By Taylor Kolste
In 2011, when Chip Kelly was the head coach, Mark Helfrich the offensive coordinator, and Scott Frost the WR coach, Oregon first debuted their pin and pull sweep play. This play, known as “Outside Zone” in their system (they called what most people would consider Outside Zone “Mid Zone”), quickly became one of the best plays in their offense. In 2011, Oregon averaged 9.8 yards per play as they ran this play 36 times for 353 yards and 2 touchdowns. The next season in 2012, they ran their pin-pull play 42 times for 382 yards and 5 touchdowns, good for a 9.1 yard per play average. This play remained a staple of the Oregon offense as Kelly left and Helfrich and Frost became the head coach and coordinator. Chip Kelly brought this play with him to the NFL and Scott Frost brought it to UCF with all 3 of these coaches running it with success. In the 2015 season, Chip Kelly’s last with the Eagles, Philadelphia had a down year running the ball averaging only 3.9 yards per carry but still managed to average 5.7 yards per carry on this play.
This play is always ran to a 3-man surface. The frontside of the line (PSG through Tight End) would utilize pin and pull blocking rules meaning that if a defender is inside of you, you pin, if not, you pull. The center would always pull versus a 4-man front, and would only not pull if there was a nose tackle lined up directly over him. The backside of the line would zone block as if they were on the backside of any regular outside zone play. This is a somewhat oversimplification of the scheme so we’ll look through a few different examples of how the play is blocked before looking at different variations/window-dressings of the blocking scheme.
Versus 4-Man Front (5 or 6T/3T)
This play is best ran versus 4-man fronts when the defensive end is in either a 6 or a 5-technique (meaning he is either head up or inside the tight end). This allows the tight end to down block on the end and give the offense access to the perimeter. Here is a diagram of this play:
When running towards a 6-technique and 3-technique, the tight end and playside tackle would down block, and the playside guard and center would pull. The first puller will pull for the first second-level defender outside of the “point defender.” The point defender, also referred to as the MIKE, is the first second-level defender playside of the center. Versus this look, the nickel defender is the first defender outside of the point so the guard will pull for him and the center will pull for the MIKE linebacker. On the backside, the BSG will cut off the 1-Technique and the BST will cut off the WILL linebacker.
On the perimeter, the receivers will block the closest defenders to the sideline because of the first puller coming to block any alley defender. So if the offense were running to a 2-receiver side, the slot would bypass an outside linebacker or nickel defender and block the safety. If the offense were running to a single receiver, he would stay on the corner and not push-crack the safety.
The offense helps protect their tendencies by quick motioning the back before the play. When Chip Kelly first become the offensive coordinator at Oregon, the Ducks running backs would align slightly behind the quarterback if they were running inside zone and would align slightly in front of the quarterback if they were running outside zone. He later changed this in the 2011 season and has now always used the same alignment from the backs. In order to create the mesh point for a perimeter run from this alignment, the quarterback will step backwards before meshing with the back. On this play, the quarterback is not reading anything since the backside end should not be able to chase down a perimeter run like this one, but will still carry out a zone-read fake.
Versus 4-Man Front (5 or 6T/1T)
When running this play towards a 6-technique and a 1-technique, the tight end and playside guard will down block with the PST and center pulling. This time, the PST is pulling for the first second-level defender outside the point, the corner versus this alignment. With a 3-technique on the backside, the BSG and BST will double-team up to cut off the backside linebacker (who is removed from the box on this play).
The offense has also added a pre-snap RPO for the quarterback on this play in the form of a 3-man bubble screen. On the perimeter, since there is one defender (the nickel) up and one defender (the corner) back, the #1 and #2 receivers communicate with each other that they will double team the first defender up to the second defender. The QB is just counting numbers to determine if he will hand the ball off on the pin-pull sweep or throw the bubble screen. Since the defense has aligned with 4 defenders over 3 receivers, the offense should have good numbers to the boundary on the running play. If the WILL linebacker was in the box and the offense had a 3 on 2 advantage on the perimeter, then the QB could throw the bubble screen.
Even though the center is technically supposed to pull for the MIKE or point defender on this play, the safety shows first in the alley so the center cuts him allowing the back to run away from the unblocked MIKE linebacker.
Versus Pressure from MIKE
If the point defender, as he does on this play, were to bring pressure, then the center would not pull and would instead stay to block the blitzing linebacker. In order to do this, the center must always have his eyes on the point defender as he starts to pull so that he can see if he is blitzing or not. Because of the blitzing linebacker, the offense only pulls the PSG on this play, who is still pulling for the first defender outside the point (the strong safety on this play).
The offense adds in a nice wrinkle here by aligning the tight end as a wing and motioning him across the formation. The tight end will stop just outside of wherever the playside end is aligned giving himself a good angle to down block on the end and give the offense access to the perimeter.
Both outside receivers run off the corners rather than blocking them since they are in man coverage.
Versus 4-Man Front (7 or 9T)
Although this play was best and most-called when the offense was expecting the end to be in a 5 or 6-technique, they could still run this play versus a 7 or 9-technique (end is playing outside of the tight end).
On this play, the end starts as a 6i but then bumps out to a 9-technique when the running back shifts sides. One of the problems that Chip Kelly had in the NFL was a lack of diversity in the running game due to not having a running quarterback. After Michael Vick was injured in the 2013 season, all of the Eagles option running concepts that were heavily utilized at Oregon were essentially nullified due to the personnel they had at the position. This led to the Eagles developing some heavy tendencies in their running game. The majority of their running game after Vick got hurt was either running Inside Zone away from tight end so that he could block the backside end and there would be no read for the quarerback or running their pin-pull sweep play towards the tight end. Because of this, the defense had a pretty good idea of what run scheme was coming based on whether the back was aligned on the same side or away from the tight end. The quick motion of the back allows the offense to show their hand later, but still allows the defense to bump their end outside the tight end as they do here. Later in this article, I will show a few ways in which they broke this tendency that were more effective than the quick motion used on this play.
When the playside end was aligned outside of the tight end, the tight end would chip him and then continue to work outside for the first defender outside the point. The first puller would then kick out the end, and the second puller would work inside the kick out block for the point defender.
On this play, the Eagles attached a pre-snap RPO to the frontside and a post-snap RPO to the backside. The #1 receiver on the frontside runs a hitch route, and then will turn back upfield to block the corner if he does not get the ball. The Eagles frequently did this on all of their run schemes. If the quarterback saw an off corner and no alley defender, he could give a quick flash fake to the back and then throw the hitch route. The Eagles scored on this in a 2015 preseason game versus the Colts. The backside #1 receiver will run a 5 yard in-route, also known as a “fin route.” The QB will read the backside linebacker post-snap with the thinking being that the Fin route will work into the window left open by the backside linebacker if he is flowing fast towards the run. However, versus this alignment, this is not a very good RPO as the defense has dropped down the strong safety on the backside who is in position to take away the Fin route even if the backside linebacker is flowing fast with the run, so the offense was fortunate to get a give-read on this play.
Versus 3-Man Front
Oregon, the Eagles, and UCF have most frequently ran this play versus a 4-man front, but could also run this scheme versus a 3-man front. Versus a 3-man front, the center would not pull and would stay to block the nose. The rest of the scheme would be determined upon where the defensive end lined up.
If the end were aligned in a 5-technique, as he is on this play, the tight end would down block and both the PST and PSG would pull. The PST will pull for the first second-level defender outside the point and the PSG will pull for the point defender. Versus most 3-man fronts, the outside linebacker will be the first defender outside the point and will be close to the line of scrimmage, so the first puller will kick him out. The second puller will lead inside the kick out and the ball will hit behind the second puller’s block.
If the playside end is aligned as a 4i, then the PST will down block and the tight end will climb to the second level to block the point defender. The playside guard will then pull (likely a kick out block) for the first second-level defender outside the point. Again, since the first pull will likely be a kick out, the ball will most likely hit inside the first puller. On this particular play, the outside linebacker jumps inside and the MIKE flows outside, so the tight end and PSG exchange defenders with the tight end blocking the outside linebacker and the PSG kicking out the MIKE.
