Football Fundamentals: Pin and Pull Scheme

The zone stretch scheme (outside zone or wide zone) has long been a favorite was for zone-based offenses to get to the outside, or at least stress the defense horizontally. Teams like Iowa have long used it as their base run play from a single back, pro-style set (often 12 personnel), while teams like Northwestern have often used it to threated defenses from a spread formation. Many other squads, including Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, OSU, Michigan, and MSU have recently had this play in their dossier. But when it is known to be the base of your rushing attack, it has fairly obvious keys that allow defenses to attack it and shut it down, either through formation or through how they attack post-snap, so at times it helps to have variants of the same play. That is where the pin and pull concept comes into play. The pin and pull concept is essentially a gap/man tag for the OL to switch to in order to attack with what is essentially the stretch scheme. Let’s take a look.

Outside Zone
From Football Fundamentals: Zone Blocking Schemes:

Blocking Rules
To really simplify this section, we’ll treat the entire line as if it’s the same, rather than splitting apart the front side and back side of the OL. There are two primary rules: covered and uncovered. Covered means that you have someone lined up over top of you or in the gap playside; uncovered means there is no one over top of you or in the playside gap.

If you are covered then you have some responsibility for the person over the top of you. There is something many coaches talk about called the 90-50-10 rule. If you are covered but the defender is lined up playside, there is a 90% chance you will be tasked with maintaining the combo block on the first level. If he is lined up in a heads-up position, there is a 50% chance. If he is shaded to the backside of the play, there is only a 10% chance you are responsible.

If you are uncovered, you will look to the blocker playside of you and work in a combination blocking from the first to a second level defender. Again, it is important to note that you continue to block your zone while working to the second level. Leaving your zone results in creases for the defense to penetrate through, so you should never chase with your block. Depending on the type of zone called, the first level is secured with combination or single blocks and the works to the second level to block the LBs.
As far as the RB, from the same article
Outside zone stretch teams will have the RB’s initial track anywhere from 4 yards outside of the EMOL to the inside foot of the TE (or ghost TE). Again, this is typically a two-man read for the RB, the first being the EMOL (or the force defender), the second being the next DL inside. Just like the Inside Zone run, the RB must be patient and not cut too early, or risk the defense being able to swarm the RB. “Press the line” is just as applicable.

While the play is designed to get to the edge, it is very rare that the ball is able to actually bounce outside and reach the edge (unless the defense is unsound); still, that is the first goal of the RB, on what is termed a “bounce read”. If the edge gets filled and the play is forced back inside, then that is considered nominal. This is called a “bang read” and goes inside the EMOL. Lastly, if this cut is taken away, the RB can make what is called a “bend read”, and cut it all the way back to the playside A-gap.

And here's how it looks:

That pretty much covers it for the general scheme as far as blocking rules and the RB aiming point.

Defending Stretch Zone
To understand why teams often go to this variant, it’s important to understand how teams generally defend the stretch play. The goal of outside zone is to create horizontal displacement. It does this by either washing defenders to the sideline or sealing them inside, thus resulting in natural run creases being formed.
  1. The DL counters this by “anchoring”; that is, they maintain their outside arm free, get their body skinny to the blocker, and get leverage and power from their outside foot so that they cannot be moved further outside. This takes away gaps.
  2. The LBs, particularly those at the second level, quickly fill down through the open run creases. Sometimes termed reading “clear or cloudy”, any open crease they fill and then anchor, maintain a square base and shoulders with the LOS. They can attack quickly because the OL takes them directly to the ball, so if they are able to quickly read stretch, they can immediately attack. This effectively forms a wall.
  3. Formation-wise, one of the best ways to stop the outside zone run is to have a 7-tech. That is, have a guy align on the inside shoulder of the TE. Note in the diagram of outside zone that the RB has three cut options: bounce, bang, and bend. Well, a 7-tech getting penetration takes away two options and forces the RB to bend the run back inside. So the 7-tech must be effectively sealed inside, but being in a 7-technique, it’s very difficult for the OT to overtake the combo block with the TE. That forces the TE to delay his release to the second level, and allows the LBs to fill off the edge and form a wall at the point of attack. So the offense is left in a predicament, seal the 7-tech and have a wall of bodies and possibly a free LB on the edge for the RB to take on, or quickly move off the combo block and take on a pile of bodies on the inside.
These reasons are why pin and pull is effective. The DL no longer can anchor because they are facing down blocks rather than reach blocks. The LBs can no longer quickly read zone stretch because there is no flow going the opposite direction, which delays their reads and forces them to hesitate. The 7-tech is now pinned inside and blockers pull around him to more effectively handle the edge. As a change-up, pin and pull takes advantage of the ways defenses try to cheat to stop zone stretch.

Defining Frontside vs Backside
Let’s start by defining the frontside of the play and the backside of the play, because it will change how the scheme is blocked.

Frontside: most teams define this as every blocker attached to the formation from and including the center toward the playside – Frontside OT to Center

Backside: every blocking attached to the formation to the backside of the center - Backside OG to Backside TE).

