Over the next few months, we are going to spotlight offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense. Daboll entered the NFL in 2000 with the New England Patriots, and over the course of the next 16 seasons, he held several positions, including defensive assistant, wide receivers coach, tight ends coach, quarterbacks coach, and offensive coordinator. When the opportunity arose to jump to the college ranks at Alabama, Daboll seized it. As the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Alabama, he got to learn from one of the best organizational managers, but it also gave him a chance to work with college talent and to incorporate some college concepts into his playbook. This could be extremely useful because more and more of those concepts are seeping into NFL playbooks. The move worked, and it landed him an offensive coordinator gig with the Bills. This series is meant to give you an idea of what is available and taught in Daboll’s offense; it doesn’t necessarily reflect the extent to which he will use these concepts.
Bills fans can now breathe a sigh of relief; new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will be bringing the power run game back to Buffalo. As I have shown, that style of play can take shape in other concepts, such as inside zone, but when the Bills’ run game was at its best, it was under a gap run scheme. When people hear the power run game, they may not realize that the name of the actual scheme is a ‘gap scheme’.
The gap scheme, in Daboll’s case last season with the Alabama Crimson Tide, consisted mainly of one back power and counter trey. Daboll ran these plays from an array of formations, personnel groupings, and variations of eye candy, but it was still quintessential Alabama.
The Daboll gap scheme, per SportsInfo Solutions, was only utilized on 33.1% of their plays, and it accounted for 1,174 yards, 11 touchdowns and 7.1 yards per attempt. That’s 1.1 more yards per attempt than zone concepts, which accounted for 59.1% of the plays. Specifically, on power runs, they garnered 505 yards, four touchdowns, and a 57% success rate.
Gap schemes are generally thought of as the most complex run schemes to hang your hat on. I remember Richie Incognito telling me prior to 2017 that switching to a zone scheme would save practice time and allow them to focus on other areas. When the Bills ran power under former offensive coordinators Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn, a majority of their practice time was spent repping blocking rules.
That’s because from play to play, an offensive lineman’s assignment may change based on the defensive look. This is where offensive linemen will call out certain tags or names once at the line of scrimmage so that they know who to block. Here are some of the most common tags used to figure out who is executing the double team, something that is typical on most power runs.
Double Teams (Tags):
Center and guard = Ace
Guard and tackle = Deuce
Tackle and tight end = Trey
Generally speaking, on power runs the offensive linemen on the front side of the play will execute down blocks, so they will block their inside gap as seen by the right tackle. Due to the alignment on this specific play, we see that the double team at the point of attack (POA) is between the center and right guard, otherwise known as an ‘ace’ block. They will double the nose tackle, then the guard is supposed to work to the backside linebacker. The guard and tackle block down on this play and attempt to create horizontal movement, while the backside guard pulls.
Two things to note on techniques utilized by the offensive linemen on this play, as they weren’t frequently used by Buffalo:
1.Skip pull: The backside guard executes a skip pull on this play and picks up the first linebacker to the play side. As he fires out of his stance, you will notice him cross over his feet but keep his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage. This isn’t a technique that the Bills used a lot in the prior three years; they typically had their guards pull flat, then insert into the hole.
The skip pull does take some practice to master, and it is normally installed on offensive lines that have athletic guards. It is really done to help linemen gain a little depth away from the line of scrimmage and keep their shoulders square, which allows them to keep their eyes on their target, the linebacker. The guard MUST use his vision to stay tight to the double team.
2.Gallop technique: This is executed by the right guard. On the snap, he needs to help widen the hole, so he executes the gallop technique but is unable to generate any movement, and he fails to climb to the backside linebacker. Here’s a better example.
The tight end is man blocking or simply taking the edge player where he wants to go. If the edge player wants to shoot wide, then the TE will kick him out. If the defender shoots the inside gap, then the TE will execute a down block. Meanwhile, the backside tackle executes a ‘hinge’ block, sometimes referred to as ‘queen’, stepping inside, protecting the inside gap vacated by the guard, then fanning out to make the edge difficult for the edge rusher to win. The aiming point for the running back is the play side foot of the center, so basically the A-gap. He must remain patient; running back Bo Scarbrough is, and he bursts wide for the touchdown.
In 2017, Daboll’s offense averaged 6.8 yards per attempt on power runs and four yards after contact. They had the hogs up front to win at the line of scrimmage and a strong stable of backs. Even though the power run isn’t blocked perfectly, they were still able to gain nearly five yards on this play. The right guard and right tackle who are executing the ‘deuce’ block do not climb to the backside linebacker, but it doesn’t matter; the back plows for nearly five yards.
Here’s a power run utilizing a ‘deuce’ call from Daboll’s time in Kansas City
This concept isn’t always going to earn big gains, but it is meant to control the clock and wear down front sevens. Late in the fourth quarter, teams do not want to defend this play. Alabama pulls out the power run out of 12 personnel while up 31-0 against Vanderbilt, and while Bama is outnumbered play side, the blocking of the concept is pretty good. As mentioned, due to the alignment on this play, right tackle and tight end execute the double team. When they get up to the line you will typically hear the line call out ‘trey’ because instead of a double between the guard and tackle (deuce), it’s between the tackle and tight end (trey).
They execute the double team, the TE climbs to the backside linebacker, and the backside guard skip pulls and picks up the linebacker in the hole. The running back takes the tough four yards, and the clock continues to run.
The power run concept is one of the oldest in the game. It is a concept that the Bills are not foreign to, and with their personnel, they should excel in it. Buffalo’s offense will not be one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL next season, so they will have to lean on their running game and ability to control the clock. Daboll will likely have to tweak some of his formations to include the Bills’ talented run blocker, Patrick DiMarco, but that is really a minor adjustment. The bonus of incorporating more power, and really gap schemes altogether, is the chance for right guard John Miller to earn his starting spot back, which is a boost for the line given the release of Richie Incognito and retirement of Eric Wood.
If the offense can have as much success running this concept as they did in prior years with the techniques Daboll employs, LeSean Lesean McCoy and this offense could have a bigger season than 2017.
Other Power runs from 2017: