Film Review: Northwestern Sequencing Down G

 Down G is a play that once featured heavily in a lot of prostyle offenses, only to go out of vogue in the modern spread era. But as teams have begun incorporating more TEs back into the formation, and have felt the need to implement more gap schemes back into the zone dominant offenses, Down G has been a play that has allowed them to get there.

I've previously written about Down G, and how it acts as zone on the backside, and guard kick out on the front side. It is essentially a frontside version of pin and pull, and many will even run it that way if the Center is also uncovered and free to pull.

Against Michigan State in the opening game of the season, Northwestern to get outside the Spartan defensive ends setting the edge. With a mismatch also on the interior of the OL, Northwestern started dabbling in Down G to utilize the DE's momentum upfield and out, and pin the defensive front inside. From their TE-Wing look, they were also able to sequence the play with a vertical play action pass attack. Let's take a look.


Northwestern comes out in a 3x1 formation with a TE-Wing combination. The 3x1 aspect of this sequencing is very intentional for how it benefits the PAP component for two primary reasons:

  1. With your TE-Wing your primary targets in the progression, you want them matched up against safeties and preferably LBs. In order to get that match up, 3x1 is is better because the CB is outside on the wide WR
  2. You want the safeties involved in the run fit. This will likely naturally occur on the basis of the TE-Wing alignment. A lot of teams that run Down G like to run it from 2x2 TE-Wing to attack the CB in the run fit. But CBs will often naturally stay more at depth, thus minimizing the PAP component of the sequencing.

Down G
Like every play, there are nuances involved in how teams run them differently. The nuance here is how Northwestern is utilizing their wing blocker.

Some teams will align that wing a bit tighter to the formation and down block with him, similar to the rest of the blockers aligned inside of him. In that way, the whole front side really is down blocking and sealing the defense inside while the kickout player handles the force defender. We'll call this the traditional Down G method.

What the Wildcats are doing is arcing with the Wing player to a LB or playside safety, and then aiming to kick the DE. 

Each method has it's benefits.

Traditional Down G
The first benefit of traditional Down G is the simple assignments. The first uncovered OL pulls and kicks out the force player, everyone else on the front side down blocks and seals the defense inside, and everyone on the backside zone blocks. This allows you to implement the scheme almost like you are running Power on the front side and Zone on the backside, and make a lot of bang for your buck.

It also allows the play to act as a "Crease" play. What does a crease play mean? Effectively, you're just splitting the defense and trying to punch through the second level as fast as you can. Think FB trap as a crease play in the middle of the formation. Down G and Belly are off tackle versions of that, with this version of Down basically isolating the force defender from the rest of the defense and creasing inside of him.

Arc Down G
The Arc variation has a few benefits. First, it is more likely to get you big-on-big. Generally speaking, a pulling OG vs a safety isn't a great match up, and TEs on DL aren't a great match up. This, to a degree, helps avoid some of that.

The Arc block also: 1) can get out to the force player quicker, making assignments on the defense harder to execute and giving the RB more options when he breaks through the first level; 2) It often helps widen the DE in a soft edge defense, by putting him more into pass rush mode once he sees the wing widen on his release.

In theory, it can also improve some frontside angles if the linebacker is in a plus alignment (further playside) because you can actually wrap to him rather than have the wing climb to him. But it can also make angles and assignments harder because a heavy technique DE (aligned right over the TE) can become the puller's man or the TE's man depending on how he attacks.

Northwestern Down G
MSU is in a formation that is stacking their ILB over their DE. This makes the TE's assignment a bit difficult (and in general, is why teams like to play a 6-technique against gap schemes), but effectively forces him to block the DE because he doesn't have a good path to the LB. What that means is his first step is outside to ensure he seals the DE inside, when the DE rips inside, he pins him there. The front side Guard is then pulling to the playside LB as the Wing arcs to the Ni. The backside executes a zone scheme.

This actually sets up very well, except both the Wing and the center don't execute their assignments. If either does, this play likely generates a very positive gain, because either the Ni is sealed outside and the LB going underneath the center doesn't get to the ball carrier on time, or the LB gets sealed backside and the RB can make the Wing's block right. But both fail to execute and it only results in 5 yards.

Northwestern Sequencing PAP
There are really three points of emphasis for stopping Down G.

  1. Setting a hard edge and squeezing out the frontside hole. If MSU wants to do this, it means having the Ni attack hard, especially given the Wing is arcing to him.
  2. Scrapping fast over the top with the LBs. Because the play doesn't really provide a great cutback option, if the LBs can get over top of the seal blocks, they can limit the plays impact.
  3. Filling from a secondary position (safety/CB) that isn't accounted for in the blocking scheme.

Each of these require a fast and hard response to the run action, and make them vulnerable to the play action pass that Northwestern is running. The progression for Northwestern will be Over, Seam, Out.

In each case, the initial stem or release of the TE and Wing is supported by how they block their Arc Down G. The Y-TE releases inside, as if down blocking or sealing the MIKE. That works into the over route. The Wing would release outside initially, just as he does to gain width to run the seam route.

Against Cover 1, the over will likely have a leverage advantage on the strong safety, especially if the strong safety's eyes get stuck with the run action. The LBs likewise get sucked up, at which point the QB is throwing away from the FS support over the top. In the event coverage is solid, the QB will go to the third receiver in the progression, the outside out route.

Against Cover 3, the LBs will again be run focused at the snap. This allows the TEs to get behind the LB level, in at which point it is likely one of the LBs will have to recover to get underneath the Over route. Similarly, the Ni, who also may be focused primarily in run, will have to recover to attach himself to the seam. Both CBs are held by the respective outside WR routes, and so again, the QB can just throw away from the MOF safety. 

In the event of weakside rotation, the idea is the same. 

Against a standard split zone coverage, you are again going to find single match ups on the vertical. But from 2-high coverage, the defense has to get safety support to be gapped out, so the safeties will likely play more aggressive. In this Stubbie/Cone example, It is likely that either the Over route or the seam route get over top or run away from coverage and get open. Again, the last resort is the WR on the out in single coverage.

The worst case scenario is probably "Poach"/"Solo" coverage, in which the weakside safety is responsible for #3 (the Y-TE) vertical. He can cap the TE with underneath support from the MIKE. The H is then doubled in the slot between the Ni and the SS. But this means both outside options are options. If the QB sees the weakside safety cheating over to the strong side, he can go to his alert route on the single side comeback route (this can be a difficult cover for the CB, who is on an island and has to protect himself against the vertical) or work through his progression and end on the strong side WR running the out route.

Vs teams that run a lot of poach, you may actually prefer to utilize more 2x2 formations to get more generic Cover 4 schemes. This is especially true if you sense the strong safety (to the TE) is triggering hard to run support or if the opponent will run Cover 2 to a TE-Wing.

Note that MSU appears to be running a HOT coverage (3 High, 2 Under) which will work out much like Cover 3 for the QB, but better, assuming the 6 man coverage scheme holds up against the 6 pressure threats. In this case, pretty much everyone comes open, so it's just a matter of standing in the pocket and taking the hit if the RB doesn't pick up the 6th pressure.


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