The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
Among this year's great disappointments has been the understandable, but nonetheless depressing, regression of 2013 Michigan's two best defensive players. Jake Ryan looks lost at MLB. Blake Countess is now the third or fourth best cornerback on this roster. Both appear to be a direct result of the offseason decision to switch from Michigan's 4-3 under/zone defense to a jam-man, nickel/4-3 over base.
I'm sure Brian is going to cover Jake Ryan with a picture pages, so I thought I'd zoom in on a play that's demonstrative of what's happening with Countess, and how that's hurting the defense. This is the first of Rutgers's many 3rd down conversions. Michigan had a backside blitz on with the front seven and was playing man-high pass D. Rutgers ran a pick route from the trips tight formation:
This is a standard thing you do against man coverage. The Y receiver will run his route directly in the path of the cornerback trying to guard the outside (Z) receiver. It works just a like a perimeter screen in basketball: the pick man and the defender following him create a wall between the target and his defender…
Voila: easy pass…
…which is unfortunate because a certain Rutgers lineman blew his MIKE assignment and Jake Ryan was about to turn Gary Nova into paste. Jeremy Clark then compounded matters by setting up too far inside and turned it into a big play.
To a degree you might RPS this, because Rutgers called a pick route against man coverage, and Nova pointed right at the matchups to show his guys they had what they wanted. But the way Michigan's defense is supposed to work is for man-tight to be a base play, and there is absolutely a way to defend this pass with Michigan's defensive call… [jump] [also if you're at work maybe put your headsets on because you know what's coming]
Just the sheer number of passing yards you allowed; was there a consistent breakdown you saw or…?
“Well, you’re right. The numbers- anytime you give up six big plays, and you know our stand on big plays has always been we can’t have that to have a successful defense. I don’t ever remember giving up that many big plays, and one of them was for 80 yards, I believe, [and] another was for 50-some. The numbers will add up pretty quick when that happens.
“The quarterback had a great game. He made some really, really great plays. We busted on a couple. We didn’t keep the ball inside and in front, and when that happens 30 yards gains could become 50 yards or bigger and we’ve got to get that corrected, and that’s me. That’s up to me to make sure that doesn’t happen again and we get it corrected and we’ll start on it right away.”
Was it one player or-
“No, it was the defense. It was the team defense. It’s never one player. No. And it’s like, you’re playing really, really good and then something happens like that and then you get back to doing it again and again and sometimes the first down that is third-and-10 is as big as a fifty-yarder. And they all seem to be the same things, where you’ve got to make a tackle, where you’ve got to keep a ball inside and in front, where you try to pressure, when you pressure and all of a sudden you hit one and it’s a sixty-yarder. So it’s a matter of different things. Six big plays, different things at different times that we’ve got to get corrected.”
Where are your defensive backs in the process of being able to recognize a situation and say, ‘We need to switch things’ on the field and make a change?
“Well, I think everybody- I don’t think it is the scheme of the coverage. I think it’s a different person not executing the coverage. I think it’s a different person not getting the sack when he had a stunt that said that this was what was going to happen and if you do it we’ve got one. It’s never a corner, it’s never a safety, it’s never a defensive end, it’s never a linebacker, it’s everybody. That’s what your job is, to make sure you get those corrected and get those handled and the thing that’s frustrating is that hasn’t happened before. It hasn’t happened, and we’ve got to get that nipped immediately. And the thing I do say is this quarterback, with his feet and with a couple of the receivers, with their skill all coming together showed that six or seven times and we can’t let that happen.”
MGoQuestion: Can you walk us through what happened on the 80-yard touchdown pass?
“Yeah, I know exactly what happened on the 80-yard touchdown pass is we called a defense where a safety would be lower than usual to be able to help with the run and we didn’t get inside enough with another defensive back, and knowing the whole scheme of the defense, knowing where you’re a little bit weak- whenever you call a defense there’s always somebody that has a little bit more on his plate than everybody else or otherwise you’re going to run just straight generic defenses all the time, and it’s just a matter of everybody being focused in at that time to say, ‘Okay, I’m the one that can’t do this. I can’t bite on this out route right now. I can’t bite on this route because we’re a little bit weaker here’ and they happened to have the perfect call. They called a play-action pass. The guy- we bit on it and they hit. And that’s what happened.”
[After THE JUMP: Mattison needs his defense to hit, and he isn’t referring to tackling]
Could you please identify yourself for those of us who don’t know you?
“Oh, okay. Greg Mattison. I’m the defensive coordinator.”
Coach, you were playing in your half of the field the entire third quarter. That drive right before the half: talk about in terms of what it did maybe getting the momentum-
“Well, I don’t think it changed anything when we went in at halftime. I was disappointed in that. The thing I was looking at there was that if we could stop them and had a timeout left we could possibly get the ball on a short field for our offense, and that’s my mistake. We didn’t get it done and whenever we don’t get it done I look at myself first, and as I looked at the tape- you know, third down…that’s why I don’t believe in stats a lot. Our third downs were adequate. They were adequate.
“There were some second downs we had to do better that we gave up some chunks of yardage [on], but to answer your question you’re exactly right. As I was making the calls, as that was happening I said to myself, ‘We’ve got to stop them here and get that ball for the offense. They’re going to have a heck of a shot at possibly having a short field.’ And then they hit the screen, which they did twice, which was just a very well-educated play and that comes down to one guy making a tackle and the guy made us miss.”
Greg, Joe Bolden after the game Saturday talked about kind of a lack of execution and said that was a big problem. [He] mentioned wrapping guys up with David Cobb. What can these guys learn from that? He was really the first guy to run over you guys this season?
“I don’t know if he ran over us but he did better against us than we want anybody to do. He’s a very good running back. I’ve already addressed that with our linebackers and with our defense. We’ve got to play a lot more physical. That was the first time that I felt that we weren’t the leaders in being physical against that offense, and it was guys not getting off blocks, it was guys punching and things that we’ve worked very hard on all camp and just not being physical. I didn’t feel we were as physical as we should be and have to be and we’re working on correcting that right now.”
Is that a defense-wide issue?
“Yeah. It’s total defense. Not just one position, it was total defense. I just didn’t think…you know, we take pride and have all year, take pride in being a very physical team on defense and I just don’t think we did as well as we should have there in that game.”
[After THE JUMP: Greg Mattison scouts Rutgers]
“Hello, everybody. I almost didn’t make it today. I was kind of busy over there trying to get ready for this next one. Somebody had to tell me to come but it’s good to see everybody. Go ahead.”
Greg, the run defense remains a strength. I know that the secondary needs some work, though. Overall, what’s your assessment of your defense through four games?
“I don’t look at four games. I always look at the last game. We didn’t win. There’s a point when you become- and that’s our goal, to become a great defense, is you do whatever you have to to win. You do whatever you have to. And that in a lot of places means don’t even let them get in the end zone in any way. Am I proud of these guys? I’ve told you from day one I really like these guys. I mean, I like how they work. I like what they bring to the meeting room every day. I like what they bring to the practice field. I like how they compete. Do we do it perfect all the time [and] have we? No. And do we have to keep working to do that? Yes. Until we do whatever we possibly have to do to get the win then we haven’t totally reached the mark.”
Coach, I’ll have you comment on a couple of things. One, the breakthrough on producing a score on defense, but then the drive that they had coming out of the second half.
“Getting the score, that’s a guy playing hard in practice every day. That’s a guy doing the things [he needs to]. That’s a guy improving, Willie Henry. That was a guy making a play that he had to make a play and we’ve talked about him, too, [and] what he’s done since the day he got here. His improvement. Becoming mature, practice habits, all that and that’s great to see that happen for him. Same thing for Frank [Clark]. That sack he got was a big league sack. Those things happen because you work hard and you practice hard.
“Coming out in the second half at half time…they got us on two plays that were corrected immediately after that happened. It’s a shame that I didn’t see it quicker. It’s a shame that I didn’t do something after the first time to eliminate- it was the exact same play that scored a touchdown on it and that’s where maybe I need to see that quicker from what happened and stop that one touchdown and, again, that’s my job. But they adjusted then and that’s how they got there. That’s what happened after [the] half.”
Jake Ryan had a career-high 13 tackles. He has an unorthodox way of doing things sometimes but gets the job done. Talk about the essence of Jake Ryan as a defensive force.
“Well, Jake and Joe [Bolden]. I’ll put them together. Your linebackers in this defense have got to make a lot of plays because you’re getting very good play out of the front in front of them. When the front demands double teams and when the front does what they’ve been doing then there are so many times when a linebacker, if he does what he’s supposed to do with his footwork, with his keys, with his recognition, is there with nobody blocking him. Now make the tackle. And their effort, Joe and Jake, their effort, their toughness, their playing what I consider linebacker, that’s been good and we’ve got to keep getting better.”
But Jake in particular. I touched on his unorthodox manner sometimes in getting the job done. Can you talk about him in particular?
“I don’t know what unorthodox is. To me, it’s when the ball carrier has the football and you tackle him, you’re playing linebacker. Sometimes they’re not picture-perfect tackles. Sometimes you may not be perfect with your footwork, stepping down and all of a sudden coming back. Jake’s been unorthodox since the day he got here. You know, that’s Jake and that’s why I love him but I can’t say it enough: Joe being in there with him, Joe doing what he’s doing- I mean, I don’t know what you had him for tackles but I had him the same way with pretty close. And we’ve just got to keep them both doing what they’re doing and it’s the front that’s helping them do that.”
[After THE JUMP: playing euchre, wrestling Hoke, and other tales of a 30-year friendship]
“Alright, let’s get going on this next one. Go ahead, start it right out.”
As far as pass rushing, your guys are getting there. Like Frank [Clark] said last week, they’re not always finishing the job but what’s your outlook on the pass rushing so far?
“Well, you know, I’m happy with their effort. I look at practice. I look at practice all the time and I believe that what you see in practice is what you’re going to see in games and, you know, the ball gets out quick a lot of times. You can’t judge a pass rush based on whether you get sacks or not. The thing that you want to look at is how many times were you hitting the quarterback and how many times are you getting to him. I was happy with how our kids worked. When I look at the film, one of the biggest things I always look for is effort. The effort and the technique that they’re being taught and I think in that game those kids up front worked very, very hard the whole game. Late in the game they were running to the football like they should. Late in the game they were going as hard as they could on the pass rush.
“There’s a couple times the ball got outside of us on a pass rush. The first thing that somebody always wants to say is, ‘Oh, he lost contain.’ You start having guys just run up the field outside to make sure the quarterback doesn’t get outside, you’ll never have a pass rush. That happened to be a quarterback that did a nice job of using his feet when a pass rusher was engaged in a blocker so to answer your question we’re getting better. We’re getting better at it and we’ll continually get better at it.”
You talk about effort and technique on film. What did you see out of Jabrill Peppers at cornerback along those lines?
“I think our entire secondary made strides this past week and I think they have a lot of pride and I think they didn’t enjoy what they saw the week before. We’re all about trying to fix it, make sure we’re competing every day and then get the guys out there that are going to compete and go after it. I think Jabrill showed during the week that he was working really hard at it and he did the same thing during the game.”
With Jeremy Clark, Brady touched on that he’s learned that the physical skills that will get you by in high school won’t work up here and getting his technique and fundamentals down. What have you seen from this year that’s sort of taken him to the level where he’s become a starter?
“Well, the thing- you said it exactly right. He has a lot of physical talent. He’s a great looking young man that can run, that plays hard, that’s a great kid. When you’re out there at safety in our defense things happen real fast, and you have to make sure you’re making the right checks. If you don’t, if you aren’t where you’re supposed to be you’re asking for something bad to happen to 10 other guys so I think that this is a learning process that he’s had to learn from. Jarrod Wilson has done a great job of showing him what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it and I think he’s listened. He’s worked very hard at it and he’s just touching it right now. He’s not even close. He’s got time yet and I’m very pleased with how hard he’s working.”
[After THE JUMP: Mattison’s three keys to a good defense]
“Well, let’s get right to it. Obviously disappointed that we didn’t win the football game and disappointed that we didn’t do a couple of things better on defense and we’ve got to work about correcting those right now. Our players came in with a great attitude and we as coaches I think have a great attitude and that’s one bump in the road that we have to get over and go to the next one.”
I’m sure there are a few things on your list but is not forcing turnovers to this point pretty high up there?
“Yeah. The thing about that football game, and I felt it on the sidelines- I don’t know if ever you played against a good opponent where you held them to fifty-some yards rushing, and usually those stats can be misled, but not when a team rushes thirty times or twenty-some times for fifty yards. That part of it you said, ‘Hey, we’re fine here.’ The thing that we didn’t do that we have to is the same thing we didn’t do in the first game: we’ve got to play better red zone defense. That’s really hurt us. We have to, when we get down in the red zone, and all it takes when you get down in the red zone is one bad play and that’s gotten us. I think in the red zone we went to third down one time, they scored. Next time it was fourth down. That makes a whole difference in a ball game.
“The other thing is we’ve got to get turnovers. That’s hurting our team and that was a big emphasis for us. And I think the other thing that we didn’t live up to what I expected us to was third downs. The stats, they’re misleading again. What were they? Eight- or seven-for-fifteen? They hit some really crucial third downs in the first half and, you know, third down is third down. You get it, you get it. And there’s a couple [where] the guy’s feet…just perfect throw, perfect catch. But that doesn’t matter. You have to stop them on third down to be a great defense. Those are three places that we have to get better and for us as a team our defense needs to do that and we didn’t.”
How much, if any, concern about pass rush is neutered by the fact that they were getting the ball out so quickly?
“Yeah, I thought our pass rush- watching the tape we had some guys that were doing some pretty darn good things and the ball was coming out really quick which is, again, I’ll say that that’s concerning because that’s like last year. I felt we’d have a little tighter coverage to be able to stop that when the pressure got close and he threw some in there. Again, we’ve got to keep working on it. I thought our pass rush, I thought our guys came after him pretty good and worked really hard up front to try and get to him. We didn’t get sacks. We didn’t get as many sacks. That quarterback probably played the best game of his life. He played good. He’s a good player, you know. I give that to him and that’s one of the reasons for the outcome was.”
[After THE JUMP: Greg Mattison explains what he should have done differently and why he thinks the defense doesn’t need a wake-up call]