power off tackle
[This is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:
Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style]
Depending who you ask there are either two or three or sixteen thousand different blocking schemes offenses use to puncture run lanes into a defense. If we cut out a few exceptions, and a lot of variants, you can boil them down to two basic philosophic schools: Zone and Gap.
(And man, and hybrid, and zone can be split between outside/inside but shut up).
Harbaugh, as you might have heard, is one of if not the ur gap coach in football, as is his top lieutenant Tim Drevno. New tackles/tight ends coach Greg Frey, as we’ve mentioned twice this week, is not just in the zone camp but is one of the chief practitioners of its outside zone wing.
What’s the difference, and why does it matter? I’ll show.
HOW GAP BLOCKING WORKS
“When badly outnumbered he managed, by swift marching and maneuvering, to throw the mass of his army against portion of the enemy's, thus being stronger at the decisive point.” –description of Napoleon battle tactic
This is the football’s fastball: I’m coming towards the plate so fast and so hard that by the time you know where it’s going you can’t catch up. To use a war metaphor, gap philosophy is about picking a spot in your opponent’s defenses, puncturing a hole, and sending as much material into it as possible as quickly as possible before the defenders can match it.
The above formation is unbalanced, which did its job in getting the defense to leave a cornerback and safety to a side with zero receiving threats (Mags is ineligible by number). The fullback has a kickout block on the SAM linebacker. Kalis pulls, Asiasi picks off a linebacker, and Deveon Smith gets a 300-pound escort through the gap between Wheatley and the back of Khalid Hill. That gap is the gap they planned to attack, and the most likely one to become available.
That it won’t always be available is what makes gap blocking go from very simple to highly complicated. The great power teams know how to adjust on the fly to defenders diving into the important gap, for example on this play if the SAM is coming inside hard Hill might arc outside on the fly, seal the SAM inside, and hope Smith and Kalis adjust to earn a big run. Or what if that Mike linebacker blitzes the gap inside of Wheatley? Or the whole dang defensive line slants playside? In general the OL will do their best to not let that happen and adjust (e.g. Asiasi might have to assist Wheatley, or the puller might kick out an unblocked end discovered at the point of attack).
I think you get the gist. Gap blocking has everybody working to widen the chosen gap and get bodies attacking that gap as soon as possible. Emphasis is on overpowering—as you see here this play works mostly because Ty Wheatley Jr. latched onto the playside defensive end, and rode him downfield.
[Hit THE JUMP for Zone]
Earlier this year I asked coach Harbaugh about running Power, and he said the goal is to make the guard invisible. From your perspective, what are you looking for when you’re running Power?
“They tell us the guard is invisible. The guard is invisible, don’t pay attention to him. Stay on your landmark and if you see it, if you see the hole, it should be there but if anything pick up the guard. [/laughs] That guard’s invisible, but at the same time you can pick up the guard.”
One thing I was wondering is let’s say somebody shoots a gap or the hole collapses. What’s your next move? What do you do from there?
“I’m picking up the guard around, because he’s pulling around and I’m picking him up and he’s blocking for me.”
So you bounce it out?
How about Trap blocking? What are you looking for when you know it’s a Trap?
“Hmm, I don’t know. Just get to my landmark. Just get to my landmark and hit the hole is all I can think of.”
As far as landmarks go, is that different every play?
“Yeah, landmarks are different every play. It goes from- it just depends what we’re going to run.”
And that’s just the first thing you look for?
“Right. The first thing you look for is your landmark and staying on your track.”
[After THE JUMP: Blitz pickups, and the time Jim almost killed John Harbaugh]
Radio mishap. Sorry to streaming listeners who ended up getting a nonstop pile of ads about halfway through the show. We don't know what happened there; we've reached out to WTKA and they say that should not recur. Podcasts should be coming, possibly tomorrow. We're still working out the kinks.
