in-the-box defenders to account for eight blockers. I am not counting either safeties as both are ten-yards off the line of scrimmage, leaving them unable to influence the play until it has hit the second level. The safeties are at ten-yard depth as the defense is in a 'Quarters', or Cover 4 shell. Pettine and Co. are likely thinking they don't want to give up a long gain on second down so they go conservative here (Cover 4 provides good deep coverage), but by staying in this shell they cannot drop either safety any closer to the line of scrimmage to balance the box numbers.  

Pettine and Co. are likely thinking they don't want to give up a long gain on second down so they go conservative here (Cover 4 provides good deep coverage), but by staying in this shell they cannot drop either safety any closer to the line of scrimmage to balance the box numbers. It is mystifying that the defense does not 'check' out of the play when they see heavy personnel as there is no need for split-safeties (I would check to some type of man coverage here to drop the weak safety; he can cover Eifert on a pass while also balancing the box numbers, adding an extra man at the point of attack on a run)  In what is becoming a broken record, if all the blocks are executed the offense will have leverage at the point of attack.


The defensive alignment has created three run bubbles: the strong-side C-gap, the strong-side A-gap, and the weakside B-gap. Furthermore, four of the five players along the five-man front are in position to be combo-blocked (excluding the Wide 9 on the left-side of the image).

Power and Counter will both work here, but after the Iso Weak's success two plays ago, Jackson elects to attack the strong-side as he can combo the 1-technique and 3-technique while 'Arc' releasing the stalk block the safety or attack the first threat to cross his face.

In what is quickly becoming a broken record, if the offense executes their blocks they will create a number advantage at the point of attack.

Both the NT and UT (under tackle) are easily combo-blocked, with the tight end blocking the EMLOS. Watch the wing's punch to the outside shoulder of the defender as he arc releases. While the strike does not look like much it often throws the defender slightly off balance. These guys bench press big numbers; there's plenty of power in that strike even if it looks (or is) glancing. Even if the punch fails to alter the defender's momentum it can momentarily break his concentration on defeating the blocker in front him.

On the backside the right tackle will use a 'hinge' technique, taking a hard inside step to prevent inside penetration through the B-gap before pivoting to wall off his defender from chasing down the ball from behind. The weak-side tight end will 'fan' the EMLOS by taking a vertical step and pivoting to wall of his defender as well.

Just after the snap two small details play a big part in the play's success. 

Focus on the field safety located in the upper right-side of the GIF. You might be asking yourself why he is shuffling away from the play (a very good question). Our answer lies in the coverage shell the defense is playing. In Cover 4 the safety will key the #2 receiver (this can be a detached receiver or an inline tight end) to his side for run/pass. If the receiver releases vertically the safety is responsible for covering him. It appears that the field safety read the fan block as "pass", causing him to widen in anticipation of pass coverage.  

Moving to the other side we see a similar issue. The playside linebacker is likely reading the 'backfield triangle' (guard-quarterback-tailback) for his run/pass and play direction key. After reading "run" from the left guard's combo his eyes should move to the tailback for a play direction or 'flow' key. It appears that the wide path Giovani Bernard takes as he approaches the mesh point influences the linebacker to read an outside run, causing him to come downhill to the C-gap taking him out of the play. 

There are several other possibilities here. He could have had a gap exchange game on with the 7-technique in which the EMLOS slants inside and the backer' slants outside, thus exchanging gap responsibilities. He could have been responsible for the strong-side A-gap (although if so the coaches are criminal for putting him in that alignment outside the 3-technique), 'checking' before flowing with the tailback's path. If this was the case the screw-up is on the linebacker for not sitting on his gap long enough before flowing. The 3-technique could have been 2-gapping, leaving the linebacker to fit off the defensive lineman's movement. Finally, there could be a completely different reason we don't know. Without the exact play call it is impossible to say anything with 100% certainty.

The tailback will read the first play-side defender (the 3-technique in this alignment) to determine his insertion point at the line of scrimmage. Because the left guard and left tackle root the defender out of his hole, the read takes the tailback to the A-gap. With no immediate fill this is like stealing.

Moving along we see the A-gap is completely walled-off, creating a beautiful running lane for the ball. Bernard does a good job pressing the hole as soon as he receives the ball. 

As Bernard enters the hole we see a great example of a running back 'getting skinny' as he feels pressure from the 3-technique, who has shed his blocker (align feet with shoulders, strike to "lock out", keep the feet moving, disengage the arm away from the ball carrier, violently push with the near-side arm, and rip the outside arm through the armpit). If Bernard does not turn his shoulder there is a good chance the defender makes contact. 

NT Danny Shelton again fails to prevent the jump through as he is moved off his spot by the double-team into Karlos Dansby's lap. Dansby is the only player in position to meet the ball at the line of scrimmage, however we can see how easily his scrap is cut off. Shelton does do a good job of shedding the center with the push/rip, however the ball carrier is already three yards past the line of scrimmage and his primary assignment was to keep his linebacker clean. Because Bernard is an underrated inside runner that plays well through contact he manages another three yards after the Shelton hit, putting the offense in a very manageable third-and-short.

The playbook is completely open on third-and-short. Jackson can stay on the ground, go through the air, run play action, or take a vertical shot here (many offensive coordinators LOVE going downfield between their opponent's 30-40 yard line). Join us in the Tap Room tomorrow to see what Jackson does.

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