Neck Sharpies: The Back Side of Power

Submitted by Seth on November 1st, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Things that happen against Rutgers’s defense can’t be taken too seriously. They’re playing a former Brady Hoke cornerback as a SAM in a 4-3 under, which means he’s taking on fullbacks and pulling guards. Their other edge guy is Kemoko Turay, an athletic dude who’s still rather unfamiliar with the game of football, and who’s functioning now as a WDE/OLB hybrid. Their WLB is by some distance the worst player I’ve scouted this year. One of their safeties is 5’9” and was their leading receiver last year and just joined the defense three weeks ago. The other safety is worse.

But their three interior DL are pretty stout. This made the Rutgers game uniquely suited to Michigan’s power running game. You know Power, Michigan’s base play under Jim Harbaugh, Brady Hoke, Lloyd Carr, and Fielding H. Yost. God’s play. Power.

Power and its close cousin Counter Trey are a lot like Inside Zone in that as a base play there are a ton of ways to run it depending on what the defense is showing and who appears where.


The concept is simple enough: 1) Block down on as many line defenders as you can to seal them inside, 2) Pry open a gap between them and the playside edge protector, and 3) Swing around a backside blocker into the point of attack to hit the first guy he sees. Win those downblocks and kick out the edge and now it’s just a race to see if your meat and the ball can get through that gap before the defense can plug it.

On “Power” the swing man is usually your backside guard, while a fullback or H-back is the “trapper” or pry-bar trying to blow the edge open. On “Counter Trey” those guys swap jobs. Note the backfield action is like a run to the right side, and that the pulling guard is wiping out the edge:

Counter Trey. (The guy Ben Mason blocked into the endzone is an awful, awful player, but still: braaaaawwwwrrrr!)

[Hit THE JUMP for what Rutgers did, and how Michigan didn’t have to respond because an answer was built into the play did I tell you this is God’s play?]



As predicted when we did the scouting on these guys, it was clear to both teams that Michigan was going to run a ton of Power and Counter. That allowed Michigan to negate the three interior linemen by regularly blocking down on them. That put the success of the plays on how well Michigan’s guards and fullbacks could dislodge Turay and Douglas, and push the linebackers around.

So what do you if you’re Rutgers and don’t want this to happen?





On both of these Kugler could do a better job—the slant merely took away the advantage he got from his downblock and made it a fair fight. Still, by negating that advantage, the defense is winning back the matchup battle, giving their good DTs a chance to beat a block and make a play in the backfield.

Rutgers was pretty determined to take power away from the get-go. This below is the game’s second snap and Michigan’s first power run of the day. Before you hit play notice that the defense is baiting Michigan to run to this very spot, with a huge gap between their playside DE and the nose tackle (who’s head up on Kugler):

I drew it so you can see where everybody’s assignment ends up:


The good news is the blockers all adjusted properly. Gentry (red) correctly read that the DE was slanting inside and stayed with him, not getting a seal but creating plenty of space to run by on the left edge. Poggi (green) flared out to meet Rutgers’s edge protection and found a cornerback to set the other side of that hole.


The rest of the story is the guards and the running back versus the linebackers. Onwenu (purple) had nobody over him and released but because of the defensive playcall the WLB was already scraping over toward the hole; he would show up unblocked to make the tackle. The slant-scrape action also meant the MLB met the puller, Bredeson (blue) right smack in the middle of the gap.

So Rutgers invited this by offering a big wide gap (the space between red and green). But with the LBs pursuing so hard to the frontside, by the time the play develops there are two linebackers in that gap with one lead blocker to deal with them. Higdon can only run into the WLB and let momentum get the first down.

Or can he?




If you’re wondering if a backside cut is part of power running, why yes it is. Because coaches like control a lot of them teach running backs how to read power like “A-B-C” i.e. read the gaps from the inside-out. With power running however, you’re more likely to get a huge mass of moving bodies in front of you. Power running is like zone running in that patience is rewarded. And part of that patience is, indeed, checking first for that backside cut.

