Each week Inside The Pylon takes a look at the standout offensive plays from around the league in Reel Film Recap. In this Divisional Sunday edition, Mark Schofield keeps the football on the ground and examines the running games in both the Green Bay Packers win over the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts victory over the Denver Broncos.
Green Bay’s Pistol Power
The Packers earned a rematch with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, notching a hard-fought 26-21 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday. Persevering through a torn calf muscle, Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 35 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay blockers turned in a virtuoso performance with the running back gaining 101 yards on only 19 carries for a 5.3-yard average despite battling an asthma attack.
The Packers accomplished the bulk of their ground damage with a power run scheme out of the pistol formation, as illustrated in the third quarter by this 2nd-and-11 play from the Dallas 45-yard line. Rodgers sets up in the pistol formation along with Lacy and fullback John Kuhn, as the Packers have 20 personnel on the field. Dallas counters with their nickel defense showing Cover 2 Man Under in the secondary. At the snap, the slot cornerback blitzes off the edge:
A series of well-executed blocks springs Lacy on a long run. First, center Corey Linsley (#63) and right guard T.J. Lang (#70) team up to turn defensive tackle Josh Brent (#95) away from the hole. Left guard Josh Sitton (#71) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (#69) create the running lane with seal blocks on the play-side defensive tackle and end:
The image below shows the moment of the exchange between quarterback and running back. Notice how the blocks up front create a running lane for Lacy to exploit. Also take note of Rodgers’ posture. The QB adopts a throwing stance and stares at the blitzing defensive back. This ‘play-acting’ freezes cornerback Orlando Scandrick, creating a few steps between him and the ball carrier.
But the play requires one more block. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens (#59) diagnoses the activity and attacks the hole. The only thing between him and the ball carrier is the fullback:
Kuhn has earned the respect of his peers with a Pro Bowl selection for good reasons, including blocks like this:
With the linebacker eliminated, Lacy bursts freely into the secondary for a big gain:
The Packers return to the scene of their Week 1 beat-down for another shot at the champs in the cauldron of CenturyLink Field. Rodgers and his aching calf have another week to heal, but the Green Bay running game and this pistol formation might hold the keys to a Super Bowl trip for the Packers.
The Resurgence of the Indianapolis Run Game
The Indianapolis Colts rode the league’s top passing attack to an AFC South title in 2014, with quarterback Andrew Luck averaging 305.9 yards per game through the air. Good thing, as their running game ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards per game.
But thus far in the playoffs, the Indianapolis running attack has provided a boost to the offense. The Colts gained 114 yards on the ground in their Wild Card win over the Bengals, and notched 99 yards on 28 attempts in their upset of the Denver Broncos. The secret to their resurgence is a power, man-blocking scheme with second-year back Daniel Herron carrying the ball.
In this example, the Colts face 1st and 10 at the Broncos 15 yard line, with Luck under center and Herron the lone running back. Indianapolis deploys 13 personnel: T.Y. Hilton splits wide to the right while three tight ends set up in a tight bunch to the left. Denver counters with their base 3-4 defense, putting eight defenders in the box.
Indianapolis intends to run a toss play behind the three-tight end bunch:
At the snap TE Jack Doyle (#84) collapses down on the outside linebacker, sealing the edge for Herron. TE Coby Fleener (#80) first looks to block down on the defensive end, but the DE twists inside on the snap, taking himself out of the play. Recognizing his primary assignment has eliminated himself, Fleener then works to the second level:
Even with his head start, Fleener cannot complete his block on the inside linebacker. But the cavalry is coming:
The third tight end, Dwayne Allen (#83) cuts to the outside and takes on strong safety T.J. Ward (#43), who walked into the box prior to the snap. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (#74) pulls around the end to finish what Fleener started. Finally, left guard Jack Mewhort (#75) also endeavors to the second level, sealing off the weak-side inside linebacker:
These blocks give Herron a crease, and he cuts through the hole for an easy nine-yard gain:
This play works because of the effort from the players on the left side of the Colts’ formation, and an ill-timed stunt by the defense.
Another illustration of this blocking scheme comes as the Colts have an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, and the football in Denver territory. Facing 1st and 10 on the Broncos’ 47-yard line, Luck is under center with 12 personnel at his disposal. This time the Colts have a tight slot formation to each side of the field. Denver’s base defense is also in the game, and they put nine defenders in the box:
Prior to the snap, Doyle shifts from a slot position on the left to an offset i-formation in the backfield with Herron:
The Colts run a power counter: at the snap the RB sets up the play with steps to the right side of the field before angling his run to the left, while Castonzo and Mewhort double-team the defensive end. The offense leaves the outside linebacker unblocked, but right guard Hugh Thornton (#69) is on the case:
Thornton pulls down the line of scrimmage and stones the outside linebacker. The guard is not the only blocker pulling in front of Herron on this play. Doyle also cuts from right to left, leading through the hole and taking on the play-side inside linebacker:
The back-side inside linebacker is able to scrape down the line and stop the running back, but not before Herron rips off a six-yard gain:
In this situation the Broncos knew the run was coming and put nine defenders in the box, but they could not prevent a solid result for the offense. If the Colts can pair success like this on the ground with Andrew Luck and a dangerous passing attack, they will pose a formidable challenge to any forthcoming opponent.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.