RAGE now comes with official approval. The Big Ten said "whoops" on the punt flag:
Harbaugh asked the Big Ten for an explanation on the call, and during his radio show Monday night, said the league basically offered an apology for an officiating error.
"You just want to be able to know what to tell your team, that's why we ask, that's why we inquire," Harbaugh said. "Once the punter goes outside the tackle box, you don't know if he's a runner or he's going to punt the ball. He's afforded the same protection a quarterback would be when he's outside the pocket. If he throws the ball, he can be hit like a quarterback.
"They would've rather not thrown a flag on that. ... That's what they said."
They have not as yet apologized for the various other errors this crew inflicted on Michigan: the opening-play PI against Darboh is blatant, as is a hold on James Ross that sprung one of Oregon State's big runs on their touchdown drive. Michigan got hoooooosed on Saturday and still won 35-7.
Chris Brown on Power. An excellent primer on something Michigan's going to be running a ton of for the foreseeable future:
“There is nothing magical about the Power play,” Paul Alexander, the Cincinnati Bengals’ longtime offensive line coach, said at a coaching clinic in 2012. Almost every NFL team runs Power, though some (like the Seahawks, Vikings, Steelers, and Bills) will emphasize it more than others, and it has produced some of the most dramatic plays in recent memory, including Marshawn Lynch’s infamous Beast Mode run. The idea behind Power is as old as football itself, as having an overwhelming force at the point of attack was an obvious strategy as soon as someone first picked up a football; versions of the play pop up as far back as in Michigan coach Fielding Yost’s playbook from 1905. But NFL coaches have spent the past 20 years tweaking and adjusting the play, and now the proper form is gospel.
Brown details the various responsibilities the players have. This one in particular is something De'Veon Smith had trouble with in week one:
Running back: Veteran NFL offensive line coach Mike Solari, who’s currently with the Green Bay Packers, says he prefers to tell the running back to “read the alphabet: Read from the playside A to B to C to D gaps for a running lane.” But the running back’s real key to success on Power is to let the blocking develop. “People ask me what I tell our running backs,” said Shaw at the 2013 clinic. “Mostly what we tell our running backs is [have] patience.”
He improved a considerable amount in week two.
Staples on the State of Michigan. SI's Andy Staples took in the doubleheader this weekend:
Graham Glasgow has just finished explaining the importance of pad level as it relates to play along the line of scrimmage—short version: the low man wins—when the Michigan fifth-year senior center says something telling. "I felt better in this loss," Glasgow says, "than I would after some of our wins last year."
Five days earlier, the Wolverines lost their season opener at Utah. Four days from now, Michigan will make its home debut under coach Jim Harbaugh against Oregon State. As Glasgow says those words, he stands in the Towsley Family Museum in Schembechler Hall. He is a few feet from the "Win Wall," a massive glass enclosure that, on this particular Tuesday, features a football representing each of Michigan's 915 all-time wins. In another part of the room, the words of former Michigan coach Fritz Crisler are carved into wood.
"Tradition is something you can't bottle. You can't buy it at the corner store. But it is there to sustain you when you need it most. I've called upon it time and time again. And so have countless other Michigan athletes and coaches. There is nothing like it. I hope it never dies."
Glasgow's words suggest that in 2014 Michigan's football tradition was dying.
Whole thing is worth a read.
This week in good quotes. Blake O'Neill quizzed about his modeling career:
"All sorts of things,"he said Monday at Michigan's weekly news conference. "Fashion modeling, catwalk, anything.
"I was a little budding Zoolander."
He does not have a "Blue Steel" look.
Who will I scoff at now? Texas deep-sixes Brandon 2.0:
University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves is expected to fire embattled athletic director Steve Patterson, and the move could come this morning, a Houston-based source with knowledge of the situation told the American-Statesman.
Fenves and Patterson are meeting Tuesday morning, the Statesman learned.
It could bring an end to a tumultuous 22-month journey for the athletic department during which fans grew outraged over higher ticket prices and Patterson battled the perception that his cool demeanor simply does not fit UT’s style.