That’s not such a simple thing to learn. As a running back you’re highly invested in the point of attack, which defenders are going where, and how those blocks are going. Taking your eyes off of this interesting stuff to see if a guy getting blocked down actually got blocked down is tedious. But it can also be rewarding, and with Rutgers slanting so often in this game it became doubly so.

By the fourth quarter Michigan was hitting that backside cut with regularity off of Power…

…and Counter.

And backside counter:

And counter versus weird run fits:

Watch LB #6 overreact to the pull; this was his gap.

These big cutback lanes were open because Rutgers was slanting their defensive line frontside and Michigan was adjusting on the fly. The backs just have to see the slant and they’ll know the cutback lane is open. This is where all that inside zone training helps: the backside guys might lose a downblock to a heavy slant, but can keep riding that dude and open up a lane behind him. Any linebackers who read the pull and jumped playside of a releasing playside OG are now totally wrongsided.

The guard (or the fullback on a Counter play) as a “hit whatever you see first” dude can adjust as well. On the two Evans runs above, Ben Mason saw a slanting DT was making it past the downblocks and used himself up to seal that backside lane.

Like inside zone, the offense’s ability to adjust Power runs on the fly makes it a play you can use all day…or at least until the defense starts activating the safeties against it and blitzing linebackers into gaps the defensive line doesn’t have covered. Provided the offense has a semi-functional passing game* to punish that, a good Power team can run to the ends of the Earth.


* [

Hey BP, BP, won’t you smile for me?]



The other thing Michigan did to counter the slanting was to balance the line with heavy and goal line formations. Now the defense has a choice to make: do you slant to the side with the tight end, or the side with the other tight end? If you choose incorrectly…

#17 made a business decision.

Here’s how this unfolded:


Going with a balanced line also made it possible to flip Rutgers from an advantageous position to not that. After the first quarter the defense decided to hell with fancy crap: let’s put our 5-tech over a friggin’ guard. Michigan was like: “fine, we’ll go the other way.”

ahhhhhhhhh, trap-bam, thank you ma’am

Motioning Gentry across here flipped the strength of the formation. But the line didn’t shift, meaning Rutgers has found themselves facing a goal line formation with an over front.


This works despite Onwenu blocking nobody, partly because the WLB (I told you that guy isn’t good) got too far outside while setting the edge and missed an ankle tackle as Kareem ran by him.




You have to wonder what Bredeson thought there by passing up the WLB. Standard coaching procedure would say hit the first guy who shows. The WLB is the first guy who shows, and Bredeson is like “Nah, you Upham.”

And this is totally correct. Rather than jamming up the lane with himself and the WLB, Bredeson gets himself clear through the hole and hits a safety. Kareem Walker blows by the WLB’s tackle attempt. Kareem is big. The WLB is bad at football, set up too far outside, and not worth the mess of a hallway fight.

Some teams that run power are trying to wall guys off. Others are focused on blowing dudes off the line. The great power teams however are those that can do a ton of different things on the fly. I can’t tell you this for certain but I bet Bredeson was in the film room one day and Drevno pointed out that sometimes you can do this sort of thing. Getting to that film room session however takes running power so many times that the coach doesn’t have to worry about adding more thought processes to the all-important basics.

Michigan’s swing blockers were passing up shots at these funnel defenders all day. So were outside blockers. Receivers routinely went for crack blocks on safeties (or linebackers) and left their cornerbacks to try to take out Michigan’s running backs alone. When they can get a block on those guys it opens up huge gainers.

Watch Schoenle (#81 top of the screen):

The difficult part is getting to the point where the players are so used to running it that they are making the correct adjustments mid-play: you have to get past “Where’s my block?” before you can get to “Kareem can beat that guy.”

