Earlier in the year Chris Brown of Smart Football offered up some clarification of a route package Michigan's running, and now I'm spotting it in key situations so I might as well Picture Page it. This will please people who complain about the relentlessly negative PPs in past weeks that are all about explaining why Michigan gave up a touchdown.
It's third and four from the 29 on Michigan's second drive of the day. Michigan comes out in a standard formation:
Smith, Hemingway, and tight end Kevin Koger are going to run a snag concept. This consists of three parts:
- The #1 (outside) receiver runs a slant and then sits down about five yards downfield.
- The #2 receiver, in this case the TE, runs a corner route.
- The tailback runs a flare.
This is what it looks like on a diagram. It's on the right:
Chris Brown on the point of this package:
The snag is a variant of the smash, where one point is to get a high-low with the corner route and the flat route (except now the flat is controlled by the runningback), with the added dimension of an outside receiver running the “snag” route — a one-step slant where he settles inside at 5-6 yards. This gives you a “triangle” stretch, where you have both a high/low read (corner to RB in the flat) and a horizontal read from inside to outside (snag route to the RB in the flat).
In previous games when Michigan's run this the opponent was in three deep and the read was simply reading the playside linebacker: throw it where he's not. Here Illinois runs what looks like a combo coverage. Just after the snap:
Illinois has a hard corner to the bottom of the screen and a soft one to the top. Robinson's reading the snag package all the way. Here he's starting at the playside LB, who's figuring out what to do with Koger.
It turns out he goes with Koger:
The hard corner is taking away the flare and this linebacker is turning his hips, so the snag route itself (Hemingway's) will come open. Denard should probably be throwing the ball now.
He should definitely be throwing the ball now.
THROW THE BALL AAAIAIGH
Hemingway's about a half yard short of the first down and is fortunate that Martez Wilson read the route package about as fast as Denard did. He's still two steps away from Hemingway, allowing Hemingway to take that orbit step wide receivers to do evade overpursuing tacklers…
…which gets him past the sticks for a first down.
Maybe Michigan's passing game isn't as unsophisticated as the spread n shred used to be? This is a favored package around the NCAA right now, which is why Smart Football could bring it to my attention—he'd seen it in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, despite having a quarterback who's going to break the all-time rushing record for his position and possibly Tim Biakabutuka's Michigan rushing record, this is not the West Virginia offense. Disclaimers about Tate cameos and catchup ball apply, but Michigan's running 61% of the time this year. That's not far off from Carr's last three years, which were 56% rush (2007), 61% (2006), and 55% (2005) and it's a far cry from Rodriguez's Pat White offenses that ran 75% of the time.
Despite missing a game and a half, Denard already has more attempts than White did as a sophomore and needs just 22 attempts per game to match White's 274 attempts as a senior (which wasn't even an RR offense anymore). Michigan's 14th in passer efficiency, which says a lot more when you're throwing it around at a semi-normal rate.
- But maybe so, or maybe not. Previously in this series we've broken down the curl/flat combo (twice) and frequently mentioned the snag. Here Illinois runs a combo coverage that blankets the curl/flat to the top of the screen and probably should do the same to the snag but for Wilson's tardiness. They're prepared for this play. On the other hand, they were completely unprepared for the all-hitch routes that Roundtree kept dropping, and Michigan got their bomb on. So maybe nevermind.
- The game is still slowing down for Denard. This is the euphemistic way to say "he's not reading defenses fast enough yet." (For a given definition of "enough," anyway. He's 11th in passer efficiency.) He's late here and I think he was late a couple other times. It's hard to tell whether certain balls are inaccurate or thrown in the right zone window, but thrown too late. I think the fourth and nine Roundtree touchdown may be an example of this. He couldn't hit Roundtree in the numbers because of the safety coming over and forced a moderately difficult catch out of him.
- Great protection. This happened all day. Robinson sat back there like John Navarre, most prominently on the second(!) 75-yard completion to Roundtree where Michigan slid the line and he re-enacted his throw to Roundtree from the spring game except without the guy coming into his face.
- Maybe this is why he never scrambles? He seems uncertain about his reads still so he sits in the pocket wondering if he's missing something when he should just run, Forrest, run. For a guy with his ability on the ground he's got a weird antipathy for taking off. I've got him for four scrambles on the year.
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.
This is from the UConn game and has been discussed previously, but here it is in glorious coughing-up-blood Picture-Page-O-Vision. It's pretty simple but I don't think I've spent much, if any time, on the site discussing making reads in the passing game.
It's the start of the third quarter and Michigan is facing second and eleven. UConn comes out in their two-deep look with corners playing off. Unless the Huskies are disguising a coverage this is likely to be two deep, and since opponents are almost forced to play zone against a spread attack featuring one Denard "Shoelace" Robinson, Esq., Michigan has a pretty good idea that UConn is either going to play a standard cover two defense or a cover four "quarters" look.
On the snap Michigan does a half-roll of the pocket, which gets Robinson closer to his intended targets, can delay linebackers uncertain whether it's a run or pass, and opens up lanes for Robinson if his receivers are covered:
At this point it's obviously a cover-two zone with the two deep safeties and the corner sitting about seven yards downfield looking in the backfield. Roundtree breaks well outside of the playside LB, who was held inside by the threat of a run. That guy's not going to prevent him from turning upfield if the ball is accurately thrown.
This is a curl-flat package where the inside receiver runs a very shallow out and the outside receiver heads about ten or fifteen yards downfield, then sits down in what should be the hole between the corner and the safety. The cover-two corner then has to pick whether to sink deep to take away the curl, opening up the flat, or come up on the flat, opening up the curl:
Robinson cocks to throw, but there's a problem:
He's throwing the ball too soon, before the corner has been forced to make a choice. Stonum's not even five yards downfield. The corner is is looking directly at what's going on and can jump up into the route…
…and it's never good when you're catching the ball with your back turned to a blur…
…so Roundtree is daed:
Video of what went down:
- Opponents are going to have to play a lot of zone against Michigan this year. Anyone intent on having base personnel on the field—which both Notre Dame and UConn did the entire game—will be putting linebackers in space against slot receivers if Michigan goes to man, and possibly opening up big plays when those guys read run incorrectly. Also, man coverage against four verticals means a lot of guys are running downfield with their back to Denard. This is not good for a defense.
- Most of Michigan's routes will be zone beaters, then. This may be the source of criticism about Rodriguez's fairly primitive passing packages, but if you've forced the defense into a limited subset of available coverages you can get away with this, as Michigan did all day against UConn and on the final drive against ND, when Michigan ran several variations on curl-flat to march down the field.
- Zone-beating routes endeavor to make one particular zone defender cover two guys. Here it's the outside guy on Stonum and Roundtree. In the snag package Michigan ran all day against UConn it's the playside linebacker and sometimes the playside corner.
- Most of Robinson's reads are simple "if this one guy does this throw it here, otherwise throw it there" things.This is the privilege afforded him by his running ability. Exotic coverages are difficult to get away with unless you're really good. I expect Ohio State to be able to confuse him. Maybe Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State will be able to do this as well, though PSU and Iowa are replacing lots of linebackers and are dedicated to base defense, too, so man coverage will be hard to get away with.
- Here Robinson lacks the patience to let the play develop. If he just waits a second or two it will be clear which option is open.
Later today: Robinson learns from his mistake to Notre Dame's detriment.