The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
We start with the defensive line.
What we were forced to watch last year
Michigan stemmed into four man fronts occasionally but spent most of its time with a three man front featuring a traditional nose tackle who lined up directly over the center and two defensive ends. It was unclear to me if these defensive ends were intended to slant one way or the other at the snap—an aggressive "one gap" system—or if they were reading and reacting—a "two gap" system—because of the massive confusion surrounding them. It was hard to tell if Greg Banks was trying to cover two gaps unsuccessfully or just getting single blocked all the time.
They did typically line up slightly outside (lingo: "shaded outside") the tackles, indicating that it was probably the former:
You'd have to be the sort of idiot that would have Craig Roh play linebacker to play Craig Roh as a two-gap DE at 235 pounds, but… yeah.
At other times Michigan would switch to a four-man front in which their linebackers did things that made no goddamn sense at all, like on this soon-to-be 61-yard-touchdown…
…but that's another show. I bring it up to point out that in this situation you see Greg Banks as the weakside(!) defensive end, Craig Roh as the strongside guy, and Ryan Van Bergen folded inside to be the three-tech defensive tackle. This is a shifted line rather than an 'even' line, but more about that later.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan ran mostly four-man lines and while they varied they usually put Brandon Graham on the weakside-ish of the formation. Here Illinois presents a balanced line with two TEs but you can see Martin lined up over the nose tackle and Graham to the bottom of the screen with a big gap between the two. Banks and Roh are to the top of the screen:
The linebacker walks down to the LOS in an effort to prevent Graham and Martin from getting double-teamed. When there is no TE on the weakside teams had a choice between singling Graham or Martin, which is why Graham got to eat the universe so often.
Sometimes they would line up differently. Here's another play on which Graham is on the weakside, well outside of the tackle as Martin lines up directly over the guard:
This is actually an "even" look where Michigan's not shifted. The DTs are over the guards, the ends line up outside the shoulder of the tackles.
They did occasionally stem into 3-3-5-ish looks, but note here that the defensive "ends" are lined up inside the tackles—this defense is designed to push runs to the outside.
Michigan ran this front most of the day against Ohio State and had success against their traditional I-form game, but struggled when the Buckeyes went to unbalanced spread sets. USC ran this quite a bit in the last few years of the Carroll regime; they called it "double eagle".
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
My assumption is the defense is going to look a lot like the 2009 one did. That was a 4-3 under. I was going to go dig up old Michigan rosters featuring the "rush linebacker" to demonstrate that Michigan's old school defense also tended to have a guy hanging out on the edge made of menace and sacks while the other guy enjoyed fighting off tight ends but then I remembered Hoke obviated the need for circumstantial evidence:
“We’re going to be a four-three defense, either an over or under front.”
Those sound like two totally different things but they're not. This from above is an "over" front:
This is an "under" front:
And you're probably like "that's the same damn thing except Craig Roh is standing up." You're right. The difference in the pictures is the offense. In the MSU still there are more DL to the side with the TE and FB; in the Western still there are more DL away from the side of the formation with more dudes. Both have a one-technique DT and a three-technique DT. Both leave a big gap between the one-tech DT and the DT to his side. They're just mirror images of each other. A couple of helpful graphs from Shakin' The Southland to clarify. Michigan's overshifted line in the State image:
And the undershifted line against WMU:
The only player that ends up aligning differently is the strongside DE; it's really just flipping the tackles over.
That's still a useful distinction Hoke made for us, though, because a team that is under/over is going to have different requirements than a team that aligns even like Michigan did on that Iowa play above. We get to keep our terminology from two years ago when we talked about the three-tech DT and the one-tech DT.
Every team is "multiple" these days and will run under/over/even fronts as changeups. Also, the generally accepted theory is that under is better against pro-style teams that will bang your head and over is better against spread teams that will take your strongside linebacker into the slot. So when Hoke says "under/over" he probably means Michigan is going to run both depending on situation, not that they'll pick one when they figure out their personnel a bit better.
What you need at each spot
From right to left in the second graph above:
The weakside defensive end is going to get a one-on-one matchup with the tackle most of the time and needs to turn that opportunity into plays. Think Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods, etc.
The three-tech DT also usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the guard. He should be a penetrator that gets into the backfield with regularity. NFL DTs you've heard of (Warren Sapp is the canonical one) who aren't barely mobile piles of goo are probably three-techs.
