Explanation and cut-ups of the “Power O” run play

I’ve discussed the “power” play here a few times, because it both quite ubiquitous in college and the pros and also because it is quite good. It’s been around for some time, though, like the counter trey, was made used maybe most famously by Joe Gibbs’s great Washington Redskins teams.

Redskins great John Riggins made a living off the "Power O" play

Redskins great John Riggins made a living off the "Power O" play

The play itself is very basic:

  • The lineman to the side the run is going (playside) essentially “down” block, meaning they take the man to the inside of them. For the guards and center, that includes anyone “heads up” or covering them, but for the playside tackle, he does not want to block the defensive end or other “end man on the line of scrimmage.” These lineman use their leverage to get good angles to crush the defensive lineman, and the fact that they don’t have to block a couple of defenders on the playside frees them to get good double teams and block the backside linebackers. To use Vince Lombardi’s phrase, the idea is to get so much force going that direction that they completely seal off the backside.

  • They can  do this because they get some help to the playside. First, the fullback (or, more often nowadays, some kind of H-back or other player) is responsible for blocking the otherwise unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage (“EMLOS”). He uses a “kick out” technique, simply meaning he blocks him from the inside to out, in order to create Lombardi’s famous “seal” going the other way.

  • The final piece of the puzzle is the backside guard (sometimes nowadays a tackle). He pulls and “leads,” meaning he retreats, looks first for the fullback’s block to cut off of, and then heads into the crease looking to block the first defender that shows up — typically the playside linebacker. He can block him whatever direction is best; it’s the runningback’s job to find the open lane.

  • The runner takes a lateral or slight delay step, takes the handoff from the quarterback, and follow’s the pulling guard’s block. As stated above, he wants to cut off that man’s block and get vertical quickly. It is a power play so he has to be willing to hit the hole fast; it’s not as much of a “read the defense” run as are zone runs, though it is a good complement to it.

  • If it all works well, the line should have crushed anyone to the inside of the offensive guard, while the fullback has kicked out the end man on the line, and the pulling guard is the runningback’s personal protector. The defender that the guard blocks should never be right, both because the guard has freedom to push him wherever, and the runner’s job is to cut off his block to make him correct — the runner cannot just guess.


Here are a few diagrams and examples. The beauty of the play is its versatility: it is probably the most popular run right now in the NFL, and it is also possibly the most popular run in college among spread teams like Florida, Auburn, or a number of others. (And it has the best name — “power.”)

The first is an example of how the Pittsburgh Steelers used the play a few years ago from a very traditional set, though they used an H-back in motion instead of a fullback. I previously discussed the play for the NY Times Fifth Down.


The Steelers used it to great effect, as Willie Parker had a 75 yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. Watch how the H-back goes in motion and kicks out his man, while the guard pulls and leads.

Though when it comes to the “power play,” the most famous use of it this season has been as Ronnie Brown’s go-to play form the Wildcat. The first part of the ‘cat is Ricky Williams on the jet sweep, but the first “counter” in the series is for Brown to fake the wildcat and then take it himself with basic “power O” blocking. Indeed, this is a hint of why the Dolphins are so successful with it: to their lineman, it is the same play that they run from normal sets. Hence why they bristle when other teams try to call what they are doing gimmickry.


Below is a video of the original form of power that the Dolphins ran with the wildcat, with an unbalanced line:

And next is how they are doing it these days, with a balanced line and two tight-ends. The clip below shows first the jet sweep then the fake jet sweep and then the counter. But watch the linemen and the blocking back: you still see the line “down block,” the fullback “kick out,” and the backside guard pull. The rest is cosmetics, though cosmetics work.

Next, we turn to how some of the spread teams have been using power recently. Obviously, a four-wide spread team has a difficult time with the play because they have neither a fullback or an H-back — or do they? The teams, like Florida, with good running quarterbacks are only too happy to use their runningback as a fullback and use their quarterback as a tailback. When they don’t, they still can use a variety of motions to get them into this look. In this way you’ve seen a big synthesis with spread teams in the last four or five years as compared with the previous five. Whereas from 1999-2005 or so spread teams thought it to their advantage to be four and five wide most of the game to fix the defense’s personnel, in the last four or five they have begun using these H-back types more because of their versatility in the run game: they can be lead blockers, they can kick out the EMLOS on power, they can pull and trap or lead to the opposite side, and they can be used in pass protection. In this way you’ve seen a bit of a synthesis with the spread teams in getting what they want and yet co-opting more traditional looks, which used extra bodies for a reason. The spread teams of course pride themselves on doing it smarter, however. Below is a look at how some spread teams use power within their offenses:


And a variety of video cutups, courtesy of Coach Indy:

Finally, to bring it full circles here is another look at the power play from these traditional, “pro-style” looks. The diagram is from an NFL playbook, showing it against several defenses. The video is of the San Diego Chargers using the play with LaDainian Tomlinson.


Having now seen this same play from a wide variety of sets and offenses, note how the “power O” from pro-style, traditional sets has more in common than it does differences with the play run from spread and wildcat sets. Can’t we all just get along?

