no wonder we hired Hunter Lochmann
Complaining about the lack of bubble screens in Michigan's offense has become a hobby-horse here. Some people find this weird. I admit that a focus on one particular play, no matter what it is, is often missing the forest for a tree, and my focus on a play that picks up eight yards if run well is a little maniacal. But I see a lot of things not work and think 1) the bubble is open and 2) that might have worked if the bubble wasn't open.
While the bubble seems like an option you can take or leave, it's actually a key way to make every player on the offense an effective blocker every play. When Magee goes to his cutups in those videos about the spread 'n' shred philosophy, the guy asking most of the questions* wants to see bubbles first.
*[who I think is Harvard's coach since he talks about playing Columbia and a pizza place on "Comm Ave" that Google reveals is in Boston.]
The bubble is a constraint that opens up other things and forces the defense into positions it would rather not take. Michigan saw this first hand, as a series of first half bubbles forced Jake Ryan into the slot against Northwestern. Even that wasn't enough to hold down the single bubble the Wildcats ran in the second half before fumbles and interceptions and Michigan scoring on every drive terminated Northwestern's ability to use them.
It's not just a play. It's part of a coherent whole. Spreading the field stresses the defense only if you make the D cover everyone horizontally. Smart Football explained a long Oregon touchdown in the recent Stanford game and I was struck by the difference between the way Stanford defends this play…
…and the way Illinois defended a similarly unbalanced formation from Michigan:
That is a similar setup with one extra guy in the backfield. The highlighted defender to the top of the screen is the equivalent of #3 at the top of the Stanford defense (not the guy on the line)… unless the highlighted guy at the bottom—the corner—is. Someone on this defense is not respecting the threat of Junior Hemingway.
Michigan will run the play I've been calling "inverted veer", which is probably not the best terminology since various people say people call it "dash" and since it features a guy pulling to the frontside of the play it's not really a "veer"—if you care about these things. It's too late for me since I've got a tag, but you can still save yourself.
Anyway, on the snap, before the mesh point, it is clear that both highlighted defenders are going to get involved in the run defense.
Where is the equivalent guy in the Stanford play?
His feet are the ones bugging out for the bubble at the top of the screen. This effectively blocks a defender without having to engage that receiver's potentially crap blocking skills.
Junior Hemingway's existence, in contrast, is pointlessly lonely:
There isn't anyone within five yards of him by the time the mesh point passes. Even before the mesh it's clear the bubble is going to be open, if it was being run.
Anyway, at the mesh point the containing DE is containing so Denard pulls.
This options off a DE; the slot guy is being taken by Hopkins; the playside LB will get kicked by the pulling Omameh. There is no one for the corner, and this has turned into a run up the middle.
This is pretty much dead at this point. Michigan's got some problems on the line, too: you can see that the Lewan/Schofield combo block hasn't even sealed the playside DT, let alone the WLB… but that's just another reason the play isn't going to work since Denard is tackled in the backfield by that backside CB:
Pile of bodies, no gain, third down.
Items of Interest
This isn't to say I think Borges did a bad job in this game. I did get a little frustrated by the forays into the I that were spectacularly unsuccessful—before the Toussaint runs in garbage time Michigan had run seven times out of the I for –1 yards—and the lack of responses to the increasingly aggressive Illinois defense. HOWEVA, in context the move was to go conservative and get out of Dodge; before that was the move he tore up a good defense and was thwarted largely by things out of his control.
There are multiple issues with this play and I'm not suggesting the bubble is a panacea. I am saying it is going to work for tons of yards here, but it's not the only reason this play gets thumped.
The threat of the bubble effectively options off another defender. This means more space for people who are good in space, one more opportunity to blow something for the defense, and mitigates the following.
Receivers' blocking eh… not so good. On the play where Denard fumbled he actually had a good setup for the pull: the backside DE has shuffled down the line and Koger went around him to the edge.
Unfortunately, Junior Hemingway's consistently crap blocking reared its head on this play and the slot LB—who is actually covering the WR on this play—created problems.
Denard has to cut back. If Michigan's running a bubble this guy is either outside of the hash or Denard's throwing it to Hemingway or the Illinois defense is getting super aggressive and opening itself up to a Worst Waldo play. Since he's just a wide receiver who can't block Denard loses an opportunity to burst into a ton of space.
Lack of bubbles = lack of big plays (that aren't chuck and hope)? If you're looking for a culprit when it comes to the lack of long plays that are very open, the lack of the humble bubble screen is a candidate. When you spread the field and make the defense defend all eleven players on every play, a single breakdown means big yards. If you're covering every WR man to man and trying to leave two deep safeties, this is the result:
Michigan has put a lot less stress on safeties this year because they run a bunch of plays from a formation in which opponent safeties think "if they run it will be for half a yard" and when they're in the shotgun they aren't really in the spread, if you catch my drift. By not attacking the outside consistently Michigan lets opponents defend them with two deep.
In the inverted veer above the guy on Hemingway starts 13 yards off the LOS, which means the free safety can come down on the run without worrying about an Oh Noes.
Also bubbles work, yo. I mean, sure, opponents freaked out about them in the RR era since they were a foundational component of the offense but when they were run they worked, and when opponents run them against Michigan (or State vs Iowa) they pick up chunks. When you can get a chunk on first down you have a low-pressure environment to probe with your run game.
This is clearly a philosophical thing that is permanent. I'll drop it now, and this is not a criticism of Al Borges's overall philosophy—we have no idea what that's going to be like. It's clear, however, that the vast bulk of teams who use the quarterback as a runner believe the bubble is an integral part of the effectiveness of the offense. Michigan doesn't, and unless Borges can explain that in a way better than "don't ask me about it" its absence will rankle.
[Ed: argh, having some editing issues. Bump.]
"Play hard and play with great effort"
Immediately after the game, I was struggling to come up with a thru-line for what had just happened. But then Brian posted "Defensive Annhilation Muppets" and then the video of Mattison getting emotional surfaced. And for a moment I thought, 'you guys are over-reacting. Illinois does not have a good offense'. I like when coaches just give coachspeak. But then I thought about the last three years and yeah, it makes sense. The difference in emotion between Chip Kelly's comments and Mattison's are where you're starting from.
A couple of years from now, a win like this will only be notable for constructive criticism. There were a lot of bad plays that need to be corrected. But given the circumstances of where we were last year and what we were expected to be this year and the fact that we're 8-2 with a decent chance of picking up at least one more win and a very small chance of getting to 11 wins, emotional celebration is more than appropriate.
What a difference a week makes!
Al Borges didn't have a great game against Iowa, and I pointed that out. He had a much better gameplan this week. I don't know if he or anyone close to him reads blogs or not, but he responded to several very specific criticisms leveled here last week.
Holding the backside DE
I mentioned something about a lack of reverses.
Thanks Al! Odoms is coming from his slot position to take an end around fake. Not only did it hold the backside OLB and prevent the DE from crashing down on Denard, it also froze the MLB just enough for Fitz to run right by him.
But that wasn't the only trick up Al's sleeve. He pulled out another wrinkle from the Richrod days.
One of the problems with protecting Denard and limiting his carries is that the DE that you're optioning on the zone read doesn't have to respect the keep and is free to chase the TB. But here we see Koger coming from his H-back wing to block #9.
The O-line is getting good lateral movement and both Denard and Koger are eliminating defenders from the pursuit.
One caveat is that their safeties were pretty bad (someone mentioned they had backups in the game). #5 has badly misread this play, and he's too slow to catch Fitz anyway. Meanwhile, if you wonder how a guy can get over 100 yards in the first quarter, you can bet he's breaking tackles. This arm tackle didn't even slow him down.
This arm tackle slowed him down,
but it didn't stop him.
So Fitz had about 45 yards of YAC from the first arm tackle and then about another 15 yards of super YAC downfield.
The offense as a whole had a much better day (despite some derpiness in the 2nd and 3rd quarters). The O-line was doing a great job with the zone blocking in the first quarter and opened up some nice running lanes.
Here we've got Hopkins blocking the DE from his FB position instead of Koger, but the result is about the same. Gallon cracks down on his man and Omameh does a good job scraping off the double team and getting to the linebacker.
Huyge takes his man where he wants to go and it opens up a nice line.
On this next play, there's only 5 in the box because the OLB's are out on the slot receivers.
Molk does an excellent job of tracking down his man and we've got a hat on a hat.
The Zen of zone blocking is you just get on your man and take him away from the play using his own impetus. Of course you need a guy like Fitz back there who is patient enough and has good vision to see the hole developing.
Even though the OLB crashes down for contain, he's nowhere near Fitz and Denard has read him properly. If this were the pros Fitz would be owing five really large guys a nice dinner for this play.
The Numbers Game
We had some issues in the red zone last week. Part of that is due to Iowa's talent on the D-line and part of it is having Denard sitting in the pocket or handing off or otherwise not putting pressure on the defense to account for him.
If this were a normal pitch play or off-tackle dive, it would've been completely stuffed because they've got more defenders than we've got blockers on the playside. But when Denard keeps it, we've got an even matchup and Denard just has to pick his way through and find a hole.
But what really makes this play work is that Omameh gets a great cut block, upending his man. Now we've got 6 blockers against their 5 defenders and Denard with no one to track him down.
Omameh's block freed up Molk to get on the pursuing linebacker and the result is an easy touchdown for shoelace.
So what happened in the 2nd Quarter? Well let's compare to a play where we don't have a numbers advantage.
They've got 9 defenders in the box with both safeties playing up. If Denard has the freedom to audible (or we had gotten to the line with more than 8 seconds so that the coaches could call a check play #misshightempo), then he should be throwing a fade or "z out" to Roundtree at the bottom of the screen. We've got 9 in the box, but because we're in I form, the defense doesn't have to account for the QB (as his first 5 steps are backwards).
The play is a lead draw. The line shows pass blocking and then the center or whoever is free is supposed to head upfield after a couple beats. But this call means that Illinois has a lot of unblocked defenders. It doesn't help that Molk misreads the defense and doesn't scrape off to one of the linebackers. This means that Hopkins has three unblocked people he has to choose from. If Denard had been running, then both Hopkins and Fitz would have hit the MLBs so Denard would just have to juke the safety to get in the endzone.
Instead, Hopkins gets one LB and the other stuffs Fitz for a loss with both safeties racing up to make sure he doesn't fall forward.
[ed: follow the jump.]
Opening remarks: “Well. We have another big one ahead of us. This next one, I guess you’d say that every game is really really big, but I think this one will pose a real challenge to our defense because they’re like three offenses in one. They’re a power attack -- their running back is a really good downhill runner. They go from that to being able to be an option attack with the quarterback. I think they have 4000-some yards, and 3000 and some of those are the quarterback and the running back. You see where their offense is. It makes the defense have to be sound in all phases. You can’t load up and play the power because you may be getting optioned. You can’t go in there with an idea of being a finesse or assignment totally or you’re going to get the power run right at you. This is going to be a big test. And he can throw it. He’s put some yardage on people. The last thing they do that challenges your defense is they have a fast pace, so they do that to try to get your defense so they’re not in great alignments. Just to be a little sloppy because they hurry up and if you’re not a real disciplined defense, you don’t get set correctly, and you know as well as I do that we’re not good enough to not be perfect in our assignments and our alignments.”
After rewatching film, are you still as happy with your defense? “Yeah. I watched the film and we were very very cirticial while we were watching film, but Michigan defense is built on … up front, you play aggressive. You knock them back, you are physical, you rush the passer. [In the] secondary, you challenge receivers. As a defense, you swarm and tackle. For the most part our guys did that during the game. It’s never perfect. Obviously coach always wants us to have a number of clips good and bad to show the whole group on Sunday. Yeah, I probably could find some bad ones to spend more time than he gave us. There was improvement. I just really was proud of how hard we played and to be able to go back out there and stop them again and stop them again. That’s what Michigan defense does, and that’s what we’re going to be called upon to do if we’re going to be a Michigan defense.”
How big of a concern is tempo with Nebraska? “That’s a concern. Any time a team tempos you, you have to find out how mature your defense is. You have to be a very disciplined defense, and you have to be a tough-minded defense to know that you’re going to get the call at the spur of the moment, and you have to line up at the spur of the moment, and you have to play. That’s something our guys have already addressed with them.”
