Stay Schemin’: Gap Runs Against the Dolphins


The week one matchup between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots was a slugfest. You could hear the pads popping on the old school isolation runs and see the bodies flying on power run concepts. The Patriots resorted to a power run game against Brian Flores and his upgraded defensive unit, and it worked.

The Patriots ground game bullied the Dolphins with 42 rush attempts for 217 yards. The heavy lifting of that healthy 5.2 yards per attempt came from QB Cam Newton who carried it 15 times in all, for 75 yards and two touchdowns. The big QB ripped off four runs of 10+ yards and converted eight first downs via the ground game. So there is a scenario where Josh Allen could be once again, heavily relied upon to lead the running game. But I know many of you hope that doesn’t come to fruition.

Regardless of who carries it, the Bills need to attack the Dolphins defense with gap schemes (runs with at least one puller). The more common gap run calls are counter trey, duo, and power. The Bills most successful play with at least one puller is their pin and pull run, but that is more of a hybrid run concept. And one that is more targeted at getting the ball outside.

Last week, the Patriots used more traditional power run concepts. Including the designed QB runs, they ran 23 gap runs per Sports Info Solutions. They racked up 148 yards and two touchdowns along with 13 first downs. Their 23 gap runs were the most called in week one!

This plan of attack doesn’t appear to be anything new. The Patriots at times, even brought in an extra offensive lineman Michael Onewnu (14 snaps) to punish the edge of the Dolphins defense. In 2019, opposing offenses challenged the Dolphins defense with these gap runs 153 times tops in the league, for 714 yards (#2), and six touchdowns (T#2).

This method of attack is smart because rather than let guys like Shaq Lawson (#90) and Emmanuelle Ogbah (#91) set the edge against tight ends, as you try to run outside of them, it forces them to have to deal with down blocks from the linemen. But in order to get those guys in the alignment the Bills need to, they may have to utilize more 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs) and or 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE) personnel than they did in week one.

On power runs, you generally get a down block at the point of attack. Usually it’s refered to as a combination block where a playside lineman will block back a gap, and execute a combination block with the adjacent lineman. A combination block between the center and guard is called an Ace block; the guard and tackle is called a Deuce block; and one between the tackle and tight end is called a Trey block.

Those line calls and combination blocks can change from play to play based on the defensive front being an odd or even front. That combo block can cave in the defensive line at the point of attack and set a nice alley for the puller to lead as you saw in the Patriots clips above.

If the Bills choose to “run” with this strategy, I could see rookie RB Zack Moss being the centerpiece on Sunday. He’s that patient bruiser that can slither group gaps and deliver blows to the Dolphins front seven. A unit that will likely be missing their starting middle linebacker Elandon Roberts, who had brought some of that physicality up the middle the Dolphins lost when Raekwon McMillan was traded to Oakland. After what the Bills showed us on offense in week one I am extremely excited to see what offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has schemed up for week 2!