Inside the Playbook - Michigan Defending the OL Pull

Michigan's offense is going to pull a lot of OL. Similarly, Michigan's defense is going to see more teams increasingly go to pulling OL as more teams shift back to man/gap schemes and away from the zone oriented teams. Of those plays, Power O is probably the most relied upon for opponents. In this article, we are going to look at how Michigan defends the Power O and why they defend it this way. In my next post, I'll discuss how an offense can react to it.

Previously, I've discussed how MSU defends Power.

Power O
I've discussed Power O quite a bit, from a Primer, to a breakdown of the blocking schemes, to running it from various formations and with a read option.

But what it all comes down to is inserting the FB into the LOS with a kick block and creating an additional gap on the playside by pulling the backside guard. It results in this for the defense.

The backside B gap goes away, but there is now an additional C and D gap to the playside that the defense must account for. We're going to look at how Michigan does that.

Getting to Playside
Here is Michigan's base alignment on most plays against a Power O blocking scheme.

The center will pin the NT on the backside. This means that NT has responsibility for the gap between the Center and the backside OT. The playside 3-Tech and the playside DE have responsibility for the B and C gaps, respectively. The SAM has responsibility for the D gap, along with help from the safety. This means there are two gaps on the playside left unaccounted for, which the LBs need to fill: the extra C gap created by the pull, and the playside A gap.

Example 1

Michigan sets up in an strong I-formation. The defense is in a 4-3 Over Loose, as shown above, with the SAM walked up on the edge and the MIKE walked up in the strongside A gap. The red box is the defender to watch and the yellow player is the pulling OL. The defender in the red box will read his keys from the OG to the backfield
A wild blue box appears, this is the safety crashing down to fill the alley. He will also be the pulling OG's intended target, as the OL has down blocked all the DL and LBs on the LOS. Notice how quickly the WILL redirects as soon as he sees the OG pull.
He gets into the playside A gap, behind where the pulling OG is attempting to cut through, and he starts slicing vertical into the LOS. No OL has accounted for him as they are busy handling the LOS.
Slice, he gets into the backfield and forces the RB to bounce, right into the waiting arms of the filling safety.

Rally to the football

Example 2

Same sort of thing, though Michigan aligns in a straight I with twins to the field. Michigan has walked up the LBs a bit, playing them tight to the LOS. Note that the playside DE is not very wide off the TE, this is going to spur a call from the OL which results in the TE trying to kick the DE and the FB working up to the SAM.
At the snap, again, red box is the defender to watch, yellow box is the pulling OG. OL down blocks everywhere on the front side as the TE kicks and the FB starts to work up through the hole.

Ignore for a second the backside DT dominating his man and forcing this to bounce early, because it's beside the point. Notice the defender in the red box working to the playside A gap, filling behind the pulling OG.

The OG is actually working up to the safety. If not for the backside LB (and the DT that wins at the point of attack), this is extremely well blocked and results in a big gain. But, the backside LB does his job and no one can account for him.

Slice, he's right into the backfield and the RB has no where to go, despite the front side being very well blocked.

Fail to Read Keys
Here's a play that is a bit misdirection. It's intended to be a FB trap, with the RB and Jet motion WR pulling the defense away from the play.

Boxed in guys are as previously.

At the snap, the LB is quickly working vertically, instead of following his initial key. He has fallen for the false keys. This is potentially bad, because on the playside, OL are releasing to the LB level and the 3-Tech is being set up for a trap block.
The 3-tech does a great job of feeling the blocks release to the second level and works quickly down the line. The trap blocker can't stay flat enough and is forced to arc around the 3-tech in an effort to seal him inside. Now the LB realizes he must chase the puller, but typically it's too late. On this play though, the FB is forced to cut outside the 3-Tech before cutting up field. The result is only about a 5 yard gain. The play of the 3-tech mitigated what would have been 10 free yards before the FS could meet the FB or the SAM could have chased him down from behind, all because the LB was late doing his job, which is to follow the pulling OL and fill the extra gap to the playside.

This is a very aggressive way of playing defense. It doesn't rely on working over the top, instead, it is all about getting to your gap and attacking down hill. Slicing penetration can kill any play, because the extra blocker at the point of attack cannot account for what is behind him. But that's not to say the offense doesn't have answers. We'll discuss that next time.


  1. I've been really hoping you would do some spring game breakdowns. Still the best football content on the web.


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