Temple RB Bernard Pierce: All About The Angles

Nothing better than a power back behind an angle blocking line that gets the job done. Even then, a good runner like Bernard Pierce has to improvise.

Author’s Note: If you haven’t entered the RSP Guess the 40 Contest for a chance to win a free past issue of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, details here. Alshon Jeffrey still hasn’t run, so there’s time.

Wednesday night, I Tweeted that there’s little better than watching a good angle blocking scheme in action. It’s like watching Joe Frazier walk right up to his opponent and deliver an uppercut that floors him. The adrenaline rush that comes from watching that kind of moment is similar to a runner and offensive line taking it to a defense.

Bernard Pierce and the Temple offensive line did just that in this year’s New Mexico Bowl. The Temple runner had a box score total to the tune of 25 carries, 100 yards, and 2 scores. Pierce is a no nonsense, down hill runner with just enough agility and burst to set up a block or a defender for a few extra yards.

Although nothing here is meant to provide a definitive evaluation of Pierce’s skill as a football player, I’m showing you two plays that I believe is salient analysis. As with the analysis I’ve been doing lately, all plays can be seen a little better if you click on the photo. Any laughter from the stills of Pierce in pass protection is meant to laugh with him, not at him.


The first play is a 12-yard run on a 3rd and 1 with 11:30 in the half. Temple comes to the line in a 23-personnel, I formation set. This is a short yardage, power running set and is generally used to set a tone with an opponent: We’re going to ram it down your throat and we dare you to stop us.

This Power play is designed to create a lane between the pulling left guard and the fullback as the right side of the line collapses the defensive front ot the inside so there’s hopefully a numbers advantage for the offense.

Temple reinforces this tone by running Power: an angle blocking scheme where a pulling guard leads the runner into a designated gap. Often times a fullback or wing back also leads the way. The runner’s job is to hit this gap with authority or make a cut, hesitation, or small press to give these pulling blocks time to set up.  The Wyoming defense plays a 4-3 with nearly nine defenders in the box and Temple runs the power so Pierce is to get behind the pulling LG as the right side of the offensive line collapses its opponents inside.

The Temple interior line sets up this Power play nicely by collapsing the Wyoming defensive front to the inside and the wing TE sealing the LB inside before the LG even gets his shoulders down hill on his pull across the formation.

Pierce follows the guard to the line of scrimmage and veers to the lineman’s outside shoulder a yard away from the line as two linebackers come over top unblocked.This is not the manpower advantage Temple hoped to achieve.

As this Power unfolds, Pierce has three defenders to face as opposed to the optimal count of one – or even none. But there’s a reason Pierce has NFL potential. See below.

Angle blocking sounds like an unimaginative process for a runner compared to zone blocking where there are more options to to go. However some of the most creative work takes place within a highly defined set of boundaries, and Pierce illustrates this in short order. As seen in the photo above, the Temple runner is about to plant both feet into the ground and stop his momentum as the the first linebacker comes over top to make a play. The plant sets up a stop-start move that gives and takes away the back leg as the linebacker breaks down to attempt the tackle.

The blue lines display the angle of the linebacker unsuccessfully diving for Pierce’s inside leg. The arrow shows where Pierce took away that angle after the stop-start move.

With one down and two to go, Pierce issues a stiff arm to the second linebacker pursuing from the inside.

The yellow arrow is where Pierce’s arm is about to go to issue the stiff arm and the blue arrow is the angle he’s taking down hill. As Steeler’s RB Chad Spann mentioned here last year, some stiff arms are to ward off a hit. Others are a sledgehammer. This one is more of a construction barrel.

As Pierce throws the stiff arm at the second LB, he makes a nice cut to the right hash to avoid the defensive back shooting for his legs.

The combo of the stiff arm and cut causes the two defenders to collide and Pierce comes away untouched as he cross the right hash.

Nothing like setting up the angle so your opponents do the work for you.

Here’s a closer look at the sequence of give-and-take a leg, stiff arm and lateral cut that uses to beat three defenders in succession to reach the line of scrimmage.

Giving and taking away the leg.
The parallel lines is Pierce’s stiff arm to the outside shoulder of the LB. Note the angle of his back as he’s driving through the contact despite running to the outside.
The leg off the ground was the one he used to jab towards the oncoming DB and it successive still’s we’ll see him take it away while maintaining his balance.

