Word of Muth

Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by Ben Muth

The Chiefs beat the Saints in overtime on Sunday for their first win of 2012. In the process, they ran the ball 45 times for 273 yards. If there’s one thing we respect at Word of Muth, it is commitment to the running game.

The best part is that they chewed up all those yards with basically one scheme: outside zone. They ran a couple single-back powers, but other than that it was all variations of outside zone (force, boss, weak, search and slice). It was simply a clinic in execution.

Before we get to the praise though, a couple quick nitpicks about their run blocking. First: the Chiefs were terrible at cut blocking. For a team that majors in outside zone, this seems like it could be a huge problem. I can recall just a single instance where a Chiefs blocker actually cut down a New Orleans defender on the backside. There were times when they stopped the defender's momentum enough for there to be a small cutback lane, but the huge alleys you would typically see from a team that had this much success with this particular scheme weren't there. It’s definitely something I’ll keep an eye on as the season progresses.

The other issue may just be a new schematic wrinkle. There were a couple of times in the second half on weak side outside zones where the defensive end pinched and nobody really picked him up. Both plays involved basically the exact same personnel (except they were flipped, one to the left, one to the right): I Formation, 4-3 over defense. At the snap, the end would slant inside. The tackle would put a hand on him and continue to the second level. But the guard was working in combination with the center on the nose tackle, and wouldn’t come off for the end. The fullback would wheel back and get a piece of him, but not much.

I have a couple of theories about this. The Chiefs could have done it exactly as called both times. If the defensive end slants, the play side tackle and the fullback switch responsibilities, meaning the tackle now has the Will linebacker and the fullback has the end. It’s technically how the Chiefs blocked it, it just seems like it could lead to the play getting blown up in the backfield a lot. If the end redirects well after his initial slant, he’s making contact with your fullback three yards deep in the backfield. That could cause problems.

Another possibility is that there was a communication breakdown between the guard and tackle. This was my initial instinct the first time it happened. I thought maybe right tackle Eric Winston was used to not having to make a call from his time in Houston (this is a benefit of playing with guys long enough: you just start to see and feel the same things) and perhaps right guard Jon Asomoah missed an indicator.

But then left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Jeff Allen did the same thing on the left side a drive later. Now, once again, maybe it’s just two guys not used to playing next to each other. Albert usually plays next to Ryan Lilja, who moved to center after Rodney Hudson went down in the second quarter, so it could be two guys seeing different things again. Or, maybe the tackles made the calls both times and the guards missed them because of the noise in the Superdome. That can happen too.

All I know is that it seems unlikely that both tackles would just let an end stunt inside without thinking that someone was picking them up. So it has to be the schematic theory (the fullback and tackle switch responsibilities), or the communication theory. It’s another thing we’ll have to monitor as the season goes along.

One thing I don’t have a question about is the Chiefs ability to hit their landmarks and lock on to defenders on the front side of outside zones. They did a real nice job of this throughout the game. The Chiefs offense, particularly Winston and Albert, were able to get their helmets on the outside number of play side defenders whenever they wanted to.

This puts a lot of pressure on defenders. Now, they are in danger of getting reached, so they’ll do whatever it takes to fight outside and regain their leverage. That’s when the running back sticks his foot in the ground and turns it up inside the tackles for nice gains.

That’s what the Chiefs did for most of the first half. Helmets outside, defensive linemen fight to regain leverage, Charles puts his foot in the ground and goes between the tackles for modest gains of 3-to-10 yards. It didn’t get them a lot of points, but they kept possession and laid the groundwork for what was to come.

When the Chiefs got the ball back inside their own 10 with 5:31 left in the third quarter, they called a simple Outside Force play. They lined up in I-Left Formation, meaning the tight end was lined up left. The Saints were in an equally vanilla 4-3 Over, so the three technique was to the strength of the formation.

Outside Force is just an outside zone concept with the tight end responsible for the force player (usually the safety, unless the corner shows an obvious Cat look). Every lineman is responsible for the man on the gap to their left. If they don’t have someone on the line of scrimmage to their left, they are responsible for a second-level player.