Michigan’s offense put on a power clinic against Rutgers. That’s both expected and encouraging, since the things that should work against Rutgers most of the time ought to work against a real Big Ten defense a fair amount of the time. Michigan’s power running game looks like it’s there. They’re good enough now that if the defense has to play them honest—nerfing slants with backside cuts, formation flips, and varied blocks (e.g. Counter Trey), and keeping the safeties and linebackers from coming up too hard with a passing game that won’t routinely screw itself—Michigan’s power runs can be a consistent gainer.



November 1st, 2017 at 2:27 PM ^

A pulling guard leaving a lb that over ran the lb that is normally his man, is far different than not blocking a Dr that is in the back field. If a dt is in the backfield, another lineman either completely miss if their block, or let him go through on purpose because it's a trap.
Either way, the pulling guard has to take him. Whereas, Michigan has had lineman pass up lb's and corners who are out of position. This makes me lean towards it's being coached to do this.


November 1st, 2017 at 6:38 PM ^

Yeah, he did it on a few plays where he pulled around the te who was blocking down. I only remember him leaving corners who where the force man when they were pretty far out of position and likely couldn't get to the RB in time.
In the Florida game they were not blocking the backside end almost like you would the playside end when you are running the read option. The problem was Florida's backside ends are early round NFL talents who read the play fast enough and had the speed to crash diwm. I liked the idea of the play, which gets more lineman to the playside to pick off ln and safety. However, not against fast DEs.
I may have missed other spots in the Florida and AF games that were like Cole or Bredeson intentionally passing up guys on a pull, but the ones I remember from those games are slightly different. However, the idea is the same concept. Don't worry about guys that should not be in position to make a tackle and go block someone who is.

Ghost of Fritz…

November 1st, 2017 at 11:37 AM ^

...this is progress.  M was not doing this well against UC or AF, etc., early in the season.  They are getting there. 

Still a long way to go though, as they have to do this against good Ds, and also add in a decent pass game to punish teams that are agressive in plugging up power run lanes with LBs and safeties crashing in.

I mean, once the power run game is good, then just hit the leaking out TE up the seam.  Boom. 25 yards.


November 1st, 2017 at 10:09 AM ^

Great work breaking down power and counter. As you briefly mentioned, a lot of similarities for backs with zone running. Schematically, makes sense to pair with IZ so you are using Frey’s IZ expertise but expanding your horizons. I really like it. As a spread coach, power and counter trey are no less effective in lighter sets (10,11 personnel).


November 1st, 2017 at 10:31 AM ^

Fantastic break down. I want to make a very, very small but relevant contribution. Check out the video of Harbaugh Mic'd up at the 2011 Orange Bowl:

In particular, check out 0:57 - the RB his the backside, exactly as you diagrammed above, and Harbaugh is on the sideline shouting "THATS why we run power!"

Then go to 1:36, he tells the RB (sort of inaudible) "Keep your eyes on the backside. Backside!" and sure enough, the RB again hits the backside of power for a huge gain. 


November 1st, 2017 at 11:02 AM ^

Higdon mentioned in one play at a time that Rutgers seemed to know the play call and were adjusting so aggressively it actually made his job easier because he knew what they were going to do. I wonder if he's referring to the aggressive slanting playside.


November 1st, 2017 at 11:04 AM ^

Higdon's comment referred to the LBs - I'm betting he was reading the LBs pre-snap to see if they'd sell out against power, which determined whether he should hit the front or backside: 

So were they tipping on this play what they were going to do?

“Oh yeah. The linebackers were telling us they were either going left or right. It just made it that much better.”



November 1st, 2017 at 11:05 AM ^

This weekend, Space Coyote wrote this,

So here I am, on his blog, writing this, because he gets upset when I’m civil about the fact that after basically 7 years of Power O being a core part of the Michigan playbook, somehow he still doesn’t know the general rules about Power O and I think it’s worthwhile to bring those things up. Or that he still struggles to separate generally basic schemes like Power O, Counter OF, and Counter Trey (let alone more subtle changes, like Dart).

