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Last week we took a look at run defenses, and concluded that Rutgers isn’t the steaming pile of hilarity we’re all expecting. This week, we’re taking the same look at pass defenses. Spoiler alert: Rutgers IS the steaming pile of hilarity we’re all expecting. If not steamier and… uh… more pile-like. The question at hand is as follows: who will have the best pass defense in the Big Ten in 2014?
If you’ve forgotten, we’re just taking a simple two-step process: we look at how good teams were last year at a thing, and we look at attrition among the folks responsible for the thing. Our key assumptions are as follows:
- Experience is good and, all other things being equal, makes things better than they were.
Were they good last year?
Again, this is the easier piece.
Yards per attempt allowed, adjusted for sacks: YPA is generally considered the statistical gold standard for overall goodness of passing games, so it is a pretty useful stat for demonstrating pass defense (It is almost certainly superior to cumulative stats. Yards per game can be misleading based on differing numbers of attempts; Purdue was middle of the pack in terms of YPG allowed, but that’s only because they faced fewer passes because their run defense was so ungodly atrocious, and they were usually behind, so offenses didn’t really feel the need to throw the ball).
We've adjusted for sacks, counting a sack as a pass attempt, which makes sense because if you drop back five times, and complete one pass for 10 yards while getting sacked four times, your yards per attempt should really reflect the fact that attempting to pass went poorly most of the time.
|Team||YPA - sack adj.|
Passing S&P+ Defense: Click the link for a thorough explanation, but it is an advanced statistical model analyzing what defenses allow on a given play against what you would expect. Advantages are that it takes opponent strength into account, it factors in sacks, and it filters out garbage time. Numbers are national rankings.
20+ yard passing plays per game: Completions happen. A team will often gladly offer an opponent a 10 yard completion on 3rd and 17. But 20+ yard completions are a strong indication of a pass defense prone to breakdowns, and one that cannot do the thing it is trying to do.
|Team||20+ yard passes/game|
Sacks per game: Sacks can be either a cause of good pass defense or a symptom of good pass defense. A quality pass rush will lead to better defensive results when the opponent tries to pass the ball (see: Nebraska and Ohio State), and solid coverage will lead to more chances for the pass rush to get home with “coverage sacks” (see: Michigan State). It’s hard to separate the two causal possibilities, but for our purposes we don’t need to. They’re both good.
Putting it together
Here is how the teams shake out in rough order of how they fared in the above categories, with emphasis on the first two categories.
Like last week the teams generally break out into four tiers:
MSU – MSU.
- Again, they get their own tier because obviously.
Pretty Good – Iowa, Wisconsin.
- Great YPA numbers, minimized big plays, didn’t get home much on pass rush.
Meh - Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota.
- The great undifferentiated mass of mediocre pass defenses. All allowed between 5.87 and 6.30 YPA (other than Maryland, who played a weaker schedule last year). All but Northwestern had S&P+ pass rankings between 41st and 64th.
Butt (NJB) – Purdue, Rutgers, Indiana, Illinois.
- If you’re curious, all four of these teams performed comparably with, and perhaps even worse than, Michigan’s 2010 pass defense.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Attrition tolls for thee. If thee be Ohio State or Nebraska]
The highs dispensed of, we can focus on the real Michigan specialty: lows. This is an attempt to document the absolute worst players inflicted upon Michigan fans during Lloyd Carr's tenure as head coach. This is sort of a mean thing to do, since even the worst Michigan players are amongst the top 1% of football players anywhere. It's kind of like making fun of Darko, even though Darko's richer than you and way, way better at basketball than you.
Anyway, this is also a season-by-season evaluation, with special emphasis given to extended presence in the lineup. Tyrece Butler wasn't very good but he was the fourth wide receiver at best and thus did not impact Michigan's fate as much as Pat Massey did in 2005.
In sum: we're trying to find the guys at each position that make you think "how did that guy spend that much time on the field?" This is less laser-focused on years; some career aspects are taken into account.
Pat Massey 2005. Massey is one of four unholy locks that cannot be disagreed upon. (The others: Todd Howard, Ryan Mundy, and John Navarre.) A 6'8" defensive tackle instructed to eat a lot of pizza by cutting-edge S&C coach Mike Gittleson, Massey spent 2005 moonwalking downfield against single blocking. At no point did he ever threaten to enter the opponent's backfield. He spent more time on his back than former Notre Dame AD Kevin White at a meeting with NBC (zing!). He probably thought the line of scrimmage started somewhere around the safeties.
