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Bills Xs and Os: The Crack Sweep

The Bills have struggled to return their 2017 run game to the form it’s shown in previous years. However, one play that found success in the loss to the Patriots, and other times throughout the year, was the crack sweep.

The basic design of a crack sweep has a receiver of some sort crack block the edge defender, while one or more offensive linemen pull to lead block for the running back on the sweep. Many teams will pull multiple linemen on crack sweeps, but in these two runs from the Patriots game, the Bills pulled just their offensive tackle.

The first play comes just 2 minutes into the game, on a 2nd-and-7 at the Bills- 41 yard line. The Bills have 21 personnel on the field and will motion FB Patrick DiMarco (#42) to the left sideline. Wide receivers Deonte Thompson (#10) and Zay Jones (#11) are in tight to the left of the line of scrimmage.

The play design here has Thompson as the crack block and LT Dion Dawkins (#73) as the leading blocker out in front of LeSean McCoy (#25). Thompson will be tasked with crack blocking OLB Eric Lee (#55) on the edge to give room for Dawkins to pull. Zay Jones will block CB Stephon Gilmore (#24), who is straight ahead of him. DiMarco will carry LB David Harris (#45) down the field.

The two receivers make excellent blocks on this play, as Thompson, who stands at 6’ and 205 pounds is able to stone Lee, who is 6’ 3’’ and 260 pounds. Jones drives Gilmore backwards, causing Gilmore to run into Malcolm Butler (#21) and slow him down. This allows Dawkins more time to get in front of McCoy and room to block Butler, which he does excellently.

McCoy is basically untouched until he’s brought to the ground for a gain of 18 yards.

These are the types of chunk running plays the Bills have been lacking all year, and the crack sweep has worked wonders for them, not only because it allows McCoy to work in space, but also because of the tenacity and willingness Bills receivers have shown blocking on these designs.

This next play, from later in the same drive, has a similar design, with some modifications. First off, they’ll run the play to the right side rather than the left, so RT Jordan Mills (#79) will be the lead blocker for McCoy. TE Logan Thomas (#82) will be the crack blocker here, from the top of the Bills’ bunch formation.

Travaris Cadet (#39) is also in the bunch formation, just to the inside of Thomas. While Thomas will crack block, Cadet will actually join Mills as a second pulling blocker on this play, looping behind Thomas to get out in front and into space.

Thomas does an excellent job of securing Lee (#55) on the crack block, and Mills does a great job taking out Elandon Roberts (#52), who tries to shoot the gap just outside of Thomas and Lee. McCoy gets outside, and while there isn’t a ton of room, is able to scamper for a gain of 5 yard and a first down to keep one of the best opening drives of the Bills’ season (until the last play) going.

Finally, I wanted to look back at a play from earlier in the season where the Bills also run a crack sweep, this one from the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Here, Andre Holmes (#18) will execute the crack block on the defensive end, while both Dion Dawkins and LG Richie Incognito (#64) will pull and lead block to the left. Each makes one key block, McCoy breaks a defensive back’s ankles, and the Bills score an early touchdown.

The crack sweep offers a nice mix of gap and zone running schemes, with the crack/pullers looking like a more gap based power running system, while the backside often blocks like an outside zone play.   

With the Bills’ personnel, it allows them to get blockers who pull well into space, while also maintaining some of key techniques of Rick Dennison’s outside zone scheme.

While the Bills’ run game has sputtered for much of the year, the crack sweep has been moving the ball very well.

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Ryan is a student-athlete at Haverford College, studying economics and statistics while playing varsity squash. He’s a life-long Bills fan from Buffalo, NY who loves to scout players, schemes and teams in both the NFL and NCAA. He can be found on twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.

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