Earlier, I mentioned how these coaches had better answers to break their tendencies than the quick motion of the running back which had varying results. The first of these answers is the toss sweep. By tossing the ball to the back, the offense is able to align both the running back and the tight end to the same side of the field. Note that the running back here takes 1 jab step inside before going outside on his sweep path so that his path times up with the blocking scheme better.
Here are a few clips of Oregon running this play:
While in the NFL, Chip Kelly frequently used the “jab” sweep rather than the toss sweep. On this play, the back will take the same jab step, but instead of tossing the ball, the quarterback will step to the back to hand him the ball. I’m not sure exactly why Kelly went to the jab sweep over the toss sweep with the Eagles, but both accomplish the same thing in allowing the offense to break their tendency of the back always being opposite of the tight end when running their pin-pull sweep play.
Here are a few clips of the Eagles running this play:
Another nice wrinkle that Chip Kelly added to this play with the Eagles is running it from a tackle-over set. Here, the Eagles flip the alignment of left tackle and their tight end, which does a couple of things for them. First, most defenses do not see a lot of tackle-over sets which makes it tough for them to align and be gap-sound against. Second, if a team shows tackle-over on film, their future opponents must spend practice time preparing for it. Third, on this particular formation, the offense is able to essentially create a 3×1 formation with a 3-man surface to the single receiver side. Because of the offense’s passing strength being away from the 3-man surface, the defense does not have any secondary run support on the frontside of this run. Normally, the first puller would pull for the first defender outside the point defender, but here, there is no second-level defender outside of the point. This makes it easy for the offense to pick up big-yardage once the extra tackle is able to pin the playside end inside, giving the back and both pullers the perimeter.
Triple Option Presentation
In the past, I have written about Oregon’s use of the triple option and how Georgia Southern has used called gives while presenting the appearance of a triple option play. Oregon could run called-gives to the back with the presentation of a triple option play with their sweep play. Here, they motion to a 2-back set and will have the playside back loop behind as if he were the quarterback’s pitchman. But this is just misdirection as the quarterback is not reading anything. The offense is just trying to influence backside and secondary support defenders in order to gain a numbers advantage on the sweep play. On the following play, notice how the triple option presentation helps to remove 3 defenders from the play: the backside end, the backside linebacker, and the free safety. Since the play looks like triple option, these defenders still have to play their option responsibilities even though there is no read on the play. This was play was especially effective for Oregon, during the 2012 season, they ran this play 11 times for 167 yards (15.2 yard average) and 3 touchdowns.
Also, note that the back in motion slows down before the snap of the ball so he does not outrun the blocking scheme.
This play could also be ran as a “BASH” concept. BASH is the term that Oregon used that stood for “Back Away Sweep.” On any BASH play, the quarterback and running back’s responsibilities are flipped with the back being the perimeter runner and the quarterback running the run scheme. The QB will read the backside end to either give the ball to the back on the perimeter sweep or keep it himself behind the blocking scheme up-front. When calling this play, ideally, you want the ball to go to the back on the perimeter. Most of the time, the end will stay put and the quarterback will give the ball to the back. Because of the timing of the play and the speed of the back, the end can’t slow play this mesh like a zone-read and has to get pretty wide to force the quarterback to keep the ball. Another reason you would want the back to get the ball on this play is that the offense is pulling two lineman away from where the back is going. If the end stays tight and the QB gives the ball to the back, the two pullers are likely to hold the box defenders and give the offense a clean look on the perimeter.
On the perimeter for this play, the offense uses a short motion to tighten down the space between the two receivers allowing them to execute a “cross-block” on the outside linebacker and corner. This gives the receivers good angles as the outside receiver is able to seal the linebacker inside and the slot is able to kick out the corner creating a nice lane for the back to run through to get untouched up to the safety.
Oregon originally debuted this play in their 2012 offensive explosion against USC.
Here is a cut up of Oregon running this play in that game (note how the QB can still keep the ball and run the sweep play if the end gets wide, but the play is better if the end stays tight):
This play could also be ran as a midline-option play. When running the midline variant of the pin-pull sweep, the frontside of the line has the exact same responsibilities as they normally would. The only thing that changes is the backside of the line. The backside of the line will leave the first down-lineman backside of the center unblocked. This will be the QB’s read-key. This will typically either be a 1 or a 3-technique. If the unblocked defender is flowing fast with the run, then the QB will pull the ball and replace him up the middle. If this defender shuffles or stays put, then the QB will give the ball on the sweep play.
