The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
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.
Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.
You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!
So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:
This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.
At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:
Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?
Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)
The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:
The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:
Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:
Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.
Here's the video:
I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.
The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:
At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:
At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:
This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:
MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:
There are four WVU guys in the area:
And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:
On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.
- It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
- I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
- Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
- Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
- Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
- I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.
Promised last week but Wife Day occupied the designated space.
This week's great linebacker debate is about how I'm sitting in a tree with Kenny Demens, finding reasons to posbang him that would not be reasons to posbang Ezeh or Mouton. That's not really how UFR works on defense. A three-yard run is a usually a +1 for the D, a zero-yarder +2, and a TFL +3—though it's context dependent—and I try to assign credit and blame to get to those numbers. There is wobble when the other team makes an error or there's a rock paper scissors play. If I was going to give Demens positive he didn't deserve they'd be coming off his teammates in the front seven and the only guys to suffer relative to expectations were Rotating Ineffective Nose Tackle and the Banks/Black combo.
Mouton also come in for a big minus and clucking, but I thought that was easily justified by the clips provided. If it's not here's another one. It's late in the third quarter and Iowa has third and three from the Michigan eleven. They come out in an unbalanced formation with a covered TE; Michigan responds with a 4-4:
Iowa will run off the right tackle. At the snap Kovacs blitzes. Banks, the DE to the bottom of the screen, takes on a double team from Iowa's LG and RG; Renaldo Sagesse is getting single blocked by the center:
A moment later Banks and Patterson have both gotten in bad situations. Sagesse is a yard downfield and sealed to the inside. Banks has managed to stick at the LOS but he's about to be effectively comboed and sealed to the inside:
Kovacs gets picked off by the fullback. Roh's gotten a cut on the backside but Gordon is flowing behind him; RVB has gotten down the line to cut off a hole; Sagesse is getting buried by a double downfield. Mouton has set up on the Iowa RT as Banks just kind of sits there at the LOS:
Here's an endzone angle of the last moment:
That's a lot of grass to Mouton's right there. I wonder what he's going to do about that:
Dios ffuuuu, man. This will be clearer on the video but this was not some crazy block by the right tackle here—Mouton fought inside of the guy, sealing himself. The sad thing is that Kenny Demens has cleared the trash from the Sagesse double and is showing up in the hole:
If Mouton is outside the guy he's almost certain to tackle short of the first down…
…but he's not:
Another third-down touchdown from the ten given up by a combo of players but especially one in particular; another four points on the board because of a basic mental error from a Michigan defender. This one is ten times more frustrating than Courtney Avery's because Mouton is a fifth year senior who's been doing this his entire career, including earlier this year against UMass on another egregious play that was picture-paged.
- Either Mouton has suffered the worst kind of coaching malpractice during his career or he's just not all there. Or both, I guess. He should not be making this mistake. He has made this kind of mistake dozens of times. Maybe there's something in the scheme that makes it confusing as to when he's supposed to be the contain guy, but I don't think so. WLBs should know this as part of their DNA. There's a theory floating around that Mouton has gotten used to playing next to Ezeh and now assumes he has to do everything himself and may get all clueful now that he's playing with a linebacker that usually shows up in the right spot at the right time, but I don't think so. It doesn't matter who you're playing next to since hopping inside that tackle is guaranteed doom.
- The defensive line didn't do the linebackers any favors… Other than some sporadic help from RVB and Roh this was par for the course. Here the NT is Sagesse instead of Patterson but the end result is similar to what happened all day: effective combo on Banks gets him passively single-blocked and gives Mouton a tackle to deal with. Combo on whoever the NT is crumples and/or seals the guy.
- …but could this actually be something resembling okay from Sagesse? It's not good by any stretch of the imagination but the reason Demens is flowing into the gap unblocked is because the C could not pop off of Sagesse after shoving him downfield. That mess falls in a heap, meaning that the nose has taken out two blockers. I didn't plus the guy because I thought it was more luck than anything and ending a play on your knees two yards downfield doesn't seem like a strategy sustainable in the long term. I didn't minus him either because he kinda sorta just managed to do his job.
- More good Demens play. He doesn't get blocked but because Sagesse is blown off the LOS this isn't the world's easiest scrape. He makes it and should have an opportunity to tackle if everyone else does their job. It's impossible to say whether or not Ezeh would have made the same scrape, but we've seen enough of him to know that he doesn't do it consistently. He might be standing right where he was at the snap, or he might not have the agility and recognition Demens does to get around the garbage. (FTR, Demens did not get a plus here; Mouton was –2, Banks –1.)
We don't know whether or not Demens does execute this consistently, or whether his run-fill gusto is exploitable with misdirection or play action. His Iowa game was promising, though. I'm sure he'll have some wobbly games during the second half—Iowa was not one. I repeat my stat of wonder and alarm: when Demens was on the field runs that did not pop outside contain because of mistakes by Mouton, Black, and Banks averaged under 2.5 YPC. This happened essentially without Mike Martin. Whatever problems existed with the run D had nothing to do with him.
Mouton, meanwhile, is incredibly frustrating. This year he's turned "big positive, bigger negative" into "big negative, bigger positive" but I'm not going to spend 2011 pining for him. Michigan can't and shouldn't pull him since he makes a lot of good plays; I don't think Michigan's run defense is going to suffer greatly without him.
This one's not going to be a revelation. It's just more of the same from nickelback Courtney Avery, who you may remember from "aargh crippling third down conversion" and "I play man coverage always." But I'm grabbing it to show just how damaging it is to have these guys who should be redshirting running around on the field.
It's third and ten from the Michigan 14 on Iowa's third drive; Michigan has an excellent chance to boot Iowa off the field here. They come out in a three-wide set. Michigan responds with its 4-2-5 nickel package:
Courtney Avery is the nickelback and the key guy. Michigan's going to rush four and play three deep, leaving four guys in underneath zones. Avery is on the hashmarks to the top of the picture on the slot receiver:
Iowa's underneath receivers run crossing routes past each other—a mesh route. the two receivers to the top of the screen are going vertical, with Rogers on the outside guy and Avery on the inside one:
Avery is dropping deep to cut off space but turns his back to the QB. Has anyone else turned his back to the QB? No:
Here you can see two things: 1) Avery actually did a good job of rerouting the slot. Iowa's receivers are running paired posts and they are a yard away from each other. Cam Gordon should be in position to make a play on a throw here; it's unlikely Stanzi will force it if the drag isn't breathtakingly open. 2) Avery is completely out of his zone moving inside with his back turned to the QB:
Stanzi sees it and throws just as Roh lights him up:
Avery is nowhere. He can't change direction fast enough to get back out to his zone. No one could:
- Courtney Avery should be redshirting. He looks like a quarterback who played a little man coverage in high school, because that's what he is.
- Courtney Avery is not redshirting. Never Forget.
- Rerouting receivers is an important part of zone coverage. Avery changes the WR's route here and forces it deeper, into an area in which Cam Gordon is a threat.
- …but you have to pass the guy off way faster than this. I can't imagine you're ever supposed to chase the guy this far inside, or totally turn your body away from the QB.
- Demens is fine here, I think. Mesh is tough on LBs in zone. Here he lets the receiver outside of him but he has to expect Avery will be there. He also knocks down the other guy running a drag, which is a bonus.
- This is four free points from a freshman DB after the rest of the team got a stop. Maybe if Avery pulls off the slot receiver Stanzi has a shot at him on the post but that's a tougher throw than the little drag route here and with the reroute and the pressure chances are Stanzi either throws the drag anyway and picks up five or eats a sack.
- I would abandon the nickel. Thomas Gordon is almost exactly Avery—a high school quarterback switching to nickel-type DB in college—except he's got a redshirt year behind him. I can understand the desire to get another DB on the field in passing situations but Avery's been a huge liability so far; Gordon has not made similar mistakes.
So there's this and there's 404 Tackle Not Found—two huge swing plays that went against Michigan's freshman nickelback. Missing Troy Woolfolk is an enormous deal.
What happened on the 60-yard touchdown? The opposite of the thing that MSU did to prevent a 60-yard touchdown. This is a zone stretch. Michigan State has just run a stretch that creased the line because of a poor pursuit angle from Obi Ezeh. They tacked on a 15-yard facemask and got the ball out from deep in their own territory.
On the next play they run the same play to the other side of the line. Setup:
Michigan is a 4-4 front with the linebackers playing even. Kovacs is rolled up to the weak side. MSU was in a balanced ace twins formation but pulled the backside TE to be an H-back on an overloaded line. The snap:
It's a zone stretch. By this point something bad and unusual has happened: MSU has successfully scooped Mike Martin. See Mouton right in front of the umpire? He's got the MSU C coming out on him. The backside guard has his helmet across martin and will get a cutback gap for his running back.
Note Kovacs above flowing down the line. He has to check on Cousins first, then flow down after the ballcarrier in case he tries to cut it all the way back. A moment later the handoff has yet to be made but we're at a critical point:
Ezeh is headed to the front side of the play. Many people have criticized him on this play for not being around but this is his assignment. MSU has overloaded one side of the field and he is the outside force defender. This is hypothetically a great adjustment. The guard releasing downfield has no chance to block him and Gordon is hitting it up to absorb the TEs block. If Baker has to bounce Ezeh will be there unblocked.
Note two things: Martin is totally sealed now and this frame is just like a frame we saw on the last Picture Pages where the backside DE is about to disengage from his blocker and flow down the line for cutbacks. Here:
Back to this play, on the next frame we see… wait, where the hell is Banks?
Right now Banks should be directly between the two State linemen blocking no one downfield. Maybe he won't make a tackle. Maybe Martin getting sealed here makes this cutback a dangerous proposition either way. Maybe an excellent back like Baker breaks a tackle. But a the very least, 280 pounds of defensive end in a not-very-big hole slows Baker down significantly.
Instead of a 280 pound defensive end there is air:
Note that poor Mouton has no chance here since he took a shove from the center who got the scoop on Martin. Then the tackle who had no one to block because Michigan was shooting Ezeh outside decides he may as well block the one guy still in the area. Linebacker double team downfield and back running in to area equals death.
Cam Gordon comes up hard but is too far to the inside…
…(and Banks is still at the LOS)…
…seeya, let's burn something.
[Video still en route.]
- NOT Ezeh's fault. He had an assignment. Would he have executed it? Eh… maybe. But he can't be blamed for following his assignment on a cutback run he had a frontside gap on.
- Not Mouton's fault much, if at all. Martin made it hard on him by allowing the C something close to a free release and then the clever scheme Michigan ran got Michigan a free hitter to the frontside… and a doubled linebacker to the backside.
- IME, this is 90% on Banks and Martin. Yes, Gordon came up too shallow and robbed himself of an angle but Baker's hard cutback wasn't impeded in the slightest and when someone shoots into the secondary like that to the backside of a play it's not surprising that the safety was caught off guard. If Gordon is more experienced here maybe he gets an angle and cuts this down to a 40 yard gain or something.
But giving up that gap is on Martin, and not closing it down, or slowing it down, is on Banks. Banks's error is greater since he's not dealing with a double team and all he has to do is run away from his blocker into the gap. He doesn't have to beat anything. He just has to get in the way. Instead he falls on his butt because he does not get away from the LOS and gets caught up in the wash of Martin getting playside of his blocker.
- The rest of it is Gordon. He's not that fast and took a poor angle. He was not going to be able to hold this down much but there's a big difference between 40 and 60 yards.
- This is actually a clever scheme that takes advantage of Michigan's strengths and beats the blocking scheme. The shame of the play here is that its weak point so ruthlessly exploited is Mike Martin's gap. Mike Martin is Michigan's best defensive player and can almost always be relied upon to not do what we saw here. If Martin does what he usually does, Ezeh has a shot at a TFL on Baker as he tries to bounce it outside Roh. If fifth-year-senior Banks does not get caught up in the wash from Martin's attempt to rectify his error, Baker gets a decent run that probably comes up short of first down yardage. Neither of these things happened and Cam Gordon was subjected to tremendous pressure he did not roll double sixes on.
- Man it would have been nice to be in two-high here. Kovacs coming downhill at this holds it down, too.
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.