Some teams will include the backside OG as part of the front side, particularly if they don’t utilize a TE to the playside. Other teams do not define a frontside and backside, and will pin and pull across the entire formation. These are variants that slightly modify the scheme, but the rules remain the same.

Backside Rules
This is easy, you block the same exact way you’d block zone stretch.

Frontside Rules
Similar to the zone scheme, there are two scenarios for an OL: Covered or Uncovered.

Covered: If you are covered, meaning a defender is head up or in the gap away from the playside, you down block him.

Uncovered: If you are uncovered (there is no player headup or in the gap away from the play) you pull and block the first man that crosses your face.

Now, some teams will adjust this a little bit to help their players or certain players. For example, some teams will treat a head up defender as a guy that should be down blocked. It depends on your team and players how you want to define it. Others will define a defender on the playside shoulder as "covered" and ask the covered blocker to reach that defender to prevent that defender from gaining penetration into the backfield. Depends on the coaching.

Puller Rules
As I said, this is a gap/man tag of zone stretch. That means the down blocks block a gap, while the pullers have a 2nd level defender they are responsible for blocking. For the most part, they will attempt to seal their defender back inside to allow the play to get outside, essentially boxing the defense in. To do this, they will attempt to get outside the formation if they can.

All pullers should open pull. A skip pull works on Power O because the puller doesn’t need to go as far. On pin and pull, they better open up with their outside foot and run to the spot.

At times, the first puller may need to abort trying to seal the defense inside and resort to a kick block. Often times, defenses will try to set the edge with a 2nd level defender. In that case, if the defender gets to the LOS before the puller turns vertical, the first puller to get outside the formation will kick block that defender to allow the RB to cut inside of him. He needs to get into this block by his 5th step, after which, if he hasn’t committed to it, he will work up field and try to seal. Once the puller gets vertical and squares, he’ll be looking inside to seal the defense inside.

The second puller, or if the Center is the only puller, will work a little differently. They have to try to seal the defense inside. They also theoretically want to get outside the formation, scape off the butt of the most outside down block, turn up field, and help seal the defense inside. However, they have to beat the ILB to the spot; if the ILB gets outside on the play, the defense can form a wall at the point of attack and make life difficult for the offense. So the puller does not want to have to gain depth. If the defense gets penetration up front, then the puller will take the first clear path to the defender he’s blocking.

So, here’s the nominal blocking situation:

Here’s what happens if a second level defender steps up on the outside, and if first level defender gets upfield, forcing the second puller to cut up through the OL.

TE and OT Combo
On the very front side of the formation, rules generally have to adapt, often times because there is an overhang defender that can’t be accounted for with a down block. Let’s look at the various combinations between these two players.

A pure reach block will only occur when there is a defender aligned in the gap immediately outside the TE and another defender aligned in the gap between the OT and TE.

EAT (End and Tackle)
An EAT block is going to be a combo block from the TE and OT to the second level defender. Essentially, this is your standard outside zone block scheme. The TE and OT will combo at the first level and work to a second level defender, typically an overhand defender off the LOS.

TEX (Tackle End Cross)
Not to be confused with a TEX stunt on the DL, a TEX block sees the TE down block and the OT fold underneath him. The OT will utilize his normal pull rules, if there is a guy that steps up off the LOS, you kick block him outside, if he hesitates or remains at the second level, you work to his outside shoulder and seal him back inside.

It’s important to note that a TEX block can be performed with a defender outside the TE and another between the OT and TE  or it can be run with a defender in the gap between the OT and TE, and a second level defender

TESSY (Tackle and End to SS)
Typically written, you’ll see it written as TESS, but verbally, TESS and TEX sound a lot alike, so I’m writing TESSY just so the two aren’t confused. TESSY will only be run if there is a single defender on the LOS, and in our case, that defender will be aligned outside the TE to differentiate it from TEX.

Down T
Down T is an interesting variation that not many teams utilize, because it’s difficult to run unless the defense is aligned in a certain way. But Down T is like a combination of TEX and TESSY. It can only be run if there is a defender aligned right outside the TE, and a LB lined up in the second level far enough inside for the TE to release straight to him. In this case, the TE will release inside and immediately try to seal the most playside LB inside (his release has the added benefit of looking a bit like he’s releasing into a route). The OT will then kick or reach the defender outside the TE. This play works great, particularly with a lead blocker in the form of a FB to handle any secondary player trying to fill down.


From Indiana Breaking Tendencies to Run Outside OTs:

Here's the TE and OT pinning down and the frontside OG and Center pulling

Here's the TE pinning down and the OT and frontside OG pulling. Note here that everyone from the center backside is simply performing outside zone blocking assignments

Lastly, here's a look at the TE and frontside OG pinning, while the frontside OT and the Center pull.


Michigan State Pin and Pull (coming soon)
PSU Inside Zone Pin and Pull (coming soon)


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