"Cool demeanor" is the nice way of saying it.
Good on Texas for dumping their version of the buzzword-spewing Emperor's New CEO after less than two years. That Patterson got himself fired after making what look to be excellent hires in both football and basketball speaks to just how hated he was by just about everyone. Justifiably. Hell, I have no connection to Texas whatsoever and I hated him because he was bad for college football, all of it.
Hopefully they've got a Hackett hanging around.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) September 15, 2015
That would be a terrible idea, but on the other hand I would no longer have to listen to him relentlessly praise every coach in every situation. ("Not many coaches would feed their quarterback to an alligator at halftime, Rece, but Tim Beckman is an innovative thinker.") I approve.
Oh right. The legend:
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 15, 2015
I'm sure that will last.
Injuries and more injuries and Rutgers. Michigan's gotten through the first couple weeks of the season without anything serious happening to their players; other than Bryan Mone they're as close to completely healthy as a group of people playing football can be. This is not the case for a number of upcoming Michigan opponents.
BYU is of course down Taysom Hill and relying on freshman-ish Tanner Mangum, who was a big recruit a couple years back and is just off his Mormon mission. On the other hand, that linebacker who bingle-bangled a Boise State player right in the dingle-dangle will somehow not be suspended—nice to not have a conference sometimes. Michigan players will have to keep an eye on the family jewels.
Minnesota has a number of guys out with relatively minor issues but may have lost WR KJ Maye to a broken rib.
And then of course Rutgers. Star WR Leonte Caroo was the latest Scarlet Knight to get arrested. He's been suspended indefinitely for an "altercation" outside the stadium Saturday night that resulted in a domestic violence arrest. What exactly went down is still unclear, but if you poke around On The Banks the impression their comments give is that Rutgers insider types think it's pretty serious and we may not see Carroo for a while. Oh and they didn't list Darius Hamilton on their most recent depth chart because he has an undisclosed injury of some variety. And of course five guys got arrested for armed robbery and transferred to Michigan State before the season started.
Rutgers fans are now calling this "their darkest hour," which may be true if the history of Rutgers football started with Greg Schiano. It does not.
Speaking of Rutgers. Julie Herrmann has a job! Still! She is employed and everything! She probably has a company car and a dental plan!
Unhappy Moeller. Via Dr. Sap:
How the Norfleet thing went down. Via the man himself:
“To be honest, everything caught me off-guard,” Norfleet said. “It just happened. (Harbaugh and I) weren’t seeing eye to eye. Nothing real big. We had disagreements but nothing serious. He thought I was going to be ineligible, and I wasn’t. He is real big on academics. That’s one thing I can say about Jim Harbaugh — he’s going to make sure these players are going to class.”
Norfleet said Harbaugh never told him he wanted him on the team.
“I never got that at all,” Norfleet said. “The only thing I got was, come back a semester to get a degree. Not play football. He wanted me to use my scholarship. I still love Michigan, though, as a whole. Sometimes, you’ve got to move on.”
Unfortunate all around, but it seems like Michigan was willing to have him around even if he wasn't going to play. That seems to have smoothed over things with Detroit King.
It's not a crisis if you complain about it every year and things are just fine. The only person more prone to complain about spread offenses than NFL scouts and coaches is Gary Danielson, and the arguments the NFL has are about as good as Danielson's:
…if current trends continue, NFL insiders say, quarterbacks who have the sophistication to outfox NFL defenses to deliver the ball to open receivers are “going to be on the endangered species list,” said Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine. “The quarterback may not be gone yet,” he added, “but if you have one, protect it.”
“It’s doomsday if we don’t adapt and evolve,” said St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead.
These people are just in charge of things for no reason and should be given the Patterson/Brandon treatment. Half of the top ten rookie QB seasons in NFL history have come since 2011. Those five seasons came from Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton, and Mike Glennon. Three of those guys came from out-and-out spread offenses. After one game Marcus Mariota looks set to join them.
