In the NFL, things aren’t always as they seem. An example of this is the increasingly popular run play known as Duo, or Double. The Duo stands for two double teams. Duo is often referred to as “Power without a puller.” Bob Wylie, Cleveland Browns offensive line coach, said he started using this play in the late 1990’s while at the Chicago Bears to find a way to get the backside Will linebacker blocked.
Many observers of the game see this play as Inside Zone at first glance as it appears similar in terms of double teams up front with offensive lineman climbing to linebackers. The main difference between Inside Zone and Duo is who the Center is ID’ing. On Duo the Center will ID the Will, on Inside Zone he will ID the Mike. A key indicator that the play is Duo and not Inside Zone is the Center will work backside and not frontside.
The only examples I could find of Duo/Double in an NFL playbook was from the the 2005 Carolina Panthers playbook:
Another difference in Duo and Inside Zone is the Running Back’s read. The Godfather of the zone run game, Alex Gibbs, says, “The RB reads the 1st down lineman past the OC, a shade NT does not count as a read. If the 1st DL past the Center goes wide or sits, you cutback. If the read goes down, read the next man out.”
With Duo the Running Back is reading the Mike linebacker. The Running Back will press the ‘B’ Gap and read the movement of the Mike. If the Mike plays over the top and outside of the second double team, the Running Back can bend it back to the first double team. If the Mike presses and steps up into the line of scrimmage the Running Back can bounce the play out and cut off the Tight End’s block.
A player like Le’Veon Bell was born to run this play as he is the best back in the league at setting up the blocks on the Duo play. Teams that employ the Duo play often are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys; two teams that pride themselves on being physical, powerful run offenses.
The Duo play is most commonly ran out of 12, or 13, personnel with the offense in an overload formation. This helps the offense get the front they like as many offensive line coaches, such as Herb Hand, prefer to run it to the 3-technique. Also the more blockers you have up front, the more double teams you will get.
Here is an example of Duo from Dallas in their regular season match-up versus Green Bay. In the clip below Green Bay is in their 2-4-5 Nickel defense. The Center has ID’ed #47, the backside linebacker, as who he is working up to. The Left Guard and Center will double the Defensive Tackle up to the Will while the Right Guard and Tackle double team the other Defensive Tackle to the Mike linebacker, #50.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliot is reading the Mike, #50, on this play. He will press the ‘B’ gap and react to the movement of the Mike. On this clip the Mike presses and fills inside giving Elliot a bounce read as the linebacker is pinned inside. With the offense in a wing set they are able to get three double teams up front here as the two Tight Ends double team the Outside Linebacker up to the Strong Safety, #42. The blocks by the Tight Ends are what allow Elliot to bounce this play to the edge and pick up a big gain.
This clip is from Dallas’ match-up with Pittsburgh from the regular season. This is another example where the Mike linebacker, #50, pressed the line of scrimmage so Elliot bounced the play.
Against a 3-4 Over front the two double teams will move to the Right Guard and Tackle as well as the two Tight Ends. The RG and RT will now double team with the RG working to the Will and the TE’s will double team the Sam to the Mike. Dallas brings #83 in motion into the box here to block the SS, the force player.
Below is an example of Pittsburgh running the Duo play vs Dallas’ 4-3 Over defense. The DE to the field spikes inside the ‘C’ gap on this play almost disrupting the play but the TE washes him down inside. With Le’Veon Bells vision and acceleration he has mastered setting up the blocks on Duo.
The best way to counter the Duo play is to play an ‘Eagle’ front, also known as a ‘Bear’ front. An ‘Eagle’ front involves the Center and both Guards to be covered by a defensive lineman leaving the offense with only being able to generate one double team up front. This is exactly what Green Bay did to Dallas.
The key to this play being successful is the Running Back’s patience. Ezekiel Elliot allows his Left Guard to turn the Defensive Tackle over him out while pressing the play side ‘B’ gap to hold the Mike linebacker. This play is extremely difficult to run into an ‘Eagle’ front but with Dallas’ offensive line and Ezekiel Elliot’s vision, the play can still be successful.
Bob Wylie was at the annual Mushroom C.O.O.L. clinic in 2013 where he presented a clinic speech on the Duo play. It it a great resource for anyone wanting to take a deeper look into the play and hearing an explanation from an NFL offensive line coach.
Geoff Schwartz did an X’s and O’s video on Duo/Dbl as well. Here it is below: