THE KNOWLEDGE will soon be reviewing the 2012 Michigan football season results in a series of posts. This series will consist of two posts: one outlining the overall season results, and other documenting the out of conference results
as per usual, THE KNOWLEDGE will provide individual game pointers before each game to aid the seekers of the ultimate glory: the title of TOP FRIEND OF THE KNOWLEDGE, as THE CHALLENGE makes a successful return to these very pages
in the meanwhile, THE KNOWLEDGE shall tackle the issue of recruiting in this post
the questions asked by many folks is: in the future, will Bo Scarbrough be in the Michigan back field along with Shane Morris, and behind the line of Cameron Robinson and Damian Prince?
many people also were chomping at the bits to coin the awful MIT pun ro refer to the trinity of the Morris-Isaac-Treadwell before the fact that Isaac will not attend Michigan was revealed as time moved from future to present
of course, these people are and were wrong
on the other hand, many is the number of folks who have been dismayed at what they consider to be lackadaisical progress of Michigan's recruiting after the initial burst. these people see OSU and USC stock up on great talent while Michigan is signing long snappers
and these people are worried (rightfully, in their own minds) if Michigan's coaches can keep up with the Meyers and Kiffins of the world - failing to realize that keeping up with such experts of illegal tactics as Meyer is an extraordinary achievement
and these people are wrong as well
so, where to turn for sanity?
to THE KNOWLEDGE of course. THE KNOWLEDGE has a long, illustrious and peerless history of revealing the future correctly even in the midst of highly irregular abnormalities of the spatio-temporal continuum
as a result, THE KNOWLEDGE has soared to great heights countless times leaving every doubter in a trail of dust
thus, THE KNOWLEDGE is the sole course of relieving people's anxieties about the future
those that follow THE KNOWLEDGE shall be worry free
THE KNOWLEDGE has already revealed in these very pages that the 2012 recruit who will have the greatest success is the lowly rated Sione Houma
people that don't understand the future don't know this; hence, they are highly confused ans greatly stressed by such matters as recruiting
the only thing that matters is winning the games and winning with class and integrity; that is the end product all fans care about
since this result is already revealed by THE KNOWLEDGE at the beginning of each season, people should quit worrying about other things and focus only on THE KNOWLEDGE's revelations
THE KNOWLEDGE shall soar and bask in glory as ever
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For How bad is your fanaticism of Michigan sports? Does it warrant professional psychiatric help like the devotion of Tom Blockham? When I started writing this I tried to consider the type of questions that a shrink might pose to such a patient, and tried to be honest with my own answers as well. I invite you to do the same as Mr. Blockham visits the couch for the next few episodes to analyze his devotion to Michigan.
Tom's reclamation continues on Thursday. Don't miss it.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least
every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out Friday Roughs,
a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending Michigan events,
available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Michigan picks up a commitment and there's a change at the two-spot in this week's recruiting rankings. To answer your question, no, Indiana still doesn't have a commit. Yes, I'm pretty sure they still have a football program. Changes since the last rankings:
6-4-12: Penn State picks up Neiko Robinson.
6-6-12: Michigan picks up Scott Sypniewski. Penn State picks up William Fuller.
6-7-12: Notre Dame picks up Isaac Rochell.
6-8-12: Northwestern picks up Tyler Lancaster, Brad North, and Macan Wilson.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^|
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
On to the full data after the jump.
Chris Brown of the website "Smart Football" (smartfootball.com) recently published a book called "The Essential Smart Football." In it, Brown compiles a set of previously written website articles that cover a broad range of topics. He organizes the chapters into four parts -- Characters, History, Theory, and Concepts.
In part four Brown offers a chapter titled, "Nick Saban's Defense School."
Given the upcoming game against Alabama I thought it might be interesting to summarize some of the points Brown makes in this chapter and offer a framework for discussion of what Michigan must do to effectively attack this defense and win.
DISCLAIMERS AND STARTING COMMENTS
- I strongly encourage people to pick up a copy of "The Essential Smart Football." It's a very good book.
- The article on Saban was originally written in 2008. I trust it's still relevant, otherwise Brown would not have included it in the book.
- I am by no means an expert in the X's and O's of football. I am, however, trying to learn more.
- I welcome any and all feedback that might help me and others understand further the tactical and strategic nuances of this wonderful game called Football.
SABAN'S PHILOSOPHY OF DEFENSE
The opening few pages of this chapter outlines the essence of Saban and his approach to defense:
- He's a disciple of Belichick ... he was a defensive backs coach under Belichick
- He tends to favor a 3-4, though he'll often go 4-3
- His stated goal is to stop the run on first and second downs
- He focuses on defending inside first, then outside
- He is very aggressive on passing downs
- He is attentive to technique and details
- His favorite defense is a variation on a "Cover 1" which Saban calls a "Cover 1 Robber"
- He tends to play zone with his secondary
Throughout this chapter, Chris Brown makes it clear none of this is particularly revolutionary or "tricky" in any way. At its core it is a relatively simple defensive approach that relies on execution and athletic ability. Alabama clearly gets good athletes. As to execution, Brown ends the chapter with, "Saban demands perfection and has no qualms about spending the grinding hours working on the finer details to make it happen."
"COVER 1 ROBBER" DEFENSE
The basic "Cover 1" defense (sans "Robber") is, as Brown writes, "...quite simple: the '1' refers to a deep safety who aligns in the middle while the offense's potential receivers are covered man-to-man, often with a press or bump-and-run technique. The defense needs a great center fielder at free safety who can stop the deep ball and cover sideline to sideline."
That's the basic "Cover 1." Brown writes that "once you've locked in five guys in man coverage along with a deep free safety, you can do whatever you want with the other five defenders." Further, "with just one free safety deep, the defense can get in a lot of eight-man fronts."
Recall Saban's approach -- stop the run, defend inside first.
The "'Cover 1 Robber' works in a similar manner, except there are only four rushers ... one drops back into an intermediate zone and pays close attention to the QB's eyes to try to 'rob' any pass routes over the middle." Brown writes: "The key is for the floater to be able to read run, screen or pass and to use his eyes to get to the receiver and the ball."
Here's what I think is a very relevant quote from the book -- "Cover 1 Robber is useful -- not perfect -- against spread offense teams with mobile quarterbacks because the floater may not only read the quarterback's eyes on passing downs but also to watch him for scrambles and to mirror him on run plays."
In a different chapter on Al Borges, Brown seeks to compare Borges to Rodriguez in terms of approach. Brown writes: "Under Rodriguez, Robinson was Michigan's offense, which began to eschew even the 'read' part of zone reads in favor of simply having Robinson keep it himself on an outside zone play, time and time again."
I bring this up not to stir that pot again, but to raise a question ... if we stipulate Brown's point, and we factor in another comment by Brown that the Cover 1 Robber is probably the most prevelant defense in the SEC, I wonder if this helps explain (at least in part) the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State?
Without effective constraint plays (see next) the Robber is free to cheat up and (maybe) the free safety as well. For all Denard's skills as a runner, I'm not sure even those skills can overcome two talented defensive players expecting QB runs and shadowing Robinson's playmaking.
Let's get back to Cover 1 Robber. As stated earlier, Saban tends to play zone with his corners, safeties and his "Robber." Brown then differentiates "pattern reading" versus "spot drops" within the zones. In essence, "spot drops" have defenders go to a particular spot within the zone, then react to the QB's eyes and the flight of the ball. In contrast, Brown writes: "Pattern reading, on the other hand, is much like matchup zone in basketball. Defenders are responsible for zones, but they play tight to the receivers who come through those zones." Pattern reading requires defenders who can, as the name implies, recognize passing patterns and react appropriately. And perhaps more importantly it requires well-executed passing-off of receivers to other defenders as receivers run their routes.