A parade of general managers, like Pittsburgh’s Kevin Colbert, think that if the current model holds, the notion of drafting a quarterback to start right away will need to be scrapped.
Cleveland’s Farmer has one idea: What if you could design an offense to minimize the passing deficiencies of modern quarterback prospects?
WHAT WOULD THAT EVEN LOOK LIKE?
Etc.: Mike Riley literally has his team yelling "hip hip hooray" after games. Flanders, the coach. Local news talking with El Harberino. Jake Lourim with a longform on ECA, Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson's school. Wide pin down. Harbaugh profile (autoplaying audio warning). SMH NCAA. UNLV is not good. Holdin' The Rope.
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.
We have managed to maintain our sponsorship relation for a day, which is progress for us. During this day we would like to reiterate that Seth and I both refinanced with Homesure, which was both easy—everything's over a secure internet dropbox, so you don't have to put on pants—and efficient—he asks all the banks which one will give you the best deal. He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Where the defense alternated between basically two setups, the offense was a smorgasbord of stuff ranging from five wide…
…to unbalanced goal line packages…
To this, which I called "offset Maryland I":
FWIW, I filed Poggi as a tight end in the table.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Rudock your QB. Line was Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson the whole way except for a few snaps on which Logan Tuley-Tillman came in to play tackle that used Mason Cole as an inline tight end (who can't go downfield).
Butt played almost every snap—maybe every single one. There was a lot of rotation aside from him. Henry Poggi got the most time as an H-back; Kerridge was your traditional fullback. Williams got the most time other than Butt as an inline TE. We saw a little bit of Hill and Bunting.
WR was mostly Darboh and Chesson on the outside, with Harris rotating in. Perry played in the slot, sometimes in twins formations in which there were two TEs.
Smith was the main back with Isaac getting maybe 20% of the snaps behind him. Green and Taylor-Douglas got a few snaps each.
[After THE JUMP: throwing guys in the wrong direction.]
Every time I post a play analysis these days there are a half-dozen people in the comments who mention that if player X did hard thing Y they are not prepared to do then the play would work. This has gotten to the point where I can explicitly prepare for such criticism and find them ignored, as in the most recent one, and find a diary on this site asserting that if player X did hard thing Y something would have worked.
This is extremely frustrating to me, because these are good-faith attempts to paint broader pictures of what I'm seeing down to down, game after game, year after year, as I try to figure out what Michigan football is doing. Various critics, most prominently Space Coyote, make a few small concessions and then go about explaining why play X was a good call and why it would have worked. They implicitly assert things like "Joe Kerridge in a ton of space should deviate from expecting Nebraska to use their slot LB as a force and ably block that guy when that LB believes the inverted veer is coming, has no need to respect the slot receiver because he is covered, and runs directly into Fitzgerald Toussaint."
I disagree with that. I have watched a lot of people play a lot of football and I think that's hard. I'm trying not to have a stance here; I am evaluating whether I think a thing is easy to do or hard and assigning a number to that feel. Coaches tend to think everything is an execution issue. Players should be able to do arbitrarily hard things. Some arrows on a diagram say this should work. Meanwhile I think there's a 10% chance for Kerridge to abort the plan and do anything with hell-for-leather blitzer and judge accordingly. Various guys dying on Borges Hill disagree.
I don't know what might be sufficient other than 175 yards against Nebraska to convince these guys that a poor offensive game plan can even exist, but here are various things that are normally too dull to post in a Picture Pages in which unblocked guys on blitzes obliterate Michigan runners for no or little gain.
These are representative of a larger slice of the game and a general feel that confirmed the Nebraska players' postgame assertions that they were expecting most of what Michigan threw at them. Tomorrow's Picture Pages will cover every play of the game, because this isn't going to work either.
Here is an iso. The slot LB is an eighth guy in the box and crashes down unblocked to tackle.
As this goes for three yards it qualifies as one of Michigan's best plays on the day on the ground. Three yards is not good on first and ten, and there was nothing Michigan could do about it.
Here is a zone play. Nebraska loads up and sends a blitz through a gap that Michigan doesn't pick up as Bosch ends up doubling with Lewan.
However, because of the blitz the only thing Bosch making a very good play to recognize and pick up the charging LB does is send Green to one of the two unblocked guys, either the backside guy ripping down the LOS without thought of checking the QB or a linebacker sitting two yards deep without anyone trying to get him, because Nebraska's blitz has prevented anyone from moving to the second level.
Here is a power play. Nebraska loads up with eight in the box and one deep safety and blitzes.
A Nebraska linebacker ends up shooting the gap behind the Bosch pull and meets Green in the backfield.
Michigan loses two yards and has third and eleven.
Oh for pants' sake.
The offensive line is not in fact overwhelmed here; they are not actually involved because Nebraska's blitz is perfect to destroy the inverted veer.
Items Of Interest
All of this is an execution issue, sure. For a given definition of execution, this is an execution issue. Michigan's hyper-raw OL should be able to block this. They should be able to deal with Nebraska switching gaps and blazing LBs to the point of attack. They should be able to block Nebraska's maniacal run-oriented loaded box. They would do this, if only they could execute.
Except the last one. And the first one. And probably the second and third.
Either you believe that players can be put in positions they can succeed or players are expected to succeed in the positions they are put in. I am in the former camp. The last few Borges defenders are in the latter camp. This entire season Space Coyote has been gamely explaining what should have happened on failed play after failed play without any thought to how difficult what should have happened is.
Players do not exist in a vacuum. Joe Kerridge is trying to block a guy in acres of space and that guy has the jump on him because he knows Funchess is covered, and he knows what Michigan's running. I look at that and I think "Jesus, I do not want to be Joe Kerridge there."
I am admittedly working from a hand-waving feel on this, but it's no worse a feel than whatever Space Coyote has gotten from doing whatever he does with whatever team at a totally different level of competition. I say Michigan puts their players in a spot to work miracles or die, and that this is on both the overall structure of the offense and the predictability of playcalls based on formations and down and distance. Space Coyote makes certain concessions to not seem totally insane and then goes back to hammering the fact that it's all execution.
Kerridge was put in a spot to fail, and did. I'm looking at the play and saying I believe there is a small chance that Kerridge can make a tough play in space; the guys in the comments think that because Kerridge could hypothetically have made a play none of this goes back to the folks in charge.
These plays. The above plays are no-chancers for the offense, because Michigan is running into the teeth of a defense stacked to stop the run and blitzing. In UFR lingo they acquired sizeable rock-paper-scissors minuses. In compensation Michigan got two screens which both got large RPS plus numbers, but the number of downs thrown away in this game running at a Nebraska defense that seemed to be in Michigan's head was alarming. When I add it up, I am guessing things will come out highly negative, and then people will cluck at me about that.
I won't deny that things are more likely to get put in the negative bin there when you have fewer options because you're not good, but in my opinion running plays you suck at into stacked boxes is a bad idea. So is the continued deployment of Toussaint as a pass blocker on plays that take forever to develop. That, too, is an execution issue, but it is nuts to expect him to block guys now, and the offense would be better served if he was used in a pattern or replaced by a fullback or something. Instead… he is not.
But yeah yeah, the expectation is for the position.
Last time, Michigan grinds out six yards on their first snap by using POWER.
Michigan's second snap against Minnesota was more of the same, but a little lighter. Chesson replaced Butt, and Minnesota responded by covering him. They also shifted their line towards Lewan instead of away. The end result was much the same except Michigan didn't have an opportunity to block the last guy because Minnesota didn't have a linebacker bail.
Yes, Michigan can go nuts in the passing game against this kind of alignment, and would later; this drive—this game—is about establishing something even if it's not the most efficient way to go about doing things. After Akron and UConn you can understand this line of thinking.