And today Seth posts a long treatise on POWER. Coincidental?


November 1st, 2017 at 11:30 AM ^

What exactly is the difference between Counter OF and Counter Trey, anyway?  

My understanding of Counter Trey previously was that it's a designed misdirection play--you  have the OL block one way, but you pull two blockers the RB follows them in the other direction.  

From Seth's diagram, it looks like Counter Trey is basically Power but with the FB and backside guard exchanging duties.  Of course, with Power the intended hole is outside the TE--so if all you are doing is having the pulling guard kick-out and the FB lead through the hole (instead of vice-versa), then it seems like the intended hole would still be outside the TE.  The backside cut may be available either way, but it wouldn't be the intended attack point.

Perhaps Counter F is the thing I thought Counter Trey was (i.e., the intended misdirection play)?  

I do think a lot of coaches use the same words to refer to different things and so maybe one person's "Counter Trey" is another person's "Counter F" and so on.  But the concepts make a ton of sense here, which seems far more important than the nomenclature.


November 1st, 2017 at 11:53 AM ^

Counter Trey orginally from the Redskins was the backside guard and tackle both pulling. Guard kicked out and tackle lead thru the hole. OF was making the 2nd puller the FB and not the tackle. OY was the 2nd puller as a TE or HB and not the tackle. No one runs the counter with the backside tackle pulling anymore. So they are all really either OF or OY these days.

"Trey" specically meant the playside double team was going to be the TE and tackle on a 5tech. This is the way you would block it against an Under front.

"Gap" meant the the playside double team was going to the tackle and guard on the 3tech. This is the way you would block it against an Over front.

"Ace" would be the playside guard and center on the nose tackle.

There was also "load" which is what Seth is showing as goaline Power. Power Load would be getting two playside double teams by getting an extra TE over there.

Trey, gap, ace, etc. are basically the line calls. But the term Counter Trey became the popular name for the play.

Power or KIK essentially spawned off of the counter play because the counter play could be too slow to develop with both pullers coming from the backside. So power is the same idea, but the kickout block is coming from the playside with a FB or HB. There are variations off this too like BIM or weakside power.

On paper these plays are designed to hit "off tackle". But depending on the way the defense is reacting it can hit all the way back to the backside a gap, as we saw against Rutgers.




November 1st, 2017 at 12:04 PM ^

"Counter" can be shorthand for "Counter Trey" because Counter Trey is so popular (and run out of all kinds of sets, as an option, with the QB, paired with RPOs, etc.)

But the way I define it is Counter is anything with counter action. That can be a lot of things but in an under-center offense it's usually the quarterback dropping back facing the opposite way the play will go (putting the RB to the backside when he starts). Counter action could also be that thing PSU was doing to Michigan where the RB and QB look like they're going to come together for a zone read mesh and then the bounce outside to a speed option. Counter action gets linebackers who've been peeking into the backfield for their keys to step the wrong way.

[pause so ReadYourGuard can reply "Read your guard!" here]

Counter Trey uses counter action in the backfield and "Trey" blocking. It's this play where you use counter to freeze the defense while bringing both a pulling guard and a fullback/TE/H-back/somebody around from the other side.

In short, "Counter" is backfield motion that fakes a run one way before running the other way. "Counter Trey" is the play that everybody runs.

ITP has a great article on it:… which is where i got the above graphic.


November 1st, 2017 at 12:22 PM ^

This is a good write up too:

Note: The Power/KIK diagrams are a little little confusing on this because they are both labeled Power. KIK is what we know as Power O and is shown in the second diagram. Power, the first diagram, is slight variation.  There is no true kick out.  The HB or extra TE is lined up playside and slips under the the DE to the Sam backer. The backside guard is the only puller and is assinged to the playside insider backer.


November 2nd, 2017 at 11:16 AM ^

Yes, the way Bill Mountjoy breaks it down (based on what the Redskins under Joe Gibbs and his many disciples ran) is slightly confusing.