This play is a good call when the offense is having trouble cutting off backside pursuit. Because the the first down-lineman to the backside is unblocked, the BST is able to block-out on the backside end. The BSG will then always climb for the backside linebacker. Since the BST now never has to climb for the backside linebacker, the offense will almost always have a good angle to cut that defender off. The backside linebacker also has the option-threat to deal with now. This play is also good if the defense has a stud at defensive tackle that the offense is having trouble cutting off on the backside. If you can’t block a defender, it’s always good to read them.
Here is an example of a give-read on this play:
Here is an example of a keep-read on this play:
Midline Option w/ Jet Motion
In the 2011 Rose Bowl versus Wisconsin, Oregon ran this play with jet-motion going away from the pin-pull sweep play. This added further misdirection now that the offense had a threat to both perimeters and the QB run threat to the middle.
Here is a cut up of Oregon running this play (note that the PST should have blocked down on the 3T and the PSG should have pulled in the first clip, the offense got this right on the second clip):
The offense could also “lock” the backside of the line on the down-lineman and read the linebacker. They could either have the QB run the ball to replace a fast-flowing backside linebacker or have a route-combination that worked into that window. This allowed them to run this concept no matter who they had at the QB position. If they had more of a run-threat at the QB position, they could allow him to run the ball on this play. If the QB did not run as well, they could run this concept as an RPO. If the linebacker were to stay in place as the QB meshed with the back, then the offense would have essentially cut that defender off and the QB would give the ball to the back on the sweep play.
LB Read (QB Run)
With a 1-technique on the backside, the BSG will cut off the 1T and the BST will lock out on the end. The QB reads the WILL linebacker, who on this play, flows fast with the sweep which creates a nice lane for the QB in between the BSG and BST.
Because the offense has two tight ends on the frontside of the run, the extra tight end will down block to the MIKE, and each puller bumps out one defender.
LB Read (RPO)
The Eagles had two primary RPOs that they used when reading the backside linebacker (they only ran the Fin RPO showed earlier a few times in that Giant game). They primarily ran these RPOs versus single-high coverage. The first of these RPOs is a backside Seam-Fin combination.
The backside tight end will take an outside release before planting his foot and working back into the seam. The backside #1 receiver will run the Fin route working underneath of the seam. The QB also has a frontside pre-snap hitch RPO.
If the backside linebacker flows with the run, the window to throw the seam behind him is created. After the QB reads the backside linebacker, if he pulls the ball, he will read 1) Seam, 2) Fin. If the flat defender is carrying the seam, then there will be space underneath of him to throw the Fin route.
On this play, the late shift of the defensive line in response to the shift of the back confuses the line and leads to a poorly executed blocking scheme on the frontside. Here, the PST should have down blocked with the PSG and C pulling. The backside linebacker here takes a few shuffle steps with the run, which is enough to open up the seam window, but the QB likely could have also been fine with either option on this play. The flat defender continues to get width as the tight end snaps it back into the seam so the QB throws the ball to his first read hitting the seam in between the flat defender and read-key linebacker.
Although the Double Slants concept is usually considered a two-high beater when ran as a quick game concept, the RPO version is more of a single-high coverage beater. This is because the nickel defender will normally play with outside leverage against the #2 receiver because he has low-hole help to the middle. The offense is placing the low-hole defender here in a bind with the RPO. If the backside linebacker flows with the run, then the #2 receiver will have leverage on his slant route working into the window created by the backside linebacker’s movement. The QB will have a similar read here as he did on the Seam-Fin RPO. He will first read the backside linebacker, and if he pulls the ball, he will read inside slant to outside slant. Also, note that the Eagles would run their slant routes on a pretty flat angle. The outside receiver’s route here is almost the same as his Fin route as opposed to a traditional slant route.
The backside linebacker here takes a few shuffle steps with the run which gives the offense space to throw the slant route to #2. The free safety ends up making a really good play to prevent a bigger gain, but the offense is still able to pick up an easy 7 yards with this simple RPO concept.
These coaches could also run RPOs off of this blocking scheme that did not involve reading the backside linebacker.
In Oregon’s 2014 matchup with Colorado, they scored two touchdowns on a RPO off of their pin-pull sweep that took advantage of an aggressive safety on the frontside of the run. The Oregon staff likely saw when game-planning how aggressive Colorado was with their safeties and designed this RPO to take advantage of them. Although this scheme is ran as a RPO, the Oregon coaches likely knew that they were going to throw the vertical route to the slot. Because the offense is blocking the backside end, the QB is not likely to get hit. And because of the nature of the blocking scheme, the offense was not likely to get an illegal man downfield penalty so that is most likely why they still ran this concept as a RPO rather than a play-action pass.
The run option is not a great look here as the offense has 2 pullers for 3 defenders (both linebackers and nickel defender). But, as you can see in the clip below, the pass option is great versus this look and Oregon likely knew that the safety was going to be this aggressive. The QB was just reading him post-snap to confirm this.
Also, note that Oregon would have their TE try to reach a 7T rather than chipping him and working to the next level. If the TE could not reach the end, the pullers would turn up inside of his block.
The pin-pull RPO that the Eagles had the most success with was when they paired this run scheme with an orbit-motion swing screen. The QB here is just looking to see how the defense reacts to the motion. If any defender is following the motion or bumps out of the box with the motion, then the QB will hand the ball off on the sweep play and then carry out his fake. If no defender reacts to the motion, then the offense should have a 3 on 2 advantage on the perimeter and he will throw the ball to the receiver in motion on his swing screen.
On the following play, the defense is in man coverage and the boundary corner runs across the formation with the receiver in motion. The QB sees this and hands the ball off to the back as the offense now has numbers to the boundary for their sweep play.
This time, no one on the defense follows the motion so the QB throws the swing route as the offense now has a 3 on 2 advantage on the perimeter.
QB Sweep RPOs
Both Oregon and the Eagles, although not very often, ran a few RPOs with the QB as the sweep-runner.
Here, Oregon paired their QB Sweep with a backside Snag Concept. The QB will peek quickly out to his snag concept and could throw the stick route if it popped open early. On this play, the defense has 4 defenders over 3 receivers so the QB already knows that he has the numbers advantage on the pin-pull sweep.
Note here that because of the frontside 3T, the PST should have down blocked and the PSG should have pulled.
In the 2013 season while Michael Vick was the starting quarterback, the Eagles would run their QB Sweep play with a backside swing screen to the running back. The thinking and read is the same as when they used the orbit motion swing screen. If anyone follows the back out of the backfield, the offense should have numbers for the pin-pull sweep. If no one follows the back, the offense should have a numbers advantage on the perimeter.
In both of the following clips, the WILL linebacker follows the running back on his motion which leaves the offense with 6 blockers for 6 defenders on their sweep play.
One of the most interesting variations of this pin-pull sweep is when the offense runs it in both directions and reads an inside linebacker.
UCF ran this unique play last season against UConn. Because UConn aligned in a 3-man front with two 4is against UCF’s double-tight formation, UCF was able to use their pin-pull rules to both sides of the formation. Both tackles down block on the 4is, both TEs climb to block the closest second or third-level defender and both guards pull. The center will block the nose and the QB will read the MIKE linebacker.
The MIKE linebacker flows fast with the running back this time, so the QB keeps the ball and runs the sweep play opposite.
Oregon first ran a concept like this in 2014 while Frost was their offensive coordinator in the Pac-12 Championship game that season against Arizona.
Instead of running their pin-pull sweep in both directions, Oregon ran a lead Outside Zone (or Mid-Zone in their offense) play to the frontside with their sweep play to the backside. As was the case with the UCF clip, the MIKE flowed fast with the run action, so the QB kept the ball on the backside sweep play.
As hopefully this article showed, this is a great run scheme that can be ran many different ways if you have lineman that are athletic enough to pull and get on the perimeter. I would expect to see this blocking scheme as a staple of the UCLA, Nebraska, and Chicago Bears offenses this upcoming season.