With the line shifted to Lewan, he's going to kick the guy outside of him, leaving Schofield and Kalis to double the playside DT; Bryant and Kerridge will again lead through the hole.
On the snap, Bryant pulls out and heads around as the double is initiated; Bryant is out so quick that he's almost running into Devin Gardner:
This is a notable improvement from last year. Between the above frame in the next, Schofield blasts the playside DT such that he starts falling inside of Kalis. He'll end up moving to the second level, and picking up the WLB since that guy is not shooting a gap. Unfortunately, someone is shooting a gap: Hageman.
Hageman just about beats Glasgow clean. There is a little bit of delay here that prevents him from swallowing the play in the backfield; this is still pretty bad. But the gap is even more enormous this time at the handoff point. It stretches almost from the hashes to the numbers as Michigan pounds the two playside DL away from each other:
This time Minnesota has sufficient bodies in the hole to deal with it as all three linebackers demand a body. Hageman is threatening enough from behind to force Toussaint to alter his path a bit, but with Kerridge latched onto one linebacker, Bryant about to pop a second, and a cavern to operate in he doesn't slow down the fatal step.
That safety is unaccounted for, though, and waiting two yards downfield.
Toussaint pounds out some YAC.
Items Of Interest
Sometimes you can do everything right and get five yards. At the end of the day there's always one more defender than you have blockers. Here every block save Glasgow's gets executed and contact is still made two yards downfield.
This is both a reason not to get too worried about YPC in this game and wonder about the long-term viability of the tackle over buddy cop movie. When you can execute every block just right and get five yards the opponents is overplaying you like whoah and you are either so confident you are able to get these five yards on every play or locked in a 12-10 death struggle kind of game. Here it turns out to be the former, as Michigan scores touchdowns on 5 of 8 drives, albeit with a lot of help from third and long conversions to Funchess after their grind game clunked out.
However: as mentioned in the last post, tackle over was literally 90% run in this one and when they ran it was 83% run to the tackle side. Is this configuration powerful enough to grind these yards out against actual defenses? Can Michigan get enough play action off of this to keep defenses honest and get the big chunk plays they'll have to if a ton of their offense is grinding out four yards against a stacked front? Is this anything more than a get-healthy gimmick effective against a terrible defense?
I don't know.
This is what Bryant expected to see on the last play. He pulls around and whacks the MLB, like he did on the last play; this time the MLB is not already being blocked because a differently-aligned Minnesota defense scrapes the MLB past Schofield releasing downfield. This is one of those things that may come with experience: the ability to improvise profitably.
Meanwhile, Bryant gets there, hits a guy, woot. This is night and day from last year's guards.
Glasgow did get smoked. Hageman's pretty good, though, and he was very quiet in this one. Hageman's play didn't end up making a tackle but I think it did impact the outcome of this play because…
Toussaint puts his head down and takes what he can get. With all this room Toussaint can threaten both sides of Kerridge's block, and we've seen him dip inside to pop out before. This would be an excellent time to do that if he was not being chased by an angry 300 pound man. As it is he just runs directly upfield into the safety and runs him over for near first down yardage. That's the when-in-doubt solution, and it's the one Toussaint took consistently in this game.
Speaking of which. The bye week seems like it was spent telling Toussaint that if he does not go hard north and south he will be dipped in uncomfortably warm pudding for hours at a time. This is the kind of run where bounce-it hesitation gets you clubbed and there is a guy waiting that he can see; previously he might have tried the thing I mentioned above and gotten tackled at the line. Instead we're talking about the yards he gained after contact instead of trying to calculate how many he lost by trying to avoid it. Thumbs up.
This is now Lewan's day. This is play two. The rest of the game is basically this for Lewan, whether it's pass or run: hello, overmatched donkey about 60 pounds lighter than me. It is time to go out to the numbers. I gave him a ton of half-points that maybe should have been full ones.