Choice bits on Massey from the blog's past follow. 2005's OSU UFR:
Massey(-1) is crushed off the snap ... Massey also gets crushed by single blocking. ... Running right at Massey again, who crumples backwards under the force of two blockers ... Clear evidence of Massey(-1) being a part of the opponent gameplan here. He's blown off the ball a couple yards by one blocker. The center doesn't even chip anyone and immediately plows into Harris.
If only Massey played as purty as he talked. He's 6'8", and there's a reason you've never heard of a 6'8" DT before: every play someone gets under this hypothetical giant's pads and drives him five yards backwards. Massey's only contribution this year was pursuing on screens.
Moving from defensive end in the 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive tackle was a disaster for Massey, who may as well have been named "Crumpled" by the end of the year. We should have seen it coming--when was the last time you saw a 6'8", 285-pound defensive tackle? When is the next time? I'm guessing "never" and "never again."
A review of the defensive losses after the 2005 season:
This is probably the most effective summary of his career: though he started for three years he finished with exactly four TFLs that were not sacks. All four came as a sophomore, two against Houston and two against Indiana. As a senior he had 29 tackles, one for loss. That was a sack against Michigan State where Woodley crushed two blockers, forcing Stanton to scramble back into a trailing Massey. Whoever replaces him would have to try very hard indeed to do less.
You get the idea. By all accounts he was a great guy Carr loved like a son, but... yeah. Crumplestiltskin.
Shawn Lazarus, 2001. I admit I'm guessing on this one, my memory of mediocre defensive tackles being sketchy. However, Michigan's had a parade of fringe-or-better NFL players at the position and Lazarus was one of the few to miss out. I do have lingering memories of him as the least productive of the Caucasian pride parade that was Michigan's line from about 1999 to 2002. The stats back me up:
|Career Defense for Shawn Lazarus|
2000 was a year mostly spent as a backup, but in 2001 Lazarus had 12 starts and turned in 16 tackles. Stats aren't the be-all and end-all for defensive tackles, but even so... that's not good production, and he was one of the few non-Massey defensive tackles at Michigan to be completely overlooked by all-conference teams and the NFL. (Lazarus turned in a better senior year, FWIW, with 30 tackles and 6 TFLs.)
Sidenote: Lazarus is now a motivational speaker of the Scared Straight variety:
"Where Can You Find Shawn Lazarus?"
Youth can either listen to me now or in the Juvenile Court System.
Honorable(?) Mention: The other guy considered for the second spot was -- gulp -- Will Johnson, who had a pretty meh 2007 and was partially responsible for the weak run defense last year.
Dan Rumishek, 2000. This could have been any defensive end on the 2000 team, which featured Rumishek starting ten games on the strongside and four players, all of whom were basically terrible, on the weakside: Evan Coleman, a freshman Larry Stevens, Alain Kashama, and Shantee Orr. Orr was the only one who would go on to the NFL, and he only had two starts. (Injury?)
At the time, Rumishek was a sophomore, and it showed. He finished the year with 24 tackles and one lonely sack. When that's your best defensive end... well.
Larry Stevens, 2003. This may not be entirely fair, but if the point of this team is to identify guys who had inexplicably vast amounts of playing time, Stevens has got to be up there. He arrived at Michigan a high school safety and was immediately placed on the defensive line, seeing a couple starts at DE as a freshman -- more evidence the 2000 season was not a banner year for the position.
Steven's junior year was mediocre at best, but it's Stevens' senior season that comes in for scruity here: 27 tackles, 4 sacks in 13 games. Three of those sacks came against Houston and the first Notre Dame team to get housed 38-0. (Towards the end, the student section chanted "Houston's better" at the beleagured Irish.) Against the rest of the schedule Stevens notched one sack, that versus Purdue.
Surprisingly, Stevens collected 16 tackles over a couple years with the Bengals.
Honorable(?) Mention: Larry Harrison's one year as a starter was as a 3-4 defensive end. He was okay at it, but spent his offseason showing his bits to anyone who didn't want to see them, which was everyone. Can we put David Bowens' junior and senior years in this category? They were spent at Western Illinois, after all, and just after Bowens broke Michigan's single-season sack record.