Defending the Power Read
By Cody Alexander
Lovejoy High (Texas)
The power read is one of the spread offense’s hardest plays to defend for the modern defensive coordinator. It is Power with a twist and plays on the eyes of the linebackers. The Power Read puts stress on the techniques taught by most defensive coaches, and stretches the field horizontally. Unlike a Quarterback Power, where the running back either blocks out on the end or inserts for the play-side linebacker, the Power Read plays on the flow read of the inside linebackers. The running back takes a stretch path and heads for the edge. Instead of reading the backside end like the Zone Read, the Power Read uses the front side end as the read man and attacks his fit (which is why some consider it Inverted Veer). Teams can even read the front-side linebacker instead of the defensive end to add another wrinkle. Defending the Power Read comes down to assignment football and understanding how and where the offense is trying to attack.
One of the most popular formations to run the Power Read out of is a Trips set. If the defense is set in an Under Front the play-side end should crash down and take on the pulling guard, or tackle the quarterback if he chooses to pull the ball. With the nose guard to the three-receiver side, the defensive end is allowed to close the “B” gap and take the “dive”. In this case, the “dive” is the quarterback. The natural gap exchange that occurs post-snap, frees the Mike to attack the up-field shoulder of the running back. Against any Power play, the interior lineman getting the block back should try and cross face (in this case the away-side three-technique), and the Will crosses the face of the climbing tackle. The aiming point for the Will is the inside shoulder of the pulling guard (just like versus traditional Power). Against a traditional two-back Power a defense would ideally like a man on the inside and outside shoulder of the pulling guard (plus-one). In the diagram, the Will takes the inside shoulder, while the crashing end is technically the outside shoulder player. The crashing end gives the quarterback a “give” read. In this particular play, the Mike should tackle the RB and have plenty of support from the secondary.
Making the QB Carry
Like any read play, the defense has to decide who they want to carry the ball. If a defensive coordinator decides the quarterback is the worst of the two evils, he can give a “hold” call to the play-side defensive end when aligned in an Under Front. The “hold” call creates the same fit for the play-side end as if there was a three-technique to his side (base rule vs. 3×1 is to align in an Under Front). Instead of the defensive end crashing down to box the pulling guard, the Mike will assume that role and fold into the box. The play-side defensive end will take the back on the stretch path and climb vertically to meet him. This technique by the defensive end forces the quarterback to pull the ball. Like Power, the Will climbs over the tackle and aims for the inside shoulder of the pulling guard. The safety valve in all of this is the Down (boundary) Safety reading the cutback and making the Will’s run fit right. The stretch path by the running back can make the linebackers over-pursue if their eyes are not on their keys. Even in the case of a quarterback pulling the ball, if the linebackers vacate too fast there is a crease on the cutback. The down safety has to fill that crease before pursuing the stretch path of the back.
Two-Back Power Read
Adding another blocker to the Power Read can make the play even more dangerous. As a base rule, when the offense is prone to run the Power Read, it is best to check to an Under Front to any Trips Slot set. This allows the Mike to align closer to the edge of the box and makes it easier for him to pursue the stretch or box the Power depending on the defensive coordinator’s scheme. Much like the fits versus a spread 3×1 set, the front predicates the read for the quarterback and the same adjustments can be made. The biggest difference between spread and two-back is the Sam. His primary key is the H-back and must meet him to set the edge. If the RB is given the ball on the stretch, the Sam’s primary mission is to force a cutback to the scraping Mike linebacker.
The key to defending the play-action pass is in the safeties and their eyes. Against teams that run the Power Read Pass, the Cover (field) Safety is the player that has to absorb the vertical of the No. 3 receiver versus a 3×1 set. The down safety is the key cog in eliminating the play. As he works across the formation he is looking for anything coming back his way. As the play progresses, the No. 3 wide receiver climbs to the middle of the formation looking for the ball, and the safeties work to clamp the route. In this particular instance, the down safety can be used as a back-side “robber” and must correct the fit of the Will. Allowing the linebackers to play the Power can alleviate hesitation and the chance of the Will getting pinned.
The beauty of the Power Read is in the fact that it is two different plays, a vertically attacking downhill Quarterback Power and a horizontal stretch by the running back. Soundly attacking the play defensively requires the defense to fit both plays properly. The first thing a defensive coordinator must decide against any Read/Option team is who should carry the ball. Once that is decided, the defense can now adjust how they will fit the play. A defensive coordinator can give a “hold” call to change the fit and force the quarterback to carry, or allow the defense to fit the play like Power and use gap exchange to allow the Mike to aggressively attack the stretch. The key player in every instance is the down safety and his role in defending against the cutback and the climb route of the No. 3 wide receiver versus play-action. It is important to note, that the Power fits do not change, the force players change.
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