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 canĀ  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?