What Is: Pin and Pull

What Is: Pin and Pull

Submitted by Seth on May 25th, 2017 at 11:07 AM

This series is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:

Offensive concepts: RPOs, high-low, snag, covered/ineligible receivers, Duo, zone vs gap blocking, zone stretch, split zone, inverted veer, reach block, kickout block, wham block, Y banana play, TRAIN

Defensive concepts: Contain & lane integrity, force player, hybrid space player, no YOU’RE a 3-4!, scrape exchange, Tampa 2, Saban-style pattern-matching, match quarters, Dantonio’s quarters, Don Brown’s 4-DL packages and 3-DL packages, Bear

Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style


This segment has a sponsor! Reader/previous MGoSponsor Richard Hoeg noticed I’d made an offhand comment once about how this series doesn’t get a lot of responses and wanted to make sure we kept it around, so now he’s tying us contractually to it.


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The Play:

So this is a zone/power hybrid that Michigan ran last year instead of outside zone, and had it run consistently against us in the latter half of the season. We call it “Pin and Pull” but it also goes by “Packer Sweep” or “Double Power” or “Student Body Right.” It’s really old, and was all the rage at the top levels of football until the less extreme/simpler to install outside zone occupied most of its niche. But pin and pull is still popular, and made a comeback in recent years as power blocking came back in vogue and offensive coaches searched for a way to punish defenses for putting smaller coverage dudes around the edges of the box.


The concept seems simple enough: block down everyone you can, and pull everyone else around. Pin and pull. Based on the defensive front any guy on your line (and you want your line extended to tight ends and beyond for this) might be pulling, or blocking down, or executing a reach block or combo block.


Ideally, you’re getting all of those dangerous DL blocked with your own heavy OL and TEs from advantageous positions, then swinging more meat to the point of attack to meet the smaller defenders—cornerbacks, safeties, OLBs, hybrids, etc.—who hang out there. From there it’s a matter of your back reading his blocks, and physics.

Given Michigan’s TE-heavy roster and power run orientation this looks to be a bigger part of our own future—right now it’s the basis of those sweeps we pull out from time to time. We’ll also see it a lot on defense, since even without Peppers Don Brown is often going to leave an open invitation to try it.

[Hit the jump to see how it’s run, and how it’s beat.]

What Is: Split Zone

What Is: Split Zone

Submitted by Seth on April 20th, 2017 at 11:51 AM

Hello, this series is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:

Offensive concepts: RPOs, high-low, snag, covered/ineligible receivers, Duo, zone vs gap blocking, zone stretch, reach block, kickout block, wham block, Y banana play, TRAIN

Defensive concepts: Contain & lane integrity, force player, hybrid space player, no YOU’RE a 3-4!, scrape exchange, Tampa 2, Saban-style pattern-matching, match quarters, Dantonio’s quarters, Don Brown’s 4-DL packages and 3-DL packages, Bear

Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style


We’ve been using this offseason to learn about some of the tools in Harbaugh’s inside running game toolbox, and have so far neglected one of my favorites: Split Zone. This play today is a mainstay of Rich Rod’s offense and its derivatives, since the blocking is almost exactly the same as a base inside zone read right up until the guy who thought he was forming up to play an option gets blindsided by a large, laterally moving TE.

But it originated in under center two-back offenses, and remains an important curveball for I-form teams like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. If you’re going to be running inside zone, like, at all, and you’re not in a 4- or 5-wide formation all the time, you probably run this play and variations on it at least 3 or 4 times a game.

Let’s draw it up.


ignore McDoooooom—he’s just there to get the fans yelling “McDooooooom” and distract from what’s really going on

No, that line from the “T” to the “M” isn’t Hurst blocking Devin Bush—it means the guard and center will combo the the DT and the middle linebacker. This is true for most zone plays so I might just start drawing things up this way from now on.

This particular example from the Spring Game had some motioning and a fake jet, and the defense threw a few curveballs at it that the blocking handled as they were supposed to. We’re going to ignore those for now then come back and discuss them later when we’ve established the basics of what’s going on here.

How it works

Split zone is a riff on inside zone but flips the attack order: rather than reading outside-inside-backside like on most zone plays, Split Zone wants to hit that north-south cutback lane first, only going to frontside gaps when that’s not available. They do this by flipping the backside blocking tree, so that all of the usual gaps defenders think they’re going to be defending are not really the gaps they’re defending. That leaves an unblocked backside defender who gets whacked by a catchy-blocky fellow coming from the other side  of the backfield.

Its strength is that at first blush it’s inside zone, which threatens a bunch of gaps to the strongside, with a backside cutback. But split zone is attacking the backside first, leaving the frontside gaps as a Plan B.

split vs iz

looks like inside zone

The key difference occurs with the backside blocking. Rather than kicking out the EMLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage), the backside OT will ignore the edge and check the gap inside of him, moving downfield if nobody shows. The backside guard and center are still going to combo the nose tackle, but they’re trying to get around the opposite side, so a nose tackle who tries to get to the frontside of the center is just putting himself in the wrong hole.

Now for the kicker. Remember how we left that EMLOS on the backside unblocked, right where the play design is going? Don’t worry we’ve got a plan for him: a fullback or tight end should be coming across the formation, then using that latitudinal head of steam to bang open the hole (the orange block in the above gif).

If the offense is lucky, the defensive end, upon realizing that the tackle inside him isn’t trying to kick, will think he’s getting optioned and form up outside to force a tough read while the middle linebacker fears play-action and stays back to read the backfield action.

[Hit THE JUMP for what happens when they don’t get lucky]

What Is: Duo

What Is: Duo

Submitted by Seth on April 12th, 2017 at 10:34 AM

[This series is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:

Offensive concepts: Run-pass options (RPOs), High-low passing routes, Covered/Ineligible receivers

Blocking: Zone vs Gap, Reach, Kickout, Wham

Defensive concepts: Keeping Contain/Lane Integrity, Force Player, Hybrid Space Player, One-Gap Fronts, Scrape Exchange.

Coverages: Tampa 2, Pattern-Matching, Quarters and how MSU runs it

Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style]


This one confused us when Michigan ran it. In the above Poggi was trying to go between Braden and Butt while a middle linebacker got to sit free in a hole. Smith kind of challenged that guy, then bounced outside for a big gain. Brian guessed it was some sort of split zone that Poggi biffed. But after a twitter conversation and a few recent trips through Bo’s old playbooks I theorize it was Duo.


Also known as Double, or “Power without a puller,” Duo is a man-blocking play that apes inside zone while actually leaving the reads to the running back. Sometimes it looks like inside zone except the center ID’d the wrong guy and the running back fixed it by setting up the middle linebacker. Sometimes it looks like inside zone with a planned backside cut. But apparently it’s a whole different tree.

Anthony White and James Light and Ted Nguyen were talking about this play a few weeks ago on Twitter, and Zach Dunn of Inside the Headset wrote a whole article on it called “Duo/Double: The Best Play in Football.”

With Duo the Running Back is reading the Mike linebacker. The Running Back will press the ‘B’ Gap and read the movement of the Mike. If the Mike plays over the top and outside of the second double team, the Running Back can bend it back to the first double team. If the Mike presses and steps up into the line of scrimmage the Running Back can bounce the play out and cut off the Tight End’s block.

Then Geoff Schwartz did a video about how to differentiate it from backside inside zone, and found Bob Wylie giving a seminar on it. So as you can imagine I was feeling a bit left out. Let’s fantasize for a moment that there’s any value I can add to these guys who know way more than I do, and draw it up.


This play is not only a staple of the Harbaugh running game, but one he almost certainly took from Bo. Old timers, get your nodding muscles ready, because this is bar none the Schembechleriest play we’ve ever drawn here:


It’s called “Duo” or “Double” because of all the initial double-teams. On the above example from backup hour in the Hawaii game you can see both defensive tackles are getting doubled initially.

[Feeling the Bo yet? Hit the JUMP]

What Is: Gap Blocking vs. Zone

What Is: Gap Blocking vs. Zone

Submitted by Seth on January 27th, 2017 at 2:00 PM

[Dr. Sap]

[This is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:

Offensive concepts: Run-pass options (RPOs), High-low passing routes, Covered/Ineligible receivers, Blocking: Reach, Kickout, Wham

Defensive concepts: Keeping Contain/Lane Integrity, Force Player, Hybrid Space Player, One-Gap Fronts, Scrape Exchange. Coverages: Tampa 2, Pattern-Matching, Quarters and how MSU runs it

Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style]


Depending who you ask there are either two or three or sixteen thousand different blocking schemes offenses use to puncture run lanes into a defense. If we cut out a few exceptions, and a lot of variants, you can boil them down to two basic philosophic schools: Zone and Gap.

(And man, and hybrid, and zone can be split between outside/inside but shut up).

Harbaugh, as you might have heard, is one of if not the ur gap coach in football, as is his top lieutenant Tim Drevno. New tackles/tight ends coach Greg Frey, as we’ve mentioned twice this week, is not just in the zone camp but is one of the chief practitioners of its outside zone wing.

What’s the difference, and why does it matter? I’ll show.


“When badly outnumbered he managed, by swift marching and maneuvering, to throw the mass of his army against portion of the enemy's, thus being stronger at the decisive point.” –description of Napoleon battle tactic

This is the football’s fastball: I’m coming towards the plate so fast and so hard that by the time you know where it’s going you can’t catch up. To use a war metaphor, gap philosophy is about picking a spot in your opponent’s defenses, puncturing a hole, and sending as much material into it as possible as quickly as possible before the defenders can match it.


The above formation is unbalanced, which did its job in getting the defense to leave a cornerback and safety to a side with zero receiving threats (Mags is ineligible by number). The fullback has a kickout block on the SAM linebacker. Kalis pulls, Asiasi picks off a linebacker, and Deveon Smith gets a 300-pound escort through the gap between Wheatley and the back of Khalid Hill. That gap is the gap they planned to attack, and the most likely one to become available.

That it won’t always be available is what makes gap blocking go from very simple to highly complicated. The great power teams know how to adjust on the fly to defenders diving into the important gap, for example on this play if the SAM is coming inside hard Hill might arc outside on the fly, seal the SAM inside, and hope Smith and Kalis adjust to earn a big run. Or what if that Mike linebacker blitzes the gap inside of Wheatley? Or the whole dang defensive line slants playside? In general the OL will do their best to not let that happen and adjust (e.g. Asiasi might have to assist Wheatley, or the puller might kick out an unblocked end discovered at the point of attack).

I think you get the gist. Gap blocking has everybody working to widen the chosen gap and get bodies attacking that gap as soon as possible. Emphasis is on overpowering—as you see here this play works mostly because Ty Wheatley Jr. latched onto the playside defensive end, and rode him downfield.

[Hit THE JUMP for Zone]

What Is: A Wham Block

What Is: A Wham Block

Submitted by Seth on November 16th, 2016 at 10:00 AM

I found this incredibly annoying this weekend:

Michigan has 8 1/2 in the box, and yet Iowa is able to get 8 yards on 1st down. Even more galling is they did it with a nifty trick that hadn’t been seen much of in the Big Ten until Harbaugh brought it back last year. It’s the wham. And it had no right to go this well.

Wham Defined

A wham is a first level block by the fullback or TE, freeing up an offensive lineman to release to the next level. It’s a type of Trap, which is a when you leave an interior defensive lineman unblocked before hitting him from another angle. But when you think of a “trap” it’s usually pulling an offensive lineman to blindside the DL you left unblocked to roar into the backfield.

A wham is less about catching the defense overreacting and more about winning a one-on-one matchup they didn’t expect, in this case between a fullback or H-back and an interior DL. The block is a kick-down, and happens within a second of the snap. If executed, you’ve erased the defense’s most important run defender with your fullback’s block, and your center (who’s often your best run blocker) gets a free release into the linebackers.


Wham block in red

Often a wham block starts with that fullback or tight end in motion. This keeps him out of view of the DT he’ll end up blocking until it’s almost too late, and can give him more of a head start, since the fullback is bound to be giving up some weight on the DT, and will have to make up for it with momentum.

BlueGraySky put together a great video compilation of Notre Dame’s wham blocks from a decade ago:

If you’re mad about watching Domers, know that Michigan’s ‘06 defense appears twice and does a pretty good job against it.

[After the JUMP: What they win, what they risk, and how it goes]

What Is: A Covered Tight End/Receiver

What Is: A Covered Tight End/Receiver

Submitted by Seth on September 21st, 2016 at 10:01 AM

This drove us nuts against UCF:

This drove us nuts against Colorado:

This shouldn’t be happening. To understand why we have to go back to the rules of football.

Ends and Backs

Football evolved from a rugby-like game, with forward passing added almost a generation later. The running sport and the passing sport never perfectly coalesced into one—even today there are offenses that treat their quarterback as a primary rusher or primarily a passer. You can also trace the problem of linemen blocking downfield on passing plays back to this awkward marriage of two games. So they had to make rules: You can block here but not there. The rule that matters to us is this guy is an eligible receiver and that guy isn’t.


[After THE JUMP: What’s a legal formation, why teams do this, and a jazzy snazzy video]

Neck Sharpies: Picking Apart a Snag

Neck Sharpies: Picking Apart a Snag

Submitted by Seth on April 20th, 2016 at 2:34 PM

The last few years Michigan moved toward becoming a major Cover 1 defense, and that looks to continue under Don Brown, whose BC teams were in a Cov1 (“City”) over half the time.

Last weekend I noticed more than a few opponents (and non-opponents) were practicing Cover 1 beaters in their spring games. So I thought I’d show one from Ohio State’s that I found particularly interesting. Hoping the coaches will chime in on this one since I’m not sure of everything I saw. Here’s the play:


It’s a snag package, a thing we talked about in the Borges days because it’s a good way to create those triangles that work against all coverages. Smart Football at that link:

The snag is so synonymous with the triangle concept that some teams simply call it “triangle.” The basic concept involves one receiver in the deep third on a corner route (good by itself against man-to-man), one receiver in the flat, often a runningback or inside receiver (which can also be good against man from a bunch-set), and a third receiver on the “snag” route, sometimes also known as a “slant-settle” or a “mini-curl.”


Building triangles is high up in the scale of offensive complication, because you’re asking the quarterback to ID the coverage and read multiple defenders.

However the first rule of Urban Meyer offenses is keep the thinking to a minimum* and lo and behold their snag isn’t really being run like a triangle. On this play Ohio State doesn’t even bother setting the high-low on the corner. Instead they set some picks on the outside to make it unlikely a CB will be able to cover the stick routes, draw off the rest of the coverage, and isolate the middle linebacker, giving the QB a simple read: See which way the MLB turns his hips, and throw behind him.

If that’s not open, find a guy going long and loft it. And if they’re not there, run around.


* [This is NOT a statement about the academic capability of Ohio State quarterbacks. Keeping things simple is a thing coaches try to do for all players, not just the intellectually incurious ones who’ve never heard of Uber.]

[Hit the jump to see how it works vs. man coverage]

Neck Sharpies: Counter Punching

Neck Sharpies: Counter Punching

Submitted by Seth on January 6th, 2016 at 10:00 AM

How does a mediocre running team do this:

…to one of the best run defenses in the country? Let's discuss.

Entering this game Florida was fifth in rush D to S&P+, giving up just 4.4 YPC with sacks removed, which means they turned their opponents' running games into basically Florida's freshman-infested running game. In our diagram for Ace's FFFF we gave 7/11 defensive starters a "dangerman" star, and three(!) got the shield that's reserved for the top players at their position in the country. Among them was end Jonathan Bullard, perhaps the best run-defending player in the nation, and strong safety Marcus Maye.