"KIK" is the traditional Power O.

"Counter" has those two guys switch: one guy (the pulling guard) on the EMLOS, and the other on the LB.

"Power" and "BIM" differentiated between the DE or the outside LB (SAM), and told the blocking back and the playside TE who had who, while the pulling guard had the next LB or DB.

At any rate, on all plays, only those three guys- the backside guard, the blocking back (or H or move TE), and the playside TE- exchanged assignments. For everybody else, their assignments remained the same.


November 2nd, 2017 at 11:12 AM ^

'Counter' generally refers to a step one or both backs make starting the opposite of the play; a play which appears to go one way, and comes back to the other; or for some teams (such as the Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins and those of their lineage), a specific blocking scheme.

Not to nitpick, but "the quarterback dropping back facing the opposite way the play will go" is usually referred to as "Reversing Out" (the opposite being "Opening", as in Outside Zone). But Reversing Out was also used on plays such Sweeps and Pitches, amond others.


November 2nd, 2017 at 10:59 AM ^

No need to overcomplicate things.
'Power' and 'Counter' for most teams nowadays are nearly identical, with the same aiming point, which is generally just outside the playside double team (roughly known as "off-tackle", but actually tighter). Only two or three players' assignments change. There are two blockers coming to the playside- the first to arrive is the TRAPPER, the second is the "WRAPPER". The main difference between all the variations is which offensive player is which (and the block of the playside TE or Wing if there is one). For everyone else, their assignments are pretty much identical, blocking on or away from playside, with occaisional minor variations on the backside. Depending on the team, the ball carrier may take a jab step oppposite, a drop step, or "shuffle" before stepping toward the hole and receiving the ball

On Power or 'Power O', the FB (usually from the near offset position or the I) is trapping, or trying to "kick out" the  man on or outside the TE; the O (Offside Guard), is "wrapping" the double-team for the playside LB. The playside double team is going for the backside linebacker.

Counter OF (or OH), is run almost exactly the same, except those two guys are switching assignments- the offside guard is kicking out the DE or LB on the LOS, and the FB or H (usually from on offset or wing position on the opposite) is wrapping for the playside LB.

"Trey" as in "Ace, Deuce, Trey" is a double-team by the OT and TE.Usually that will be on a 5-technique DE. It can be combined with an OT, OF, OH, etc.

For the Redskins, "Counter" told the TE to block down and the Guard to kick out end man on the line (EMLOS), with the other puller (H-back) attacking the playside linebacker.



November 1st, 2017 at 11:39 AM ^


I didn't see SC's post. He and I chatted in twitter DMs this week about a different play.

If there's a reason people who write about Michigan X's and O's are writing about power this week it's probably because Michigan ran Power a zillion times vs Rutgers. Check out my gfycat account: I've got 24 clips of power or counter trey from this game.

Space Coyote

November 1st, 2017 at 2:34 PM ^

Just to make that much clear.

Really like Seth's write ups. Seth and I have discussed numerous schemes and where we've disagreed I've even ended up agree with his position over my own (specifically when he discussed the 3-3-5 defense). 

So to answer, yes, I think this was coincidental. It was also a nice look at multiple ways of getting the same basic read for the RB and how RB's can be coached to react to overflow by the defense (namely the DL and the WILL in this case).


November 1st, 2017 at 6:55 PM ^

I thought it was interesting that Brian didn't reply to your post (at least to my knowledge,) and then Seth (who works with/for/around/near? Brian) had a front-pager about power. The inner-workings of the Blog fascinate me. I want to see how the sausage is made, as long as it doesn't involve cats. I want cat-free sausage to go with my cat-free hummus.



November 2nd, 2017 at 8:45 AM ^

I think it was later they found more success with the O.H., (they replaced the FB with an H-Back whose home positon was at the wing on the split end side), and leaving the Tackle on the backside. "It's not so much about your Xs and Os, it's more about your Jimmys and Joes"