Saban likes to run Cover 1 Robber with pattern reading zone coverage. Again, to run this really well (which Alabama tends to do), it requires: (a) very good athletes that (b) understand and execute well.
Now ... there's little doubt Saban has all manner of variations to this, with different looks and adjustments. The point is that this appears to be Saban's favorite defense, or so says Chris Brown in that chapter of the book.
"Essential Smart Football" has a chapter titled, "The Constraint Theory of Offense." The basic idea is that over time a defense will "cheat" defenders up (or back) to attempt an advantage against the offense's base plays. A "constraint" play is one designed to strike at the weakness created by the defense's cheating. Thus an offense with a set of effective constraint plays can make a defense pay for, as Chris Brown writes, "their impatience."
So, for example, if the Robber tends to cheat up on run plays, a "constraint" play would be to hit a crossing receiver in that vacated zone. Do that enough and the cheating defender learns not to cheat up. This puts the defense back into what the offense can (it hopes) attack with its strength.
This brings up two questions I myself can't answer:
- Q1 -- Can Michigan's base offensive strengths match up and gain advantage against Alabama's base defensive play?
- Q2 -- What "constraint" plays does Borges have in mind to counter Alabama "cheating" on defense?
With all this on the table, now comes my attempt to put a framework around the upcoming game against Alabama.
MICHIGAN'S OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA'S DEFENSE
I reiterate my disclaimer earlier -- I'm only a novice at this X's and O's stuff. I eagerly invite more expert insight ... seriously ... help me :-)
It's almost cliche to write that the key to the game is "execution" and "avoiding mistakes." But just because it's cliche does not make it untrue.
Let's just stipulate that the team that plays sloppy, mistake-filled football loses the game. Or said another way, let's assume a reasonable level of execution and go from there. (Given it's the first game of the season that assumption is a bit of a stretch ... but still, we'll start there.)
I'll offer five thoughts as to Michigan's offense against this Cover 1 Robber:
(1) Offensive Line -- in the absence of specific blitz packages, the Cover 1 Robber has only four rushing. The other seven defenders are back in zone or covering potential receivers or runners. So can Michigan's offensive line provide adequate protection against that defensive front? I'm of the thinking that defensive penetration into the backfield is the cornerstone of defeat for an offense. Can Michigan's line, playing reasonably well, keep Alabama's line at bay?
(2) Denard Robinson -- specifically, has his decision making improved such that he can pass against this zone defense loaded with really talented athletes? Further, how well can Denard disguise what his eyes are looking at? In a video of Al Borges a few months back Borges commented how he likes the winged helmets because they allow him (Borges), when reviewing film, to see where the quarterback was looking. It seems reasonable it would also help a defender see where Robinson is looking. If Robinson stares down his receivers too much, that might give Alabama zone defenders enough to read and react.
(3) Receivers -- can they find seams in the Alabama zones and stay open enough for Robinson to reach them? This is predicated the success of item 1 above. Not many teams were successful in that last year. But of course Alabama lost a great deal of last year's talent.
(4) Touissant+Robinson -- meaning, the run game. Alabama is famously tough up the middle. As stated earlier, Saban's philosophy is to defend inside first, then outside. To the extent the run is available at all it may be outside ... and then can Touissant and Robinson exploit? My knowledge of offensive football really falls down here ... I do not know enough about running offense to begin to speculate on how this part of the game might be attacked. Any insights?
(5) Constraint Plays -- what does Borges have up his sleeves to keep the Alabama offense honest? And will whatever he has be effective? One of the things Brown mentions in the book is that the West Coast philosophy as espoused by Bill Walsh was to attack with passing on first and second down precisely because defenses are stacking against the run on first and second. Saban has said as much. Can Borges and Michigan make any hay here? Should they even try?
As I wrap this up I'll confess I'm left with no solid answers. I really don't know what will happen. I have oodles of hope about what will happen, however.
So we're back to cliche -- it's about execution ... first on the line, then in effective play selection and execution against what Alabama offers on defense. From there it becomes which is the better team on the field on that day.
If you’ve read enough of my pieces you know I don’t put a lot of stock in most of what football announcers talk about. Whether it is harmless and/or mindless cliches or things that are flat out wrong, much of football announcer conventional wisdom is more conventional than wisdom.
One of those cliches I wanted to look at was the concept that coaches love to go for the kill shot after a big momentum change like a turnover or a stop on downs. After a big defensive play, are coaches really trying to seize the opportunity and turn an expected possession into a quick score, and if so, is it working.
One thing to note is that a quick change does not significantly impact the offense’s ability to score. After adjusting for field position, there is virtually no difference in the offense’s expected points whether the drive was obtained by turnover, fourth down stop, punt or kickoff. Of course the field position is a win, but intercepting a ball 40 yards downfield on third down yields no existential benefit over knocking it down and fair catching a 40 yard punt on the next play. Punts and stops on fourth down have very slight positive impacts and turnovers actually decrease a team’s likelihood of scoring, but the effect is so small it’s typically not even worth a field goal over the course of an entire season.
So there is no special advantage of the big defensive play for the offensive side, but how often does the offense attempt to capitalize in a big way right off the bat. To evaluate this you have to figure out what you can measure. There aren’t really running plays that are designed to be big plays, except maybe a reverse, but that’s hard to identify over a large set of data. Same with trick plays. You can’t even tell where a pass is thrown. Was it a screen or a deep ball. Both could be incomplete or big plays.
To try and and answer the question the best approximation I could find was how often the first play of a drive was a pass and went for at least 20 yards. More big passing plays than in other situations would be a good indicator that teams were gunning for a quick strike. For the baseline I looked at drives obtained via kickoff, either after a made field goal, touchdown or start of a half. For these drives, only 8.9% of first plays were passes for at least 20 yards.
Drives resulting from a turnover on downs generated the highest deviation in successful attempts down field, producing big pass plays nearly 35% more often than the baseline scenario. Interceptions and punts were right behind with a 32% increase in big play generation. Coaches were still aggressive but to a lesser extent after a recovered fumble or an opponent’s missed field goals, producing big completions just over 20% more often. Despite safeties being a big momentum swing, that was the most conservative scenario for coaches long passes being less likely than any other scenario, even after adjusting for less field to work with. Even with large deviations, we still aren’t talking about this being a regular occurrence. The baseline is just under 9% and no situation generated more than 12% big pass plays.
So even though the question was answered that yes big plays do happen more frequently in this situation, there are still many things that I am unsure about. Is the increase in big plays because the defense is unprepared for the cliche move or because the opportunity for a big pass play is always there but the offense just doesn’t go for it as much in normal course of play. On top of that, is the increase success coming at a risk for offenses. As noted above, despite getting more big plays on the first play of the new drive, offenses aren’t actually scoring any more points on these drives. Maybe for each big momentum piling pass there are two incompletions that put the offense in an unnecessarily risky situation.
Having exhausted the stretches of my data my personal conjecture would be that yes offenses are going for the jugular at a higher rate immediately after a big defensive play. However, this strategy is probably a high deviation, zero average change result for both offense and defense. The evidence points to teams taking more and completing more big passes, but the untold story are the misses which are the likely culprit to the big defensive play not translating into any measurable offensive boom.
Based on the data and my inferences off of it, if I were advising coaches I would not recommend introducing the new risk to the offense and play it straight unless I was in a trailing or underdog situation. Defensivley, I would make sure the team is prepared to cover a big attempt. This should help reduce the likelihood of the big play for the opposing offense and hopefully increase the likelihood of a wasted down, putting the quick start defense in a good position right off of the bat.
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For most of us, our fanatical and absolute devotion to Michigan sports have gotten us into some degree of hot water at the workplace. Few of us would be so indignant, of course, but that wouldn't necessarily make for good reading, would it?
On Thursday we'll keep up with Tom and his ongoing altercation with THE MAN, namely the eternally grumpy Mr. Boyle.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least
every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out our newest
feature, Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.