And yet Michigan, whose running game was barely better than Florida's this year, ran on that: 225 yards on 46 carries. Brian mentioned in the game column that a lot of this came from a reinvigorated De'Veon Smith, and from my rewatch I bet you the UFR will bear that out. There was also a little RPS, some great plays by individual offensive linemen (Mason Cole and Graham Glasgow had very good games), and some Harbaugh games.

Part I: Florida throws paper

The run above, which came mid-way through the 2nd quarter, must be taken in context. Smith by this point was already well up in +'s running Michigan's base stuff, and Rudock was well on his way to an excellent day.

Florida's pass defense is just as good as their run D, and in passing downs they're lethal. So it's worth it to them to try some surprising/a little unsound things on 1st and 2nd down to keep Michigan's offense behind schedule, and bring up those long situations. Against Michigan in particular it appeared Florida's gameplan was to take away inside runs, trusting the Wolverine backs not to find any holes that left elsewhere.

Let's first go back to an earlier thing Florida did that should have earned a TFL:

This is the one where the broadcast crew infamously put up the ND and OSU scores mid-play. What Florida called (I think) is below:


It's an under but the 5-tech is actually in a 7-tech.

Michigan tried to run "Power" into this, pulling Kalis, blocking down on the DL and using the fullback as lead blocker. Florida is ready, as the NT shoots up the back of Glasgow before Braden can get an angle on him; Braden blocks air, and Kalis runs into the nose in the middle of his pull:


Smith did a very good job to dance around that NT, then to bounce outside the unblocked MLB whom Kalis was heading toward, turning minus two yards into four.

The lesson: Florida was messing with Michigan's power running attack by sending rushers into the A gaps, leaving the 'B' gaps open, but only as a funnel directly to the linebackers. Yes, you'd like Braden to get a better block. Yes, that was a great play by the NT to get into the path of Kalis. But this was Florida's plan against Michigan's base thing, and they got the base thing. RPS'd.

[After the jump we RPS right back]

Haknpoints: Messing With Run Fits

Haknpoints: Messing With Run Fits

Submitted by Seth on December 30th, 2014 at 2:48 PM

META: Okay hivemind, I think I'm gonna break the Tuesday column formerly known as Hokepoints (and Museday) into different columns, alternating between stat stuff and Xs and Os stuff. Gimme name ideas. Jimmystats and Jimmypens? I'm at a loss.

Lynn Sladky, AP via Freep.

In his profile in heroism on Harbaugh yesterday, Brian mentioned that THIS pro-style offense at least sometimes does things other than what the defense wants/expects/prepared for:

Those 5.2s [rushing YPC in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at Stanfard] are crazy given the context—on par with Rodriguez's Denard-era run games minus, you know, Denard. This is not a scheme that's just "run it until you stop it"—Harbaugh is trying to screw with your run fits every play.

I thought I'd get into that screwing just a bit because one thing we haven't seen much of at Michigan is someone who knows how to run a power offense correctly. We've seen DeBord and Borges run it poorly, and we've seen Nussmeier try to mold it onto a horizontal spread while still fulfilling Hoke's mandate that at least one tight end must be doing something he's bad at every play.

For something approximating what I expect Michigan will run I went back to the last game Harbaugh coached in college, the 2011 Orange Bowl. Stanford faced Bud Foster's quarters defense, which is helpful since VT's scheme is from the same tree that Michigan State and Ohio State now run.

This was an evisceration. Stanford called 27 running plays and got 300 yards (8.6 YPC) from them. You can remove garbage time (optional since Harbaugh was still running his offense full-bore at 34-12) and it's still 182 yards on 22 carries, for 8.3 YPC. A lot of those were deep gashes—60 yards, 26 yards, 56 yards—which is what you'd expect against a defense that usually gives its safeties gap assignments. I'll show you how the first of those gashes was set up.

Step 1: Scissors.