  • dr

    Thanks for another great post. As somebody that never played football, the X and O education that you hand out makes the game much more enjoyable and interesting. I now find myself using DVR to frequently stop, rewind, and replay plays to look at OL play and defensive schemes. And you have no idea how much you have improved my NCAA 2010 game.

    Have you ever thought about writing a book?

  • OldSouth

    This is somewhat off-topic, but at 1:44 in Coach Indy’s cutups, I see the possibility for an arousingly unorthodox option play, where Tebow hands it off and the RB and jet sweeper have a speed option between themselves.

  • Brad

    ^Old South^

    ND also tried this on their first series against USC, though it was with a 3 WR 2 Back Split gun set…. backside back took the zone handoff, while the playside back kept pitch relationship, as Jimmy Clausen “ran out the fake” of the zone read

  • bob

    The power O is a little bit older than Gibbs and the ’80s ‘Skins or McKay and USC in the ’60s, or even Blaik and Army in the ’40s. Check out Walter Camp’s “Football” published in 1896 (available on Google).His co-author was Harvard’s Lorin Deland. Both Yale and Harvard versions of the power O (and other golden oldies such as counter and sweep)are included. Only significant difference over a century later is backside pulling blockers now lead through the hole and seal rather than push from behind (as in Bush Push) as was permissable back then.

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    Great series so far. I suppose you’ll be addressing the counter or lead draw next?

  • Elliott

    Can someone help me with this?

    How is a power really different to a counter?

    Perhaps there is more misdirection in the backfield with a counter, but both plays have the same fundamentals – the PS line blocking down [crushing], an unusual player kicking out the EMLOS (be it H-back, pulling guard), and then a pulling guard leading through the hole.


  • Elliott

    Oh, and on one of your wildcat diagrams, there are no pulling linemen. Is this intentional?

  • JP

    The wildcat diagram shows an unbalanced set. The unbalanced set essentially pre-pulls the tackle and moves him into roughly the same position and assignment he would have in a balanced set if he were to pull on the play.

  • Chris

    The wildcat diagram should have a puller, that’s my mistake. I’ll get it fixed when I have a chance here. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Elliott

    Oh, and to add to my question above (regarding counters).

    What does the O mean in power O?

    I’ve only ever known power as power

  • Co-ach

    We run a power/option offense from multiple sets. One of our most successful variations of power this season has been from a Doubles look. We like to motion across the formation on numerous plays. On what we call F Power, the across motion takes on the role of the kick man. It has been great for us because we do so many sprint, option, and trap looks off the across motion. This often leads to backers and safeties over pursuing or getting over the top.

  • CoachingHopeful

    Elliot, power and counter are VERY similar plays. The main difference is the misdirection element in counter that’s not there at all in power.

    On Power, the ball carrier simply gets the ball and heads straight at his hole while his lead blocker (FB, H-back, or maybe a single pulling lineman) kicks out the defender on the end of the line on the same side. If there is another back to make the kick out block, the team may pull a guard from the backside of the play to lead through the hole.

    Personally, instead of just saying “Counter,” I like to call the play you’re thinking of “Counter Trey”–to me a counter is just any misdirection play that gets the defense going to one side only to attack them by going the other. Counter Trey looks very similar to Power on paper, but but in order to get the misdirection element, the back will take a jab step to the opposite side of the field from where the run is going to break, then pivot and run back through a hole on the other side. Traditionally, most 2 back offenses have also had the FB or H-back pick up the DE on the side the back is faking to, which frees up the tackle to pull with the guard across the field. The first lineman to get to the unblocked defender on the end of the line makes the kick out, while the second will turn his shoulders upfield and lead through onto a linebacker or safety.

    Both plays look very similar on paper. Most NFL teams will only run inside zone, outside zone, power, counter trey, and draw. A few will put in a quick trap, too.

  • Andy

    To Elliot – the O in Power O to me stands for opposite (meaning backside) as there is also a play named Power G where the playside guard pulls.
    Counters have a different backfield motion, the running back usually takes a step or two to the backside before then heading to the playside (often both the backside guard and tackle pull).

  • CoachingHopeful

    I forgot to mention that the Counter Trey action is enhanced by having that FB or H-back blocking a DE away from where the play is actually going because sometimes linebackers are taught to key backs for their read. By sending both backs to the same side for the first step, an offense can cause the linebackers to go flying over there at full speed. If they take as much as 2 steps too hard with the play, they’ve set themselves up for easier blocks by the offensive linemen, who now have better angles to work. This is what you hear when announcers and coaches talk about using a defense’s aggressive pursuit against it.

  • Andy

    I forfot to mention that on counter the FB will block the backside DE but coachinghopeful kindly covered it much better than I could!

  • Elliott

    Thanks guys. That really helped.

    Generally I’m pretty good at stuff like this. I’m quite comfortable with traps and kickouts and seals etc, having played line for years, it was mostly the semantics that I just wanted confirming!

    Job done!

  • GiFF

    What’s interesting to consider is how teams set up the kick out block, which, arguably, is the single most difficult aspect of the power. In the video’s above, you see a number of teams kicking out a LB (often times the Sam, as opposed to a DL/DE who ostensibly is a larger more powerful athlete than an OLB). You also see teams moving the KO man closer to the LOS, preventing huge penetration up the field. In the case of Florida, you use the QB as the “kick out” by influencing him out with the run threat of Tim Tebow. Everyone puts their own little stank on the play. Good stuff.

  • Ken

    Doesn’t hurt when the unblocked safety whiffs, either. 😉

    Not that that negates the example. I remember a very early interview with Jim Tressel when he got the Ohio State job. He talked in a general way about his offensive philosophy, and then he said about his running backs: “I tell them, ‘You’re on scholarship too, and we expect you to be able to beat one guy.'”

    The end zone replay from the clip nicely depicted the block on the OLB. The playside safety made the right read, but didn’t make the play (to say the least).

  • thatdude101

    1. Is there a certain setup/alignment/defense call that makes is a good time run the power O? When are trying to run this play and at what?

  • Another Ball Coach

    As Andy mentions, the ‘G’ is the onside guard pulling; the ‘O’ refers to the offside (backside) guard.

    BTW the Power O, the Counter OT or Trey, etc. are all essentially the same blocking- it only changes for the playside TE, and the 2nd man who is either a blocking back ahead of the pulling guard; or a Tackle, TE or Wing behind him.

  • Bill Mountjoy


    1. COUNTER-GAP = gap blocking playside because the CTR & ON G are covered.

    2. COUNTER-DUECE = Center is uncovered so ON G & ON T double from DT to BS/LB.

    3. COUNTER-TRREY = ON G is uncovered so ON T & TE double from DE to BS/LB.


  • Mr.Murder

    Marion Motley and Jim Brown used to run the FB/HB option after a give from Otto Graham.

  • Prime

    What is the depth of the running back?  The fullback?  What is the technique of the pulling guard?  I find our timing is off.  If the end crashes our tailback is too tight to the fullback and the play gets blown up.  Also, our guard is often late to lead.  Is our tailback not deep enough?  He is at 6 yds.  Should he take more of a pause step?

  • Paul

    @Elliott, Andy:
    The Power O, G terminology comes from Paul Brown, who referred to the playside guard as “G” and the “off-side” guard as “O” — so, Power O, Power G, and if he pulled both guards, GO sweep…  don’t know exactly how it passed from coach to coach but Woody and Earle Bruce also used it (and they and assistants crossed paths in quite a few schools besides tOSU)

  • Mr.Murder

    Look up the Michalzik thread for Power O at Cal with Marshawn Lynch as his runner. Sometimes unbalanced, the backside guard leads in and the tight end stays on the end. If the end steps down stay on him and wash him inside then the guard comes out more and finds someone. The fullback is offset and leads play side to try and get the Sam to widen with him and the guard leads inside of that off the G/T double but inside the TE if his man goes upfield.

    Inside foot leads the tight end to seal the inside, back arcs around that to first man outside the end. Guard leads inside the end, if they step down room is there otherwise. Runner take the playside foot and step back for halfback to depth to drive down the power gap, then follow the guard.

    Easy rules. End stays on end, inside foot first step. G/T double down to backside backer. Backside G pulls and leads around the Deuce. Offset back leads outside to first color showing. Hug the double team until the O puller finds a block then cut off that.

    If the playside backer steps down reading the double the fullback has the edge. If the backer stays on flow then the guard leads back inside. Back gets a two way read and can get yards either way.

  • Doc

    We ran Power pretty successfully as a Jet Sweep option play. We would jet a slot WR to the TE side and the QB would read the DE while meshing with the WR. If the DE crashed, the QB would give to the WR. If the DE widened for the WR, the QB went off-tackle. Playside blocks down, backside G pulls through, and RB (lined up strong) leads for the WR.

    We also ran Counter Trey the same way, with the jet WR going weak.

  • Kunleojo

    very good!!! and full detail of every running play  thanks using this for school

  • Mr.Murder

    the counter step(back step these days, keeps the runner square to improve vision) allows the puller to get in front of the runner,

  • Pingback: How New England Patriots Guard Ryan Wendell Jumps Out on Game Film — PureFootballPureFootball — Your source for everything about football! — News and tweets about everything football — Football scores, news, NFL()

  • Pingback: How To Play Soccer Easily Bruising | Soccer Training Pro()

  • Pingback: » Charting the Colts’ Offensive Line: Week 17 vs. Titans()

  • Pingback: The “Power O” Play Resources | Coach and Coordinator()

  • Pingback: Beginner Series: HB Iso and Power-O - NFL Breakdowns()

  • Pingback: Eagle Eye: Analyzing The Draft's RB Talent | We Only Live Once()

  • Pingback: The Chip Kelly Experience - Endzone Magazine()

  • Pingback: True Grit | Sports News – MySportsScoop()

  • Pingback: Eric Stoner’s Offense to Defend the Planet | The Rookie Scouting Portfolio()

  • Pingback: Guessing Gailey’s offense: From the Ducks to the Bucks to …  | The Jets Blog()