Rufio's Playbook: The "Pin and Pull" Outside Zone Run

The "Pin and Pull" run is a variant on the Outside Zone, and one of our staple runs. This play has been run successfully by teams since at least the 1990s Colorado Buffaloes, and by NFL teams such as the Colts (hat tip, Chris Brown).  

I like three things about the this play as a part of the Cleveland Browns' running game:

  1. We can bring Josh Cribbs in motion to begin this play.  The same motion mimics several pass concepts, and our version of the inside zone run. The defense cannot see the motion and immediately know what we are running because of it. If we can confuse them, advantage: us.
  2. The play is easily adaptable to be run from many formations and personnel packages, even the Cyclone and Flash packages.
  3. Quite often, this play will allow us to use the talent we have on the line in LT Joe Thomas, and C Alex Mack. You need a good center to be able to run this concept, and we have one.

What differentiates the Pin and Pull version of the Zone run is—you guessed it—the pinning and the pulling. In essence, the reach block, double team, and release is replaced with a fold. In other words, instead of this:

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this:

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The pin

A TE or other outside blocker (usually a skill player but not always) will crack/down block, pushing a man from the outside of the line back in toward the middle. Here, Joe Thomas is on the end of our line, so he will block down on the DT.

On this play, FB Lawrence Vickers is responsible for the DE. My guess is that Vickers’ assignment is to seal him inside as a part of the "pin" unless the DE really loops outside for contain. Here, it looks like the DE was going to stunt, so he takes a step inside. Vickers is fine with that and seals him in.

As the last component of the "pin", Josh Cribbs will run inside and block the most dangerous player. He will usually be looking for the "force" player who is tasked with containing outside runs and pushing them back inside. At first, the most dangerous player looks like it will be the FS Anthony Smith, but Cribbs sees a free linebacker (who would be considered "more dangerous"), so he releases the Safety to get LB Justin Durant.

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The Pull

The two offensive linemen furthest to the playside who are not responsible for a defensive lineman will pull around these down blocks. Which two linemen will pull is decided by the covered/uncovered principles of the Outside Zone run, and is what makes this a zone-blocked play.  In a later example, you will see Joe Thomas and Mack pull, and I believe against a different defensive alignment I have seen Steinbach and Thomas pull.  

One of the two pullers is almost always the lineman next to the player down-blocking. Here, with LT Joe Thomas blocking down, that player is the LG, Eric Steinbach. C Alex Mack will also pull on this play, because RG Rex Hadnot can reach the DT, sealing him to the backside of the run.

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The first puller (Steinbach, here) will kick someone out, the second (Mack) will hit the first thing he sees and take him wherever he wants to go.  

Below, Mack can’t quite seal the Safety inside so he begins to kick him out.  The cutback lane is filled by LB#50, who came all the way from his weakside A gap responsibility to make RB Jerome Harrison continue to bounce the ball outside.  He can't make the tackle, but he turns a probable TD into a 20 yard gain despite #94 and/or Anthony Smith trying their best to give us this TD.

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Here is the entire sequence:

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I’d like to point out on this play that RT Floyd Womack blocks no one. If Womack can block either SS Gerald Alexander or LB#50, this play is potentially going for a TD. Getting a piece of that LB would have been difficult, but a more athletic OT would have been able to get in the Safety’s way (Womack is only one step away). If either of those two blocks are made (or if either of those defenders don't make their plays), Harrison might have a TD.

Flexibility

Here’s the play again against Detroit. This time, you can see Royal block down with Mack and Thomas pulling.  Also, we run the play from a Shotgun bunch formation, which shows the play's versatility (we could run this even if we were more of a passing team, and we can run it from the Flash/Cyclone packages).

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Note the quickness off the ball of DE Cliff Avril below.  He gets into the backfield (and in Alex Mack's way) before Royal can get a good down block on him.  This sort of thing is why "penetrating" or "disruptive" defensive linemen are guys that scouts covet.
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Avril doesn't quite make the play, but he makes Mack late for his block.  Jennings can't be patient and wait for Mack's block to develop, because Avril would be right there for a TFL.

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Cribbs has a tough block (WR on LB) and Mack can't get there to clean up.


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One of the best parts about this play is that it gets athletes out in space with the ball.  Players love this because it gives them a chance to make a play...


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...and in today's game, there is a good chance that the first guy can't make the tackle on an athlete in space.

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Jennings turns a potential loss into a 4-5 yard gain.  

And there you have it, the Pin and Pull Outsize Zone run.

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