I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
cover two zone
Shouldn't Spock be in this?
Hi. Me. Back. So before that much-appreciated vacation, I used this space to talk about constraint theory of offense and provide a rock-paper-scissors matrix for offensive/defensive play calling in various offenses. Today I'm on to Part III, the one where I tell you that Rock-Paper-Scissors is only a fraction of the football head game, because the actual decision trees are far too complicated for even a coach to play all of the interactions, let alone teach them. Moreover, unlike in RPS, or super-advanced-nuclear-capable-canid RPS, there are levels to things: scissors cuts paper better than it cuts (but still cuts) woven kevlar.
Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game you learn to play on the bus ride to school in 2nd grade or thereabouts. It is a very simple, 2-dimensional, triangular matrix:
…meaning every point interacts with every other. It's one dimension past a coin flip but you still only need to remember three interactions (yellow lines). Based on your personal capacity for testing the limits of social institutions, you either very quickly or eventually tried to insert an additional dimension to the triangular matrix, and realized that you were exponentially increasing the amount of interactions you had to remember.
Your 2nd grade mind didn't draw this; it just exploded the same way it might if you interlaced Grbac to Howard, Wangler to Carter and Robinson to Roundtree into the same video. Then it came up with a brilliant way to add a point without adding dimensions:
Bazooka!!! Bazooka blows up rock. Bazooka turns scissors into mangled slag. Bazooka leaves only scant streaks of carbon where once was paper. This idea is not totally silly, since defensive coordinators call bazooka like all. the. time.
Bazooka = Vanilla
Just as the offense wants to get really good at one basic thing and then do that thing all the time, many defenses are deploying the same concept. It's a bit harder for them because they have to react to various offenses on the schedule and various plays, but the concept's the same: the defense wants to stay in a scheme that is basically sound, and will mix in blitzes and different coverages as constraints, so that they can keep running their well-practiced, mostly sound blanket defense. Bazooka is a jack of all trades, solid against the run, solid against the pass, solid against tomfoolery, and vulnerable only to great offensive play and their own physical/mental limitations.
Defenses are a bit more varied than offenses but the most popular vanilla D these days, as I mentioned in the earlier discussions, is a Cover-2 zone (above-left) against run-first teams, or the Tampa 2 against pass-ier teams (above-right).
The difference between those two is in the MLB's coverage duties—in a Tampa he has the deep middle, in a regular Cover 2 he has the short middle and can be more involved in the run game. Everybody, including the cornerbacks, are hovering around close enough to gang-attack running plays like a pincer; and soft spots in the zone (everyone has them) are relatively small and difficult for non-accurate quarterbacks.
If these guys are all reacting correctly and aggressively to the run, if the cover guys are fast enough to close their zones, and the four rushers can generate pressure with regularity, this defense can bazooka anybody's rock, paper, scissors, candle, Vulcan, or whatever. Of course that is way easier said than done—remember offenses are recruiting, training, practicing, and designed for attacking this scheme.
Offensive rock is made to beat defensive bazooka. I want you to look at the above and imagine various offenses succeeding against them. ISO running forces the linebackers to read run, read the hole, and get there in time to take out a lead blocker and lead runner who by design are getting there ASAP. West Coast passing lives in those soft spots under and between the coverage. Air Raids attempt to warp the zones into providing bigger holes by flooding and stretching them. Option running makes a balanced coverage into an effective numbers advantage for the offense at the point of attack. Vanilla defense is made to stop whatever's thrown their way, and offenses gain success by making Mr. Jack-of-All die a consistent bleeding death.
To see vanilla defense in action throw a dart at any recording of Iowa in the last 12 years; their M.O. is to stick to this maniacally. The converse in-conference would be Michigan State. On the way home from Europe this weekend I randomly sat next to MSU LB Chris Norman. Other than "Wisconsin's offense was way tougher than any of the SEC teams," and "lol Michigan's uniforms last year," Norman happily admitted "YAARRGGH SPARTY SMASH!!" is the coaches' favorite blitz, and that they'll run it or something like it more than any other play. Some teams like paper.
So there are exceptions but the exceptions can be beat with your properly executed scissors. The point remains that all matrices aside, much about football comes down to defeating your opponent's bazooka, or vanilla thing, or "rock" defense with your rock. If you recognize this particular bit of wisdom from DeBordian philosophy, well yes in this DeBord is absolutely right. But if you don't properly mix in your constraints, and you always run rock to the same spot/guy out of the same formation, and you shuffle your fullba…uh let's not go there.
Next time (last one? I think it is but I keep stretching these): What's Our Rock?
Why so the suck against Indiana? A few things leapt out on the tape. One was YAC given up by a physical inability to be close enough to the receiver to tackle on the catch. This is the James Rogers problem, and it isn't going away. Another problem might: freshman defensive backs think "zone" means "man." BWS caught an instance of this and picture-paged Courtney Avery giving up a big gainer on third and sixteen because he dragged out of his zone.
That was an excellent example of cover three. Here Michigan will run cover two and get nailed on it. However, it's not Avery's aggressive coverage that's the problem here, it's the Michigan zone's obviousness and inflexibility.
The setup: Michigan is trying to keep Indiana out of the endzone on the final drive of the first half. IU's driven it just inside the Michigan 40 and has a second and ten. They come out in their bunch shotgun set. Michigan shows two high safeties:
At the snap four guys rush and Michigan is obviously in zone. They have JT Floyd and Mouton in the middle of the field, Courtney Avery playing in the slot, Terrence Talbott and James Rogers on the outside, and Kovacs and Gordon as deep safeties. Mouton drops into a zone to cover a potential slant and Floyd is sitting in the middle of the field about ten yards deep:
A split second later we see what's going on with this bunch at the bottom of the screen: two short routes breaking inside and out with one guy headed deeper. Rogers is essentially motionless as Avery starts moving with the interior WR:
Avery follows… Rogers is motionless…
Avery follows… Rogers still not going anywhere… IU receiver still running to the sticks… Chappell throwing…
Alert: someone done failed.
Gordon comes over to clean up:
Indiana gets a first down inside the 20.
UPDATE: duh forgot the clip.
Who's at fault here? I don't know. I don't think anyone, really. Some guesses at object lessons:
- This, like Odoms sitting way down in the hole, is a pass that takes advantage of cover two. The sideline 15-20 yards downfield is always a weak spot. Not a lot of quarterbacks can exploit that as ruthlessly as Chappell can, though in this instance it's so open a lot of QBs could make the play.
- Michigan made this read easy by showing cover two and running it. Chappell knew it was zone because Michigan just about always plays zone and did not put another guy over the bunch, and as soon as Rogers sat down on the out he knew the corner was going to be open.
- Advanced zone defenses that use pattern reading can adapt to these routes better. I'm not sure about this, but the key is that someone has to be responsible for #2 going vertical and go with him. That would be either Avery or Rogers. The other would come up on the out, leaving the drag to Floyd. Michigan doesn't do this here and probably doesn't ever do it because they've got a secondary with three sophomores, two freshmen, and positional vagabond James Rogers. Also some defensive coaches think pattern reading is suboptimal for reasons I'm not 100% clear on yet.
- Avery seems like he's in great position if this was man coverage. He also broke up a slant against BG impressively. If Michigan ever ran man I bet he'd be pretty good at it. Can they do that? Eh… maybe against teams that don't spread the field. Here I think his coverage is good given the situation and the assumption Michigan is not pattern reading.
- But it's not man and the freshman corners do this all the time. There's the BWS post with an example, and Indiana's last touchdown was Terrence Talbott in great man coverage on a slant… when he had a zone to the short side of the field that held Darius Willis and no one else once he covered the slant.
- Can Gordon do anything more here? I don't think so, but I'm asking anyone with the knowledge. Is the safety's role here tackle and live to fight another day? What if this was Reggie Nelson?
There is some good news: Michigan did adapt to this route pattern, stoning it several times late. Indiana adjusted by sending the deep WR on a post and Floyd dropped back into it, forcing Chappell to chuck it high.
Last time on Picture Pages, Denard Robinson got Roy Roundtree killed against UConn by being too impatient to throw on a curl-flat combo. This time things will go a bit better.
The setup has Michigan in a four-wide formation with ND in a two-deep shell and a 3-4 defense—this is slightly unusual since ND spent most of the day in a 4-3:
Michigan starts the play with a zone stretch fake, pulling Schilling around to act as the lead blocker Shaw was on the previous play:
Roundtree's come in like he's going to block as Odoms heads upfield:
Roundtree then breaks outside as Walls rubs Odoms, pushing him out of bounds briefly. If this was man coverage Roundtree would be open, but if it's zone it'll be Odoms, or you can also take a look at Grady running well behind the linebackers, all of whom have sucked up to either the zone stretch fake or the threat of Robinson on the edge:
It was right about here, if not earlier, that Denard threw the ball against UConn:
But as you can see from the downfield perspective, that would have been a bad idea since the corner is disconnecting from Odoms and coming upfield. If he had thrown it above, the ball would be about halfway to Roundtree right here:
This probably would have led to another decleating hit. But Denard sees the play developing and waits. A split second later Odoms sits down on a fifteen-yard hitch. He's wide open:
ND's Harrison Smith doesn't know what to do with both Grady and Odoms open in front of him. Robinson zing:
Odoms picks up some YAC…
…and it's 21 yards.
- Most of the same stuff from the last post. Michigan will see a lot of zone. Most of the routes they run will be designed to beat it. Robinson is going to be expected to high-low cover two corners a ton, not least because a hard cover two corner gives the defense much better containment on the edge than a cover three where the corners bail out into deep zones.
- Holy pants wide open receivers again. The Roundtree and Odoms catches were more spectacular and the end result of this play had nothing to do with the linebackers, but Kelvin Grady is screamingly wide open on this play too because Manti Te'o is hurtling towards the line of scrimmage and Calabrese sucked in towards the zone stretch fake. Michigan should have run more play action, though I guess it's hard to criticize what the offense did when it wasn't getting flags in its face.
- Denard is learning stuff. Obviously. I haven't gotten through everything yet and do remember a period in the fourth quarter where he was looking pretty wobbly, but the coaches probably spent a bunch of time this week working on Denard's mistakes and getting his patience right for various plays. So far there haven't been any plays against Notre Dame where I thought "that throw is way too late/early" except one on which Robinson dodged a blitzer and had his timing disrupted.
- Odoms is just fine as an outside receiver. It would be nice if he was a towering colossus of speed but given Robinson's strengths it's better to have a reliable mountain goat and experienced route-runner who can sit down in the right spots and catch the balls zinged to him. It seems clear that going over the top is not one of Robinson's strengths, at least not right now.