Does chasing Denard in practice prepare you for Taylor Martinez? “Yeah, it’s a different deal, though. Chasing Denard around is really -- that’s after the fact. It’s a different play. For us, it’s going to be getting set, play your assignment, and then if you have to chase him around, chase him around. That’s why it’s different. Brady does drills with our guys every Tuesday after practice -- chasing the rabbit drill with our defensive linemen. That’s emphasizing what you have to do, but that doesn’t happen in the game like that all the time. It’s a lot better playing against a Denard than it would be playing against a drop-back guy all day for sure.”
(more after the jump)
In terms of Denard’s progress, what do you see on film that most people can’t see? “Well the issues with Denard, I think in the last game, were pretty much ball security deals. Other than that, he didn’t really throw the ball too bad. We didn’t throw the ball a lot with him, and he got hurt later in the game, so you didn’t see as much, but he’s managing the game pretty well. When he doesn’t get the yards, somebody else does. When nobody gets the yards, then we have issues, and that’s happened in a couple games -- those games we shouldn’t have lost. Denard’s growing in our offense. Nobody wants to hear that. I told them in the beginning, that I told him he’s not going to gain 1700 yards. We’re going to try and get somebody else involved. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s certain games he’s going to get more than he’s going to get in other games. As long as we’re getting productivity from our running game, if it isn’t him, that’s fine.”
How has his role changed since the emergence of Fitz? “It hasn’t changed much at all, it’s just a matter of who’s getting the opportunities. Sometimes they’re taking Denard away. By taking him away -- if you watch the second play of the game it’s probably the best example. We ran a little misdirect divide zone, and he carried out the
fade fake and three guys went with him, which gave Fitz an opportunity to run through a big cavity where there was nothing left but a corner or a safety, or I don’t remember what. People don’t understand the residual effects of Denard. Sometimes it’s not always him running for 200 yards, but him getting someone else to run for big yards. He helps in that respect.”
Why has ball security been an issue? “Well a couple times we dangled it in the pocket. He was doing a good job with it for the most part. We dangled it in the pocket one time. We have to keep the ball inside the perimeter of your shoulders so that you naturally brace when you get hit. That’s one of them. And he got the ball away from his body one time when he was running. He’s been pretty good running the ball, taking good care of the ball. We got a couple close calls where I think the ground caused the fumble in a couple games, but that’s generally it. You usually fumble when you’re fundamentally bad. You don’t keep the ball with five points of pressure and it gets away from your body and somebody strips it.”
(more after the jump)
[ED: Bump so hard. ]
FF 210 - Screen Package
FF400 - Drag and Follow
So this is what I had intended to do with the series when I started it: breaking down plays/concepts that Michigan runs and why they work, how to defend/attack them, etc. Today I’m going to break down a pass play that Michigan ran twice for first downs in the first half. This is a great play that isn’t necessarily innovative anymore, but it is still very prevalent both the college and pro game. It’s called the drag (jerk) and follow pattern.
What I will be doing today is going over this play and how and why it was successful twice against Illinois. I will also discuss how defenses scheme against it in order to stop it, plays to counter those defensive adjustments, and why Michigan went away from it when it was successful early.
The Play – Drag and Follow
This is a great play because it does two things. It gives both the QB and WR easy reads and it always makes the defense wrong, essentially putting them out of position.*
Note, I have done a fairly simple defensive alignment that isn't really that technically sound to face the run. It is an even front with the SS back. This isn't bad against the pass but against the run it would probably suffer. There are many different variations of D, and I some what change the D alignment to help prove my point. It is important to realize that the keys are still there though, I'm just attempting to teach as simply as possible, so the defense isn't always the same.
Notice the label for each receiver and the Zip presnap motion (into the formation) by the Z receiver. On defense, N is the Nickelback (don't hate me, hate the Lions) subbed in for the SAM.
The Read – Backside LB
The QB will read the backside LB (WLB).
If the he follows the drag route, it will leave the delayed follow route open in the space that that LB previous occupied. You see this the first time Michigan ran this play against Illinois.
The LB attacks downhill at the drag pattern leaving an opening where he previously was.
Finally, a post on Tuesday. November is championship football, and championship football requires championship opponent watching.
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team Lloyd Carr will announce his retirement a second time; 5 = Illinois any given year; 8 = Best in B1G, which may or may not actually be any good; 9 = National title contender somewhere in the SEC; 10 = Hold me, Ace)
About Last Saturday:
No. 24 Michigan 31, Illinois 14 (W)
The Road Ahead:
No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 B1G)
David Swanson / Philadelphia Inquirer
- Chattanooga, 40-7 (W)
- Fresno State, 42-29 (W)
- Washington, 51-38 (W)
- @ Wyoming, 38-14 (W)
- @ No. 7 Wisconsin, 48-17 (L)
- Ohio State, 34-27 (W)
- @ Minnesota, 41-14 (W)
- No. 11 Michigan State, 24-3 (W)
- Northwestern, 28-25 (L)
Last game: Nebraska 17, No. 12 Penn State 14 (W)
Recap: Nebraska shrugged off last week’s upset loss to Northwestern as well as the national scandal that has been monopolizing headlines to win a football game on the road.
Their rush offense steadily churned out a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter before Penn State finally put together a cohesive touchdown drive. A Rex Burkhead (25 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD) fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Nittany Lions a short field, so with the help of some trickery, Penn State was able to find the endzone again to cut the lead to 17-14.
That’s when the Huskers defensive front, led by LB Lavonte David, who had been quiet for most of the game, stiffened. Three times they stuffed Lions running backs for no gain on short yardage. 2nd and 1 turned into 3rd and 1 turned into 4th and 1, which ultimately led to a turnover on downs.
Miraculously, the Penn State defense was able to force a Nebraska four and out to get the ball back with 49 seconds remaining, but Nittany Lions QB Matt McGloin (16/34, 193 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) had trouble finding receivers on the desperation drive, and his last pass under pressure fell incomplete.
Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had a pedestrian day, completing 13 of 26 passes for 143 yards and no TDs or INTs. He was also limited on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times for just 56 yards -- only one of those carries was a sack. He did manage the game well, however, and the offensive play of the game was his last-second option pitch to Rex Burkhead that went for a touchdown.
Right now they are as frightening as: The mounting sense of unknowing you get as you stare down the betting lines this week. 7.
Michigan should worry about: Option offense, which is something Michigan doesn’t really know if it can stop. Northwestern ran it successfully but then outsmarted themselves by abandoning it in the second half. Illlinois used it in limited quantities, and while Michigan stifled the hand-offs, the Scheelhaase keepers were effective and therefore worrisome.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Numerous reports indicate that Nebraska’s offensive line is about as deep as Michigan’s, i.e. drowning is a hazard only for the very young or the very intoxicated. The Wolverines D-line play has been steadily improving since the bye week, so that matchup looks to be favorable.
Additionally, if you’ve ever watched Martinez throw … eesh. Imagine Denard passing, but instead of an arm he has a chicken wing. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs nuzzling the line of scrimmage frequently.
DE Jared Crick has been out with a torn pectoral muscle, so Mark Huyge at least can sleep a little better.
When Michigan plays them: Both teams are going to try to make each other take to the air, at which point it’s anyone’s guess.
Martinez thrives on the kind of passing game that made Denard a 2500+ yard passer last year -- as teams choke up on the run game, receivers find themselves wandering alone in areas of the field large enough to raise a horse. Michigan’s safeties have done a good job of not blowing these sorts of assignments or getting beat deep so far, but again, they haven’t been tested by a true option offense where the whole point is to get safeties to bite on play-action. Worry if the Wolverines can’t stop the Burkhead-Martinez tandem early.
As far as Michigan’s passing game goes, jump balls are probably not such a great idea. Nebraska boasts one of the B1G’s best cover corners in Alfonso Dennard, and the guy playing opposite him is not so bad either. The Wolverines’ passing game does seem to be more sophisticated than the Huskers’ and relies less on establishing the run game, so there’s that.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams combine for six turnovers.
Next game: at No. 18 Michigan
(more after the jump)