Son of a bitch. I told you not to ask that. I don't know, man. I don't know.
On the face of things it's not completely dire. Michigan starts two seniors and two juniors. They're big. The backups aren't freshmen, for the most part, and when Michigan's in the nickel package they'll lift the dodgiest parts of the line for what promises to be a stunting, slanting, pressuring Ryan-Roh-Black-Beyer/Clark group. The starters are all touted recruits save Black. Meanwhile, Michigan has three DL coaches and coached Will Heininger up like whoah last year. BONUS: If you squint it kind of looks like "QWash" looks like "quash."
They're unproven, and the lack of playing time last year is a cautionary note. Defensive linemen rotate, and rotate a lot if their coaches have faith in them. Washington hardly existed last year. Campbell did, though, and to a lesser extent so did Black.
A potential problem is the swing in strategy Michigan has to undertake as they transition away from the best penetrating nose tackle at Michigan since NTs ballooned into the 300 pound range. Quinton Washington may turn out all right; he's not going to be Mike Martin. This means the linebackers have to take big steps forward, beat guys who are (hopefully) releasing late after Washington and Campbell shove them back, and fill impeccably. The linebackers' jobs should actually get easier since Michigan has a pair of guys who can demand doubles (hypothetically); they'll have to make a quantum leap in consistency if the rushing defense is going to tread water.
Add to that a non-nickel line that looks like it's not going to get anywhere near the quarterback and you've got a recipe for frustration, or at least a lot of bending as Kovacs and company make tackles to extend drives and the front four tries to put opponents in passing downs.
Verdict: meh, but no worse.
[After jump: more defense, more Mattison, more PANIC?]
2. You're going to bring up the fumbles again, aren't you?
Yeah, I am. It's been a topic of dissention all offseason and you've heard it. I'll be brief. ZooWolverine put up a great diary that analyzes year to year correlations in the turnover realm and came back with the following results:
Nothing is that predictable.
Interceptions are more predictable than fumbles.
Fumbles forced and fumble recovery rate didn't correlate year to year at all.
The last category is randomness, which appears to have a very large impact on even the most skilled category, and complete control over a couple of them, meaning any real prediction is fairly foolish. To be a little foolish, then, I’d guess that interception categories improve to above average (say low 40s), but overall turnover margin gets worse, dropping to the 50s. However, I have only slightly more confidence than I do when calling a coin toss.
This is going to be a drag on any improvement the defense may make (unless it's not, small sample sizes and all that). We're just talking about fumble recovery rate here; obviously forcing fumbles and interceptions (usually with QB pressure) are things you can actually do. You cannot hustle to the ball any better than anyone else, and Michigan is going to be walking uphill as they try to replicate last year's 80% performance.
3. Surely there's something else to PANIC about?
Yeah. A major reason that Michigan's defense was so good last year was their crazy good short-yardage defense. Seth checked it nine games in and again after OSU and found that Michigan had reduced real* opponents' success rate on third and one from 78% in 2009 and 2010 to 35% last year.
That is a staggering one-year turnaround, and it's not just good relative to Michigan's awful GERG defenses. In 2006 when Alan Branch and company were busy annihilating the opposition, they gave up third and one conversions at a 33% rate. What Martin, Van Bergen, Heininger, and company did last year was capital-e Elite. Three of the four DL starters and the two guys who drove more of that success…
…than anyone else are now gone, leaving questions in their wake.
If the fumbles get recovered at a more realistic rate and Michigan isn't booting opponents off the field on third and short, you're dealing with a lot more long drives, and that makes your shaky DL depth more of a factor, and that leads to more long drives, and… yeah. Real pounders could be an issue. Like, say, Alabama.
Michigan will have more success against spread-type teams as they go to an aggressive nickel package for which they have good personnel. Teams that can force them to use their big package will have the twin luxuries of probably doing well on third and short and probably getting lots of time when they pass on first and ten.
Unless, of course, they don't because leaps happen.
*[IE, not MAC or I-AA]
4. This is not doubting Mattison but what's so special about the guy that we can replicate?
You probably think Mattison is super aggressive, right? There's a stupid prediction below that Michigan's sacks would almost double and hit around 30th that hit almost on the nose. This is because Mattison, like all defensive coordinators ever, is much more aggressive than the last guy, the toff.
In Mattison's case, this is in fact emphatically true since the guy he's replacing was a milquetoasty has-been who thought sending four guys across the line was the ZERG RUSH of defensive strategies. This was obvious from the drop:
Last year I started tracking the number of rushers M sent at the quarterback because Greg Robinson kept sending three, which I defended as not totally insane at the time. Like everything else, it was totally insane.
The number of three-man rushes against WMU? One. That stuff about being aggressive that every defensive coordinator says? 100% valid. The really cool thing about being aggressive? Mattison is doing it while often getting seven guys into coverage by bringing zone blitzes.
But how many times did Mattison send more than the baseline four? A lot, right?
Michigan sent a fifth guy about 20 percent of the time and more than that just 10 percent of the time. The other 70% they were just hanging out, and by "just hanging out" I mean "often still getting an unblocked rusher."
Mattison's near-constant zone blitzing is an NFL approach to defense, and once he figured out that Michigan couldn't do certain things quite as well as the Ravens it was a highly effective one. Despite having not much in the rush department other than Mike Martin, Michigan's pressure metric was on the whole a good one:
Alex Carder is still coughing up blood.
Front four not getting anywhere.
NO BLOCKY FOR YOU
Not a lot of deep passes this week because of wind.
Most of this a four man rush.
Decent job; few blitzes.
Stunts and okie annihilated OL.
Doesn't even count lets kill Martinez time
Erratic, usually based on blitzes.
And that's with no DL getting more than 5.5 sacks. Give Mattison some guys who can beat OTs one on one and those numbers will be more consistent—and very good. Viva okie.
Now that Michigan is keeping a deep safety on these things and not offering free touchdowns—Mattison learned that lesson in one try—they are increasingly difficult to deal with as new players and stunts get added to them. It's almost like Scot Shafer was on to something.
This was all in year one, and now Michigan gets a year two.
Michigan's insane year-to-year improvement in 2011 leads to surprisingly moderate expectations in 2012. Michigan returns eight starters (three of them freshmen), and yet I get the vibe that no one expects improvement commensurate with what that would normally imply. The gap is even greater once you consider this will be Michigan's second year in a new system.
To this point, I haven't questioned that. The question marks on the line are severe and I've focused on that, especially in re: Alabama's offensive line, but… man, the difference between this defensive line and the kind of DB crater that submarined a bunch of previous Michigan seasons is enormous. If the line's even okay—like absorb blocks mostly—you have to think that improvement from the entire back seven will keep things level even accounting for the fumbles.
Quinton Washington is the key. If he won the job because he's pretty good, everything gets easier. If he won the job because Michigan has zero three-techs, it'll be a rough road heavily dependent on Blake Countess becoming a war daddy a year earlier than seems reasonable.
JT Floyd > junior JT Floyd
Blake Countess >> junior Blake Countess
T. Gordon > younger T. Gordon + some Woolfolk
Sophomore Jake Ryan >> freshman Jake Ryan
Senior Kenny Demens > junior Kenny Demens
Sophomore Desmond Morgan >> Desmond Morgan
Will Campbell > Will Heininger (right?)
Black/Clark/Beyer == junior Roh
Kovacs == Kovacs
Craig Roh < Ryan Van Bergen
Quinton Washington <<< Mike Martin
That looks pretty good, right? Except for that last bit, yeah. But…
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
Yes on the leading the team in tackles, no on the NW LB numbers.
Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year.
I meant JT Floyd, you guys. Srs. I meant Will Heininger, you guys.