Right at the snap, not everyone gets their helmet to that outside number landmark. You’ll notice that (LT) Albert and (RG) Asomoah seem a little behind the blocks in the picture below. That’s because they are working in combination with a front side player (TE Moeaki and C Lilja, in this case). You always want to leave some surface for the chipper to hit. Otherwise, you are wasting the early double team.

Because the front side player’s trajectory is much more vertical, he’s able to blow a shoulder off (turn the shoulders of) the down lineman. That allows the backside offensive linemen to get his head on the front side and drive a defender who is in an awkward body position. Lilja did a really nice job of this below.

This next shot is borderline pornographic for offensive line coaches. You’ll notice that all three down linemen for the defense have been reached. Albert (LT), Allen (LG), and Asomoah (RG) all have their helmets on their defender’s shoulder pad. This is exactly how you draw it up.

I also want you to notice Albert's right hand. It’s kind of hard to make out, but you can see it right at the base of the end's shoulder pads, just below his pecs (kind of on his back as well). In traditional drive run blocking, you always want to shoot your hands together inside the defenders framework. Everyone has heard the old adage about inside hands winning, but on outside zone a lot of coaches teach what’s called a catch hand.

They’ll teach you to lead with your helmet and play side hand, and then throw the backside hand like a hooking open-handed palm strike to the body. This accomplishes a couple things. First, it hurts the defender: it doesn’t feel great to take these open-hand punches to the ribs all day and it wears you down. It also allows you to almost shot put a defender outside if he really doesn’t want to get reached -- when he starts to fight outside, you use his own momentum to throw him outside a couple of yards further.

Finally, it allows you to really hold the piss out of the guy if he tries to redirect inside. By throwing the catch hand low, you can grab on to the base of the shoulder pads. Most holds get called because guys are grabbing around the sleeves, so when a defender changes directions there’s a violent shift in his pads, and it looks they’re getting pulled off. By holding lower, there isn’t a ripping motion of the jersey away from the body, where a guy’s body is facing one way and his pads are facing another way. Instead, the defender just has a hard time turning his body at all.

Now here is where the ground work comes in. The Chiefs had a couple looks like the one above in the first half, but on every one of those plays, either the end or the outside linebacker would fight like hell and get back outside. This would create holes inside, but the Saints could corral Charles for medium gains. On this play though, Sam linebacker Will Herring and play side defensive end Martez Wilson both stay inside and allow Charles to get the edge.

Maybe it’s because they were tired, maybe it’s because they were tired of watching Charles turn up inside for five yards. For whatever reason, neither defender got outside. Herring’s failure was particularly bad, as he was unblocked on the play since fullback Nate Eachus took an awful route in the backfield.

In the end, Herring dove at Charles’ ankles and Moeaki ended up getting a good block on the safety. And that was all she wrote. Charles went 91 yards, untouched, into the end zone for the only Chiefs touchdown of the game.

Finally, before we wrap it up this week, I do want to point out a tremendous block by Terrance Copper. Usually, I make fun of how little wideouts want to block and how cornerbacks oblige them by not wanting to tackle, but Copper’s effort deserves praise. It was the key block on a 40-yard run by Charles. If he gets another one this year, I’ll even draw it up.


10 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2012, 3:16am

1 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by Karl Cuba // Sep 27, 2012 - 10:02am

Do you mean Albert's right hand?

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2 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by Ben Muth // Sep 27, 2012 - 10:24am

Yes. Fixed

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3 defensive scheme here

by Joseph // Sep 27, 2012 - 11:30am

Ben, a quick question about the DEFENSE's scheme here. If I'm reading the screen shots correctly, #50 (Lofton?)'s gap should be the one #54 Herring took, and Herring should have gone outside where Charles went. Since Charles had turned it up inside so much, Herring guessed to try to meet Charles in the hole for a minimum gain. Charles correctly read Herring, and cut it outside. Herring tried to get there, but missed, simply because of Charles' great speed. Am I reading this correctly?
PS--This was a great playcall here, because the strong-side DE is #95, Martez Wilson, who is a 2nd yr. OLB who is being converted to a speed DE (think like Clemons of SEA). He doesn't yet have the bulk or technique to hold up against the run. With Will Smith in there (the regular RDE), he would either be able to close the gap on his left (which Herring tried to shoot) or maintain outside leverage a little bit. For KC, everything comes together perfectly. For NO, it was the perfect storm that led to eventually losing the game.

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4 Re: defensive scheme here

by Ben Muth // Sep 27, 2012 - 11:53am

Lofton's gaps arethe strong side A (between the center and guard) and weak side B. The Mike in 4-3 usually have two gaps. The 3 technique has the B gap. The OLB and DE are responsible for the C and D gaps. Because neither takes the D gap it's hard to tell which one. Based on your description of Wilson, it seems like he's the one who messed up. Still, the fact that Herring is unblocked and can't make the play is really bad.

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5 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by tuluse // Sep 27, 2012 - 1:03pm

Great article as usual Ben.

Looks like Herring did a really awful job on this play. He starts off between and the guard and the end, and that's where he ends up. It seems to me he either needs to shoot the gap and try to blow this up in the backfield or get outside and contain. Maybe he was worried about over pursing to the outside, or getting sucked into play action, but it looks like poor effort to me.

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6 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by dbirtchnell // Sep 27, 2012 - 4:35pm

Martez Wilson wasn't able to stay on Albert's outside and try to hold the edge cos Albert was holding him in a bear-hug grasp by that stage. If there were a few more pictures of how this play develops you'd see it.

It's pretty hard to set the edge when you're being held like that. But that doesn't excuse Herring running straight into Wilson / Albert and losing any chance to stop the play for a much smaller gain.

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7 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by BJR // Sep 27, 2012 - 8:16pm

The transition from the 3rd caption to the last caption is quite amusing. In the third one, the Saints linemen are all being well blocked but the linebackers look in good position to limit the play. Flip to the fourth caption and two of them are being escorted backwards and the other has run into the back of his own man. Welcome to the Saints school of run defence. We don't even get to see what calamities went on at the second level to ensure the play went for 90 yards.

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8 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by Dean // Sep 28, 2012 - 10:35am

We used to just call this “straight rule blocking” in my high school. You had 3 priorities – 1) Playside gap, 2) On, 3) Playside backer.

I just wish I could see it with Christian Okoye running behind Grunhard, Lutz, and Szott.

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9 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by Jerry // Sep 29, 2012 - 6:31am

Some numbers to go with the names would be useful, but that's my only quibble with another great analysis.

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10 Re: Word of Muth: KC Uses Force

by colonialbob // Oct 24, 2012 - 3:16am

I find this play to be interesting on a couple of levels... First off just count the numbers.

The saints in this particular alignment have 3 bodies to the strength of the offensive formation (TE side) and 4 bodies to the split side (or at least to what I'm assuming is a split).
Also note that the offensive weak side is into the boundary.
I cant tell from the initial shots where the Safety (27?) is lined up at the snap, but I'll infer that he's splitting the difference between the flanker and the tight end. Either way it's an unsound front based on formation strength and the balls position relative to the sideline (on the defensive left hash).
Secondly, the fact that both interior linemen were reached smells fishy. Looking at 76's steps, it appears that his alignment was B gap but his assignment was A Gap. Note that 54 is aligned head up on tackle and keys flow. The nose appears to have been straight up beat- shoulders turned, no power AND allows the center a free release to Mike (50). This would seem to be a win for the Offense UNTIL you look a 58 flying open to get to play side and in frame 3 you can see the the nose is looking for cut back. So at this point, really not terribly unsound I suppose...

95 MIGHT be looking to spill if 54 can blow up the lead back and make it bounce... 58 is technically free to the ball- until something happens which we're not seeing- the back looks like he briefly thought cutback but so much width has been gained between frames 3 and 4 that its hard to tell.... I would guess that 54 bit on the iso here and that the nose got beat clean.... and that 50 should have been aligned at least a half step to strength...
As for the TE release...He got to the second level, where ultimately the play was made... I would conclude a misalignment by the defense not a great play by the offense.

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