As you can see by this sequence, there’s a benefit for running backs to learn how to run with their knees high and on their toes.

Pierce crosses the line of scrimmage and the first down marker within a few steps and it becomes a foot race between him and the final linebacker approaching the numbers of the right flat.

Not as fast as the LB when he turns the corner, Pierce has two options: avoid the LB or punish him.

Pierce lowers his inside shoulder into the LB who shoots for Pierce’s inside knee as the RB reaches the Wyoming 19.

Delivering the pads into contact, even when the oncoming defender has the lower angle still helps the RB run over top of the hit. Former Colts RB Edgerrin James defined great pad level.

Pierce’s pad level allows him to run through the contact to the Wyoming 14.

Pierce’s contact over top is like a hammer nailing down a stake. He is then able to come over top and fall forward to the 14 – that’s five yards gained after the initial contact due to pad level.

On this run Pierce displayed a lot of positive ways to use angles to set up a lane, elude, knock down, and work through contact against four moving targets.


Pierce’s job in this Temple offense is to run the ball. Pass protection and receiving are rarely even bit parts. The first time I’ve seen Pierce pass block in several dozen snaps is a 3rd and 13 with 6:43 in the game. The play begins in an 11-personnel, 2×1 receiver, shotgun set.

Pierce’s responsibility is the MLB blitzing through the A-gap.

As the play develops after the snap, Pierce recognizes the blitz and approaches the line of scrimmage to square the oncoming defender. The Temple RB does a fine job with this initial part of the job.

As we’ve seen, he’s good at determining the proper angle to deliver or avoid contact. But Pierce doesn’t attack the defender. Instead, he waits for the defender to come to him. This is called “catching” the opponent rather than attacking him.

Pierce is waiting for the LB to come through the line with his feet planted. What comes next isn’t pretty for an offensive player..

Pierce comes to a stand still and his pads aren’t low enough to deliver a punch. When the linebacker clears the gap, he meets Pierce with a lower pad level and a punch that you see from blocking sleds. Watch this sequence and note PIerce’s left leg is at the Wyoming 45.

Note the arrow pointing to Pierce’s helmet. You can’t see the LB’s helmet because his pad level is much better than the RB’s. That’s trouble for Pierce and in most cases, the QB.

The LB’s pad level and upper cut punch combined with his down hill momentum literally lifts the 6’1″, 218-pound Pierce off the ground.

The blue arrow and horizontal line show how much that forklift disguised as a linebacker has lifted the RB into the air.

I laugh every time I watch this play. I bet there was some laughter in film rooms at Temple and Wyoming.

If an LB fork-lifting your RB from the 45 to the 47 – and still coming at you – doesn’t get your attention as a QB then you’re pocket presence is shot.

Now I want you to stand and take six, even steps and note the distance you covered. That’s approximately how far the LB fork-lifted Pierce on this play.

Fortunately for the QB, he does have pocket presence and he breaks this pocket to the left corner for 14-yard gain and a first down.

It’s not often that you see an RB rag-dolled like this. Certainly the LB is strong, but the real factor is the angle each player took as they converged on each other. If Pierce gets lower and explodes upward, he destroys the LB. If he meets with equal force they probably cancel each other out. Instead, Pierce goes for a ride. Good thing he had his hardhat.

Next: I keep promising one set of players and delivering different ones. Wish I could tell you what was next, but I don’t even know – stay tuned.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.

3 responses to “Temple RB Bernard Pierce: All About The Angles”

  1. […] Temple RB Bernard Pierce: All About The Angles | The Rookie Scouting PortfolioWednesday night, I Tweeted that there’s little better than watching a good angle blocking scheme in action. It’s like watching Joe Frazier walk right up to his opponent and deliver an uppercut that floors him. The adrenaline rush that comes from watching that kind of moment is similar to a runner and offensive line taking it to a defense. […]

  2. […] Training camp and preseason yields surprises every summer. Who would have thought Russell Wilson would flash starter talent? Ryan Tannehill would be praised for his poise? Bryce Brown praised for his hands and starter potential? Dwayne Allen lauded for his all-around game? LaVonn Brazill earning first-team reps? And Bobby Rainey out-shining Bernard Pierce? […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: