This is a guest post by Connor Floden, New Mexico Highlands offensive analyst and assistant OL coach. Connor’s Twitter and Website
Leading up to the Super Bowl, it’s only fitting that I write an article about the Buccaneers’ favorite run concept, Duo.
Duo lit up the Twitter coaching scene in the past couple of years. So much so, that it even became a trend to post clips with the question, “Is this Inside Zone or Duo?”
This article is first going to cover what Duo is, then how the Buccaneers use it, and lastly where I believe it fits in the modern offense.
What is Duo?
Duo is an inside threatening run that abides by Gap scheme blocking rules and whose name is derived from the goal of getting two double teams on first level defenders. Also, similarly to Inside Zone, it has multiple possible points of entry. One way Duo is often explained is Power without a puller. If that makes sense for you, great! If not (like for me), another way to think about it is this. On Inside Zone, the Running Back is running to the flow of the Offensive Line (Ex. Offensive Line blocks to the left and the Running Back attacks to the left). However, on Duo, the Running Back is running opposite the flow of the Offensive Line (Ex. Offensive Line blocks to the right and Running Back attacks to the Left). The last thing to mention, that’s rather important, is that there is an unblocked second-level defender to the play side. If only there was a way to put this defender in conflict... More on that later.
Now that we know what Duo is, here’s how I would ID and coach it. Other coaches might do it differently, however, this is the way that I think is best.
I would ID the Duo blocking scheme with what’s known as a count system. First, the Center will call out the Mike. This is also commonly called the Point or the Zero, but you could call it whatever you want. The Mike is the first defender, first or second level, to the backside of the call. After we ID the Mike, the next player to the backside is called the minus one. The next player after that to the backside is the minus two, and so on. The defenders to the play side of the Mike are the plus one, then the plus two, I think you get it. The only defenders that we don’t number are the end men on the line of scrimmage (EMOL). The two EMOLs will always be blocked.
Here are the rules broken down:
Play side TE: Block the play side EMOL.
Play side Tackle: Responsible for the +2.
Play side Guard: Responsible for the +1.
Center: ID the Mike as the first backside defender and block the Mike. Backside Guard: Responsible for the -1.
Backside Tackle: Responsible for the -2 or the EMOL.
Backside TE: Block the backside EMOL.
We want all of our blockers to form as many possible double teams as they can on the way to their assignments and play thick through the first level. It’s not necessary to worry about who ends up on the down lineman and who ends up blocking the linebacker. The count should be used to identify who is in the double team and where it is going. The count system also provides a good source of base rules to default to if you’re coaching younger players or need to have a reset in the coaching process (which happens even at the highest levels).
The footwork of those blocking is up to the coach and how you’d like to teach a base block or gap double teams. However, the one thing that must be maintained is the nasty attitude and focus on movement. Our blockers; Offensive Line, Tight End, Fullback, whoever gets in the box; need to move people. Tell those players to focus on movement and that the Running Back will make them right.
The Running Back is initially aiming to attack the play side Guard. While he’s running at a track for the Guard, he’s reading off of the play side linebacker and making him wrong. If you choose to read option or RPO (which we’ll get into later) off of this concept, the Running Back is the one responsible for the mesh.
Here’s an example of how it looks on a diagram:
Here’s a couple of examples of how it looks in action.
Clip #1: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BfXiiePE3qsdmoG49
Match up the labels in the clip, that’s “who has who.” Our blockers are going to try and form as many double teams as they can on their way to “their man.” We even see the Center and Right Guard do too well of a job on their double team and never get off to the linebacker. The Running Back is reading the play side linebacker and making him wrong, he slips off of the other blocks and manages to get a couple of yards. Here’s another example of Duo.
Clip #2: https://photos.app.goo.gl/dcjwmYkqZnypP3Yr5
This is a very clean example of Duo. The Center and Left Guard are double-teaming to the backside linebacker. The Right Guard and Right Tackle are double-teaming to the play side linebacker. The Tight End is taking care of the defensive end. His coaching point would typically be to block him inside out, however, this is a great example of understanding angles and knowing that it would be much more effective to just pin the defensive end down. The Running Back then does a great job of reading and reacting off of that block.
Clip #3: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BXbCndjiKYYRiqHC9
Now it’s time to highlight the Running Back. Here’s him making a great read and punishing the unblocked overhang for committing too early.
Advantages of Duo
Before the prominence of Inside Zone picked up, Duo was among the most common plays in many offenses. Why was/is it loved so much? Just as with any concept in football, there are positives and negatives associated with carrying and calling it. One of the most attractive things about Duo is the attitude involved with it. You’ll often hear coaches refer to it as a mindset play. Another draw, and this one more logistic, is the ease of install and identification. If you can count to two, potentially three, then you can run Duo. The last part of Duo that draws so much attention is the multiple points of entry. Just like Inside Zone, the Running Back is tasked with making the Offensive Line right. This means that we’re not shoving the Running Back into holes that aren’t there, we’re letting him take the best option that is available by reacting to the defense.
Problems with Duo
What are the negatives of Duo? Well, this answer requires some more background. When the Spread offense came to take over, most coaches moved to Inside Zone as their base interior run. Why is that? Well, as offenses started to spread out more and more, the looks we got in the box changed as well. Whenever you took the last Tight End off the line was when you killed Duo for your offense, in the mind of a purist at least. Without having a Tight End in the box, the unblocked defender becomes a linebacker that’s inside the box. It’s much harder to avoid that defender when he’s in the box. Offenses leaned into the read-option where they could leave the defensive end unblocked instead. Is it impossible to run Duo without a Tight End? Certainly not, although many of the purists will tell you that you can’t. The issue with reading that defensive end on Duo is that you’re putting the Running Back right next to that defender, increasing the risk that he can take away both reads (especially from a sidecar alignment). Doing so works for many offenses, however, scares a lot of coaches into running Zone instead.
The next problem with Duo is that it can have matchup issues. Given that Duo will most commonly be run towards the Tight End(s), it allows the defense to make certain adjustments. One of these is to put a big defensive end over our Tight End, creating a one on one that is typically a mismatch. The best way offenses will counter this is to ensure that you have answers and you can call another concept to punish the defense’s adaptations, more on this later.
So, with the Super Bowl coming up, this will be an awesome chance to watch the Buccaneers call a ton of Duo. How exactly do they use it?
How do the Buccaneers use Duo? All the time. Bruce Arians just recently said in a media session that every season the first install is, “22 Double,” AKA Duo. The Buccaneers’ understand the issues with the concept and do some good things to mitigate these. We identified a major concern being the unblocked overhang defender. The Buccaneers handle this by bringing more and more bodies into the box in different ways. They’ll do this with a few different shifts and motions involving Tight Ends and Wide Receivers. Sometimes using motion to gain a helmet, however, most of the time the motion is done to gain leverage on their defenders.
Clip #4: https://photos.app.goo.gl/2c4jdGwN8LAJwR9QA
Here’s the Buccaneers using a Short motion to gain leverage with their Receiver who’s able to get just enough for Jones to crease the defense.
Another way they handle the overhang, make sure it’s a cornerback. While that’s a half-joke, does the defense want to have a corner matched up with Leonard Fournette in the hole? Didn’t think so...
Clip #5: https://photos.app.goo.gl/15ZPtfhtq55DwDZt6
This is a clip of them motioning a Receiver into the backfield to run Duo. This influences the Vikings to roll their weak safety into the box. Now the overhang defender is the cornerback, who had absolutely zero interest, or probably responsibility, to get in there to try and make a tackle.
After talking about the overhang defender, the other issue worth addressing is those matchup “issues.” The Buccaneers have the advantage of Gronkowski at Tight End. Gronk has the ability to block any linebacker in the league and can even dominate a good deal of defensive ends (such as in the second clip of this article where he washes a defensive end basically from hash to hash). This is one way for them to take care of how defenses will try to adjust to Duo. This doesn’t always happen as you can see if you go watch the Buccaneers play the Saints in the divisional round. At the end of the day, Tight Ends just aren’t supposed to win against defensive ends, and eventually, you’ll find a team that can stop you based on that match up. Does it make it impossible to get yards by running Duo? Definitely not, but there is something that would garner a better result. The other cool way that the Buccaneers navigate this issue is less subtle. They’ll just bring in a sixth lineman. There, nice and easy. Take that defensive ends.
So, how many variations of Duo do the Buccaneers carry? Uh, well, technically two. However, they’re essentially the same thing. They’ll run Duo as shown before, or they’ll throw in this counter step by the Running Back shown below that changes up the mesh and the angle a little bit.
Clip #6: https://photos.app.goo.gl/JTt5DgiHn3dZn9Vj6
As you can see, it’s not that much of a change. It may influence defenses who want to key the backfield, however, it isn’t exactly what I wish the Buccaneers did to protect their favorite running scheme.
Where the Buccaneers can Evolve
Currently, you’ll find the Buccaneers running Duo, Wide Zone, and some Inside Zone. I think that they have become extremely reliant on their ability to win with Gronk matched up on defensive ends in the run game. Has this worked in their favor? Absolutely, I mean, they’re in the Super Bowl. Although, it might not work very well in the big game. I think that this is where the Buccaneers can improve the most in their running game as far as protecting their favorite concepts. How can we punish the defense for getting their defensive end on or outside our Tight End? Calling a concept like Counter can punish the defense by getting our Tight End up to a linebacker and pull our backside Guard to kick out the defensive end. Now the offense has more favorable matchups and angles since the sense the defense wanted to get their defensive end on our Tight End. The Buccaneers have run this a Counter a couple of times, literally only a couple, throughout the season. I think it would’ve complimented their offense a great deal to garner a bigger role in the system, especially in their divisional game against the Saints.
What I think the Buccaneers do instead is call their Wide Zone concept away from their matchup issues. The reason that I bring this up is that I believe it’s not a true punish for the defensive adaptation, but rather, avoiding it.
How the Buccaneers create explosives off of duo
The Bucs’ don’t run the ball much on third and short but when they do it’s usually Duo. To take advantage of defenses that sell out to stop Duo in these situations, the Bucs have a play pass (in-pocket PA) that conflicts the defender covering Chris Godwin.
The Bucs also have ways to conflict second level defenders when they get near the goal line.
The Bucs have another play that can conflict a CB that overplays the run. The WR short motions like he would on Duo, and then crack-returns. If the CB doesn’t bite much on the play fake the QB can progress to a crossing route.
The Bucs’ pass game is built around creating and then exploiting isolations on the outside. One way Arians has done this is to use the jab Duo play fake to decoy the buzz defender in cover 3. The reason why the jab Duo play fake works better than the standard Duo play fake is that it’s longer developing, which holds the buzz defender long enough to open up throws to the flat or curl areas of the field.
Notice how on the following plays the play fake holds the underneath defenders long enough to open up windows for the outside throws.
Here are some other Duo play passes from around the NFL-
Duo in the Modern Offense
The Buccaneers use Duo traditionally, the way that it’s been known for a long time. For many of us, football has changed a lot in the past ten to fifteen years. I’ve already addressed the benefits and issues of Duo. With all of those on the table, I believe that Duo has a perfect role in modern offenses.
The first issue we addressed was the unblocked overhang defender. One of the reasons that Duo got its name as a gritty, downhill, three yards and a cloud of dust concept is because of that overhang defender. Many times it just became an Oklahoma drill between him and the Running Back. While it’ll be fun to watch the Buccaneers try to make that Oklahoma drill happen between Leonard Fournette and a cornerback, it’s much less necessary in the day and age of RPOs. This concept fits perfectly with a modern offense that’s trying to put defenders in conflict in my opinion. Firstly, it brings a ball carrier and mesh right at the conflict defender. Having the ability to run at the RPO key puts him in a lot more conflict than running away from them because every yard he’s not using to close on the Running Back is a yard that the ball carrier is gaining.
Now’s where I make all the old-school Duo purists upset... To further integrate Duo into the modern offense, you can include all the read option tags that you love with Inside Zone. This concept starts to break into the Veer or Zeer world, however, is still Duo blocking rules by my standard. We now are reading off of the play side defensive end and attacking the same side with our ball carrier. This can cause the worry of that player taking away both options and hence no conflict. In my experience, with a properly coached Offensive Line, this isn’t an issue. The reason being that Duo (Veer, Zeer, whatever you need to call it to make yourself happy) still gives the Running Back freedom to make the Offensive Line be right and take the best option that is given to them. There are very few issues with Running Backs cutting back on Inside Zone Read. In fact, that’s where most of the big plays happen. Now, we’re just starting with our focus on that area. The Ravens appear to be running a lot of this Duo/Veer/Zeer, however, I believe still classify it as Inside Zone. The biggest difference, in my opinion, would be the rules for the Offensive Linemen. In a Zone concept, the Offensive Line would be IDing and blocking to the play side. In a Gap scheme, such as Duo, the Offensive Linemen are driving to their defender and double teams.
Opening up the path of reading the play side now also introduces options such as kicking the playside with a Tight End or Fullback, giving us the ability to run the ball at the kick out of a split flow look. This also opens the door for things like Bluffs, Triple Option, and wherever your imagination takes you.
Thanks for reading my article on Duo and how the Buccaneers use the concept. If you liked what you read, check out more articles like it over on my website www.Flo-Line.org where I post articles and videos about my opinions on offensive football. If you had any questions about Duo or what I had to say, feel free to contact me on Twitter @CJFloden.