The first play from scrimmage Stanford came out in a standard I-formation: inline fullback, tight end off the line. Anyone who's scouted Stanford would guess they're going to run their bread 'n butter play: Power-O. We've been over that one before: the backside guard pulls, everyone else has to pin defenders in their spots, and then that pulling guard and the fullback and the RB all come downhill at the MLB, and the resulting yardage is determined by the resulting collision.

Harbaugh showed it without running it with a clever counter that sold the defense on Power-O then had the FB reverse direction and head into the flat, where the rolling out Andrew Luck had essentially a vertical option play on the isolated DB (I labeled him the BCB but I think I got him and the FS confused on the diagram):


He ran a West Coast play from the shotgun on the ensuing 1st down, and then on 2nd and 4 tried to put a power run on the backside with a pass look:


This was blown up by the MLB shooting the gap abandoned by the pulling right guard. A third down pass attempt was blown up when a blitzer wasn't picked up.

[After the jump: how to make the defense eat rock.]

Haknpoints: Offensive Concepts

Haknpoints: Offensive Concepts

Submitted by Seth on December 9th, 2014 at 2:10 PM

"Every football team eventually arrives at a lead play: a "Number 1" play, a "bread and butter" play. It is the play that the team knows it must make go, and the one its opponents know they must stop. Continued success with it, of course, makes your Number 1 play, because from that success stems your own team's confidence." –Vince Lombardi

As we discuss coaching candidates we'll invariably get into the same old discussions on what kind of base offense said candidate might want to run. There was some discussion on the board this week and I wanted to expand that discussion into some basic "Rock" plays of various offensive schemes.

It is incorrect to identify any one play (and even more incorrect to identify a specific formation or personnel group) as a complete offense. You always need counters to keep doing the thing you do, and the counters will often borrow directly from some other offensive concept's rock. All offenses will borrow from each other so no breakdown is going to describe more than 60% of any given offense. Most zone blocking offenses throw in man-blocked things (example: inverted veer) to screw with the defense. You can run most of these out of lots of different formations. You can package counters into almost all of them (example: The Borges's Manbubble added a bubble screen to inside manball).

Really what you're describing when you talk about any offense is the thing they do so well that they can do it for 5 or 6 YPP all day long unless defenses do something unsound to stop it (like play man-to-man, or blitz guys out of coverage, etc.). Some examples of offenses and their formation needs (where a need isn't specified, figure they can use any set or formation: spread, tight, 23, ace whatever). I've given the rock plays, and left out the counters and counters to the counters because that gets into way too many variants.

Finally, the terms "pro style" and "spread" are meaningless distinctions. NFL offenses have the luxury of getting super complex: they have passing game coordinators who teach the QBs and WRs Air Raid things then run zone or power blocked things. The spread refers to formations and personnel—it doesn't say anything about whether the QB runs, if it's an option offense, or what tempo it runs at, or even what kind of blocking it uses. What I've done here is break up the offenses into "QB as Run Threat" and "QB Doesn't Have to Run" since the construction of these base plays usually stems from that. Remember, however, that QB running offenses can (and often do) still use blocking right out of Vince Lombardi's favorite play.

QB as Run Threat Offenses:

Triple Option


The FB dive will hit too quickly for anyone but the DE to stop; once the DE bites, the RG moves down to the second level while the QB keeps and heads outside, with the RB in a pitch relationship to defeat the unblocked defender there.

Concept: QB makes a hand-off read then a pitch read.

Makes life especially hard on: Edge defenders who have to string out plays against multiple blockers and maintain discipline.

Formation needs: Two backs.

Helpful skills: QB who can consistently make multiple reads and won't fumble, highly experienced, agile OL, backs who can both run and bock.

Mortal enemy: The Steel Curtain. Stopping the triple option is a team effort; if everybody is capable of defeating blocks, challenging ball-carriers, and swarming to the pitch man there's nowhere to attack.

Examples: Air Force, Nevada, Georgia Tech, Bo's Michigan

[Hit the jump for ZR, QB power, Air Raid, West Coast, Manball, Inside Zone, and the Power Sweep].