Inside the Playbook: Double Lead O from an Unbalanced Formation

Saturday, Michigan deployed an unbalanced time for the first time this year and found success with it. In theory, the run plays out of an unbalanced line aren't required to be any different that a balanced line. You can run Iso to strength and away from strength. You can run Power O to and away from strength. You can run your counters and zones and sweeps. But, if you're going to line up your two best blockers on the same side of the formation, you might as well pull and lead so that you are completely dominating the point of attack. That's what Michigan did against Minnesota, when they pulled out the "Double Lead O" play to run between Lewan and Schofield and get consistently good yardage.

Once upon a time there was a difference between "Lead" and "Iso". That difference pretty much summarizes the difference between "man" and "gap" blocking. The summary, in today's lingo, is often that there is no difference. Needless to say, the terms are fairly interchangeable today, but we will call it double lead because it is technically a little more accurate.

"O" is something you often here with "Power O". You'll also hear things occasionally like "Power G" or "GO Sweep". The "G" and the "O" determine the pulling guard. "G" means the playside guard whereas "O" means the opposite guard.

So "Double Lead O" will be two lead blockers and a backside pulling guard. The play call will also include strength of the formation, the formation itself (including the unbalanced line), the motion, the intended ball carrier (denoted by a number), the intended hole, and the play call. It'll end up something like (but probably completely different) than "Right Rhino I Over Zap 46 Double Lead O". "Right" means TE to the right, "Rhino" is the formation (Wing lined up just outside of TE), "I" is the backfield formation (I-formation), "Over" is flipping the OT over, "Zap" is a motion that goes across the formation then comes back from the Z-receiver (wing here), "4" is the tailback, "6" is the hole the RB is trying to run through, "Double Lead O" is the blocking system. Very little of this will translate to other systems. It's a problem in football: there is no consensus on terminology on a lot of things, not even close. On other things, there is, which makes it even more confusing.

The Play
Here is how the play is blocked against an over front.

A bit of a preface: Michigan ran a true unbalanced look where the TE wasn't covered (they did this when they passed, FWIW) and where the TE was covered. In the two videos below, the TE is actually covered. This makes passing less likely, but also makes the blocking easier because it typically will force a CB to be an extra box defender. For the most part, getting a lead blocker out on a FB with everyone else blocked up within the structure of the play is a very good thing.

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To continue reading about this play, and how this play will adjust to other defensive fronts, follow the link to Maize n Brew.


  1. I really liked what I saw Michigan do out of this formation on Saturday. They showed power, stretch, and iso out of the look. For the most part they always positive movement on the power. There were a few times that the playside combo block missed the backside linebacker flowing over though. And then like you said, late in the game Minnesota LB's were coming down hard and blowing up the pulling guard in the gap. One time the LB just dove and Bryant's knees. Another thing I noticed is Minnesota slid the nose over to the playside in their even/over look when Michigan went unbalanced. This gave them an end, 3 tech and 1 tech to the playside. Which basically eliminated the playside combo block because Schofield and the guard both had to block down, Schofield on the 3 and the guard on the 1. This is a nice adjustment by Minnestoa because this now allows the Mike or Will to run underneath without the guard sliding off the combo and picking him up. One of times Michigan got hit with a TFL was because of this. It would have been nice if Gardner had an E/O (either/or) option at the line to run that weakside iso because Minnesota was giving it up when they adjusted like this. I really hope Michigan builds off this with more play action and counters and doesn't just put this back in drawer like we've seen them do before.

    1. I agree that I hope they continue to build on it, because it's not worth all the time to practice this just to give future defense another look to prep for, it should be utilized because I think it has real benefits.

      As far as E/O adjustments, you wonder if Borges is reluctant to give him free run here and make those decisions. With an unbalanced look he's sure to see a bunch of different fronts and you don't want him to check into a wrong play. I coached a year at a school that ran single wing (it was their first season running it) and one of our problems was, week to week, we never knew how defenses would align to it. So I'm sure there's a similar type of learning curve for DG here and maybe he doesn't have that ability yet. That being said, because defenses will adjust so much, it's important that eventually he gets that ability.


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