|Daniel Mears / Detroit News|
One thing I'd like you to do when looking at the diagrams is to split them in half through the center. Notice the playside and the backside throughout this post. What that will show you is what the defenders to that side of the field are seeing, and why it is difficult to defend all these concepts. The diagrams below are all from an I-formation with a FB. But it's important to note that these plays can all be run from a pistol set or a shotgun set, with a FB, or H-back, or even at times simply a TE, making them diverse throughout multiple formations.
Base Zone Runs
Inside zone is a downhill rushing attack. The RB typically has three options on inside zone, playside B-Gap, bounce outside, or cutback.
Outside zone works in tandem with inside zone. As teams begin attacking vertically in order to prevent the combination blocks from getting to the second level, outside zone seals them back inside. Note the first step for everyone along the line is still playside, making the initial read similar for the defense. The first read for the RB will be to “bounce” this play outside. Unless the defense is poor in gap assignments, however, that is unlikely. Therefore, the nominal play will see the RB “bang” the ball up-field behind the TE. If that route isn’t open, the play can “bend” backside, typically off the butt of the center.
Base Man Run
Power O works in tandem with the zone schemes because the playside for Power O looks like zone blocks on the backside of a zone scheme, down to the FB coming to what looks like the backside to seal the DE. By drawing the defense away from the play, the offense can gain numbers playside and seal most of the defense inside.
One of the downsides of Power O is that the pulling OG can act as a key to the defense. Instead, lets say we simply want to seal the defense. To do that, we have two options: Lead Counter, and Belly Counter.
This play is blocked the same way a Lead Iso play is blocked, as in the FB will isolate the WILL LB. The front side of the play (toward the initial movement) looks similar to inside zone, however, the OL isn’t attempting to cross the face of the defender. Instead, their down blocking and combo blocking to the next level in a gap scheme. On the backside, the OL is simply down blocking in the opposite direction. Because this is an inside run (intended for the A-gap), standard counter footwork would be awkward. So the RB takes the handoff to the playside before intentionally cutting it back to the backside of the field.
The Belly Counter works similar to the old belly play. Originally, the Belly play was a product of the T formation, and there were several variations you could run. There was inside belly (43/3 Belly), Outside belly (45/6 Belly), and belly option (47/8 Belly). Many times, these plays featured a Down G, where the playside guard kicked out the EMOL. But then as teams started utilizing split outs rather than TEs, another method was needed. In the old T formation, this meant the HB would kick out the EMOL, essentially leading for the FB.
With popularity of the I-formation, leading with the HB became difficult to do. So in order to run Belly, which people still wanted to do, they would now have the FB kick out the EMOL. Along with the counter step, you can see how this initially looks like zone.
Pin and Pull
Pin and Pull is an adjustment to the zone stretch. Rather than have the playside OL reach the DL on the otherside of them, they’ll make a change. If the offensive lineman has a defensive lineman lined up on the gap inside (away from the play) of him, he will down block, or pin the defender inside. If he doesn’t have a defensive lineman lined up to the gap inside, he will pull. The Pin and Pull can utilize one puller or two pullers.
These are some additional schemes that could potentially make the defenses job even more difficult.
Why This Makes it Difficult for the Defense
For this exercise, playside (PS) will always mean the direction the play is intended to end up. Backside (BS) will be the side of the formation opposite that. The only exception will be for RB, where we’ll list his initial movement. Note that this is nominal for a 4-3 Over; some of the man blocking schemes will change based on alignment. It’s important to note that all of these plays can be run to and away from strength, and that on some of the man blocked schemes, the TE's direction will change based on if it's run to strength or away from strength. Green means the player will normally work Away from the playside, while yellow means they’ll nominally work to the playside, and orange means they will pull to the play (pin and pull, man pull, or trap pull are all considered “Pull” here).
The point here is to show you how hard it becomes for the defense to read keys. Nothing is similar between those plays. There is no perfectly defined key among the plays Michigan runs, and if Michigan were to add other man-gap schemes, the keys would become even more confusing for the defense.
On top of that, Michigan’s base play, the play they run most, is the play in which Michigan’s FB “breaks tendency” and acts different than on any other play. Furthermore, Michigan rarely utilizes FBs, instead preferring TEs and HBs, again reducing a main key.
What this shows you is that with five plays – Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Power O, Lead Counter, Belly Counter, and Pin and Pull – that Michigan can go against any defensive key. Now you can add in shotgun runs, QB runs, end arounds, etc, and you have yourself a very diverse run game with a simplified blocking structure.