The one-tech DT is going to experience a ton of double teams as the offense attempts to attack the "bubble" in the front the defense leaves but not putting someone over the other guard. You know all those successful zone running plays the site has explained over the years that start with a guard blocking some DT and end with that guard plugging a linebacker as someone else slides over to finish the job on the NT? That's what you don't want your nose tackle giving up.
The strongside DE should be Brandon Graham. Failing that, he should be a big, strong guy who's good against the run and can add some pass rush here and there.
Craig Roh is the weakside defensive end and will be backed up by Herron/Paskorz/Beyer/Heitzman. Attempts to move Roh elsewhere will be thwarted by a plucky band of kids and their dog ripping the Mattison mask off of a dastardly Greg Robinson.
There are two scenarios for the rest of the line. In the happy fairy dance scenario, Mattison, Hoke, and Beyonce are so much better than Bruce Tall and Greg Robinson that they transform the platoon of Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, and Richard Ash into a functional one-tech DT. Here's what happens if they don't and they move Martin:
Yeeargh. I'll believe Will Campbell can play D when I see it but Ash and Washington got some praise last year so you've got three bullets. It's possible this happens, if not probable.
If you can assemble a frankentackle in the middle then you can slide Mike Martin out to the three-tech spot he doesn't know he's been coveting for years. Imagine senior Martin getting single blocked on most plays. Tingling is normal when contemplating this scenario.
As a bonus, successfully moving Martin to the three tech allows you to leave Ryan Van Bergen at DE, where he is the kind of solid run defender you need on the strongside. He'll chip in a half-dozen sacks and be the B+ version of a strongside defensive end and that will be fine.
The realistic-thing-that-will-be-called-pessimistic-in-the-comments scenario is that Campbell/Washington/Ash produce a guy or two worth platooning but actually running those guys out as starters is asking to be smashed. This strands Mike Martin at the one-tech and essentially forces them to move Van Bergen back to the three-tech spot he occupied in 2009. Redshirt freshman Terrance Talbott is the only other three-tech on the roster until fall. Neither of these things are necessarily bad. RVB graded out decently in UFRs a couple years ago and picked up six sacks; Martin is good enough to play either spot.
What is bad is what that does to the strongside defensive end spot, where Jibreel Black would be an all-but-certain starter as a true sophomore. Black had some promising moments last year… as a pass rusher. He had many more in which his terrible run defense hurt Michigan, and while he'll get better it seems doubtful he'll get better fast enough to be an asset. The only other option at SDE is redshirt freshman Ken Wilkins.
It is possible that in this scenario they put Roh on the strongside since he'll be a junior and he's been less prone to crippling mistakes against the run. His main problem has been a lack of size that the offseason should come close to erasing. That would take a guy who's presumably going to be Michigan's best pass rusher and put him in a position to get doubled lots, though.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Depends on scenario but this shouldn't be too bad. In the happy fairy scenario Michigan's personnel fits a shifted line like a glove. You've got three battleship type NTs, two guys on the weakside who will wreak havoc, a solid guy at SDE, and a scattering of decent backups.
Even in the regular non-fairy scenario you've got good personnel at three spots. SDE would probably be an issue. Either way it's way better than trying to use Craig Roh as a LB or three-man-line DE.
I'm not trying to say one is better than the other, but I take issue with the idea that the 3-3 is not capable of stopping the power running gaming. Given an option I am right there with you saying that we need this change because we don't have the guys to run a 3-3 either in my opinion. If you're going to run a 3-3 in the big ten it needs to be with bigger guys. You are right I am a coach and I run the 3-3 and I used to run Shafer's 4-3. I can tell you right now we do not run little guys out there, that is one misconception on the 3-3, you do not have to run this defense with little players. I can tell you right now that on the line there will not be a starter weighing less than 250, all of the lb's will be 210'ish and the box safties will be around 190. This will be at a high school that plays only one spread team in the regular season and we will shut down the run.
As far as Mattison saying that his defense will fly around you are right, I just hope he implements his rules that he had with the Ravens. Rule one is: stop the run - to don't even try to run the ball against the Michigan Wolverines. I love the way that sounds. I also think he will have us running one of the best defenses in the country within a couple of years.
I'm not trying to be a dick or anything, I just really pisses me off when people say that you can't stop power football with the 3-3, because you can when you do it right and we have not been doing it right.
Ash/Washington/Campbell to me are the key to the whole defense. There are a wide variety of potential outcomes too considering the size/talent level of the guys contrasted with their relative youth and lack of game experience.
I think there are enough guys competing for jobs in the back seven that barring major injuries things will at least be okay on that end. If one of the big fellas can become a block-eating monster inside, the ceiling for the unit as a whole shoots up tremendously.
I was screaming for the 4-3 last year, and it's back! I know that scheme isn't everything, but it does help to have an effective plan in place. I really think that we won't see our defense struggling to line up (bowl game) and being caught not knowing what they are supposed to do. I think making this move and concentrating on making things simple will really help. Once again I have given a ton of opinions with no evidence to back it up, but hey - that's what I do.
my two favorite things now co-exist on the same website.
can we finally get an opinion from you on whether fairies are demoted angels or are born from the laughs of babies? i say it is laughs of babies, since demoted angels generally do not shrink in size (except for that one time, i know guys! geez).
Being a relatively (very) young fan, I have only recently become a big enough fan to actually care about scheme. As such, I know a lot about the 3-3-5, but embarrasingly little about the 4-3. Can anyone point me to a resource that would help? I tried digging up the old FF 101 posts, but they have a lot on the 3-3-5, but nothing on the 4-3. Any help?
Brian, this is truly your element and the life-blood of this blog. I think more of these types of post will cause a return to actual content on the MGoBoard.
I am wishing for Mike Martin to move to the 3-tech, which is the scenario in a perfect world...however, I do think that the latter is what we will be stuck with, which is Mike Martin staying as a 1-tech : (. The D-line is really hanging on the development of a Big Will, Quinton Washington, and a bunch of redshirt freshman. If they step up, I will smack somebody like I just got Oprah pregnant (I'm rich bitch) and youtube that ho!
For those of you who said the D line wasnt that bad last year....clearly you have gotten use to a terrible undersized defense that can not stop running plays or get in to the backfield. The main key is to have richard ash a solid starter at the 1 tech. Having roh plat weakside and ryan playing strongside will give us the optimal packages to stop the run. With a stout line plugging holes and actually creating their own penetration , the linebackers are free to make plays around and behind the LOS.
Hot girls we have problems too. We're just like you. Except we're hot.
Thanks for the insightful post, Brian. I've been a Michigan football fan all my life, but it's only just been this past year that I've attempted to learn anything about strategies/schemes.
So, at the risk of sounding naive, is a one-tech vs a three-tech simply a matter of positioning with respect to the offensive line? The one-tech takes on the center/guard while the three-tech takes on the guard/tackle? Also, what do the 5 and 9 triangle defenders in the above diagram stand for?
To hear how much better this sounds than what we put out there in 2010. Aside from not having Brandon Graham, I think it's also more promising than what we put out there in 2009, even in the worst case scenarios outlined above. We're headed for average, folks. Combined with our offense, which I expect to be somewhat less prolific but hopefully more efficient (i.e. better scoring to yards ratio, fewer turnovers, 3-and-outs, etc.), that makes us a competitive Big 10 team.
Looking at our schedule, I see 5 games we're "supposed to win"* (WMU, EMU, SDSU, Minn, Purdue), 3 "tossups" (Notre Dame, N'Western, Illinois) and 4 we're "not supposed to win" (MSU, Iowa, Nebraska, OSU).
I see us clearing the first 5 easily. With an upgrade on defense to average and a more efficient scoring offense, we should have the tools to take 2 of 3 tossups and at least 1 of the "nots." That would give us 8 wins. An experienced MSU away will be tough, but we played them close 2 years ago, so it's not impossible. A Stanzi and Robinson-less Iowa is vulnerable, even if away. I think we take this one. Nebraska is a question mark...they looked dominant early last year and just awful at the end, plus they lose a couple stars. I think it's a plausible upset win too. OSU is unrealistic, but we're at home and if we're not completely inept on defense and efficient on offense then we've got a better shot than we've had since 2007.
*Quotes mean this is from media pre-season perceptions land.
When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing. -Bo
Great post Brian. I hope everyone clicked on the link for the Iowa play. It clearly showed how their OL pushed Michigan at the point of attack, a problem the defense experienced repeatedly in Big 10 play.