History and Evolution: Power O - Part I - The Power Series Origins

“God’s play.”

Talk to the majority of football guys and they’ll tell you that one of, if not the best play in football is Power. It’s dynamic, dominating, explosive, yet flexible; its name alone congers up an attitude embedded within the game. But, unlike most schemes that are loved due to nostalgia of a game that no longer exists, Power remains a staple of modern football despite its history dating back to the invention of the forward pass. Like anything, it has morphed and adapted, but at its heart the play retains its core characteristics:

  • Down blocks on the front side
  • A lead block to handle the edge defender
  • Backside pullers wrapping around playside.

It looks like this:


And here's a primer

Going back to the origins of the game, including in the various iterations that make up football around the globe, numbers and leverage have ruled the day. In American football, that is exactly what Power is. In this post, we are going to look at the origins of “God’s play” and how it has adapted throughout the ages to remain one of the most prevailing schemes in modern football.


Single Wing

At some point along the way we ruled out the “wedge” play and started actually “drawing plays in the dirt” to gain an advantage over the opponent. As early as the 1930s, the idea of Power was born within the Single Wing (the single wing itself dates back to the turn of the century, along with variations such as the Notre Dame Box in the 1920s).

Already, in 1933, you saw the makings of modern Power, even if it wasn’t yet called Power. Recall, Single Wing is an unbalanced formation. The frontside of the formation, including the Wing Back, was a 5-man surface. This means pulling the FSG was akin to pulling the BSG in a modern 3-man surface. Traditionally in this era, you would see the frontside and backside guard pull to the play, but even in this era there were several iterations that made up more of a series than a single play.

Certainly, you could kick with the blocking back (BB) and wrap both pullers inside, utilizing the FB as an additional lead blocker, as seen in the above film (Straight Maneuver).

But you could also create misdirection in the backfield with something like a “Spin Maneuver” or a “Buck Maneuver”. And, of course, misdirection itself was always a threat, sending the FB to the backside or launching him into the heart of the formation akin to a dive play.

1940 Princeton Sing Wing Playbook

And of course, if you learn to do it to the longside of the formation, you might as well design it to the short side of the formation (often with misdirection)

1940 Princeton Single Wing Playbook

And quickly, iterations including things like Shovel Passes were born.


Of course, this stuff still works, even in the modern NFL


And in college


The T Formation and the Power Sweep

A revival of the T formation came about in the 1940s that would eventually overtake and nearly eliminate the Single Wing offense by the 1950s (though you’d continue to get several teams that held on, and still do at the high school ranks). The availability of the forward pass now enhanced the various blocking and misdirection capabilities out of a 4-back offense. And, of course, in 1941, “Option Football” was born. By the 1950s, various iterations of the T-formation (including Wing T at Delaware and various Split Back offenses) became the norm, and option football ruled the day. But still there existed a need for “Power” football. As Woody Hayes described the Power series as a necessary part of his playbook in the 1950s

1957 Ohio State Playbook


Eventually, by the 1960s, it defined dynasties such as the Green Bay Packers, running what became known as the Packers Sweep.


But, of course, as Power became increasingly successful as an outside run, it made sense to build the inside run threat off the same look. In comes what would eventually become the modern version of Power O.


The Power Series and Off-Tackle Power

Power, initially more of an off-tackle type play in Single Wing, primarily became an outside run play as teams crashed the option against the T-formation. That said, teams often retained the off-tackle variation within the playbook, as Woody Hayes did, and he noted: “It is a single wing Power Play adapted to the T formation. Its advantage as a T play over single wing is that it can be run to either side of the line.” And as the Power Sweep began to dominate football, the need and reliance of running plays with similar action became obvious, and thus, the off-tackle Power run started its run of dominance once again.

1957 Ohio State Offensive Playbook

Tom Landry was another advocate of Power football, having a core section of his playbook dedicated to the Power Series

1968 Dallas Cowboys Playbook

1957 Cowboys Offensive Playbook

47 NO Pinch should look familiar.

Each remained staples into the 1970s within the Wing T

1975 Delaware Playbook

But by now, a sea shift was coming. Less often were teams running offenses with four in the backfield and two TEs. Now teams began running two WRs regularly, and 21 personnel was becoming the norm. With that, the emphasis on sweeps started to diminish. A new wave of schemes was about to emerge. The Sid Gillman influence had started, and coaches such as Don Coryell (and subsequently Joe Gibbs), Dick Vermeil, Chuck Noll, Al Davis, and Bill Walsh would ascend as new, innovative minds, flourishing with a more balanced offensive attack. The I-Formation offense would begin to gain popularity over the split back T-formation based offenses. The remnants of the old Power Series would remain within their playbooks to start, but already "Power" was becoming what it is today, while the various iterations of other plays within the Power series received new names, and they were first relegated to changeups, and ultimately often left out of playbooks altogether.

Continued Reading

Part II - Off Tackle Power Earns the Name Power

Part III - The Modern Era of Power Diversity


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