The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Roh had four, which was tied for second with Kovacs. RVB had 5.5.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Accurate. Michigan fished around with Herron and Hawthorne before settling on Morgan, who was iffy as true freshmen usually are. Michigan had 2.31 sacks per game last year, 29th.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Michigan got 25 turnovers, though lady luck had a lot to do with that.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
Exceedingly pessimistic, somehow. Michigan was 17th—Jesus—in yards allowed. 17th. Advanced metrics had them around the same spot.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
I'm giving myself two points for this one.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
Washington and Campbell are functional with Campbell leaning towards actually good as long as he's at three-tech and not tired.
Fumbles are recovered at a 50.3% rate.
The ILBs take a major leap forward as they understand the defense much better; UFR complaints about slowness are mitigated and evaporate by midseason. Morgan seems a little better than Demens by year's end.
Ryan hits eight sacks and twice that many TFLs.
WDE production is a major sore spot. Black ends up not very effective at either of his positions.
JT Floyd is better tackling on the edge and otherwise static.
Countess is a breakout star. Corner stats are dumb, so no predictions there, but his UFRs are an obvious step forward.
Total defense (17) and scoring defense (6) drop somewhat; advanced metrics like FEI (16) hold steady, if not rise a bit.
IIRC, the average fumble recovery rate for a defense is around 58%. So you are predicting not just a regression toward the mean, but a movement well past the mean. While I would also predict a significant drop in percentage recovered, I'd still predict a little bit over the mean (probably around 60%) simply due to the fact that we have the grittiest gritty mcgritterson of all time (Kovacs), who simply by being on the field has to put us above average in this category.
is orders of magnitude less than the number of athletes that are accused of playing lazy. I'm sure there are guys in college football who don't go after fumbles that hard. There aren't many of them, and they tend not to stay on the field that long.
There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.
"...they tend not to stay on the field that long." Truth. Just feel that 'all helmets to the ball' is something that is preached by every DC, but not practiced that way. Guess we'll find out this year, right? Except, small sample sizes and all.
I took it as, if QWash is just average/below average and is placed in the spot he's in only because the talent under him isn't developed enough yet, then the lack of pressure he puts on the QB and sub-par job he is doing on run-stop will be needed to be overcome by a stellar secondary (i.e. Countess developing into a stud, and assuming Floyd is All-Big-Ten caliber). I could be totally wrong, and you right, and he did mean Pipkins.
edit: Actually thinking about the term "War Daddy", that would seem to imply a large human being, Pipkins...and the whole, one year in the system is probably what's needed for him to be a legit NT.
Mattison explicitly referred to the field corner as a "war daddy" in the clinic Brian attended (I am somewhat embarrassed I rememberd this):
Corners. "Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help.
I'm thinking Qwash is starting in part, because M plans to rotate him with O Pipkins. I think its sooner rather than later that Pipkins surpasses Washington
Combining my limited film study of Pipkins, with my limited knowledge of D line play, causes be to predict big things for the Big O.
Now for a simplistic comparison: I liken seeing Pipkins do what he does on a football field with an extra 20 pounds around his gut, to Charles Barkley when he first entered the NBA carrying extra weight. One would have thought Barkley couldn't compete in the NBA with all that baby fat. It took one viewing of Barkley playing at the Palace to see what a phenomenal talent he was, and to realize, despite a few extra pounds he was one of the most talented players in the league. Pipkins carrying an extra 20 lbs hurts him, but he's just too damn talented to remain on the sidelines.
Extra weight might have kept Qwash, Richard Ash, and to a lesser extent Will Campbell, from playing early, but I don't see it stopping O Pipkins.
I really don't think that he will crack the starting line-up at all this year. The expectations for Pipkins seem to be a bit too high. It is not that I think Pipkins is not going to be a great asset for us but rather more about the transition from High School to College. The jump to college is especially high on both sides of the line, making starting freshman at this position very rare.
Pipkins is a great athelete and I really can't overstate how much I like him as a recruit but he has a HUGE amount of progress and development needed to compete with his older more experienced competition. Not only does he need some physical development and conditioning but more importantly he needs to learn technique and learn the defense. The extra weight is less of a concern than technique. Most DL recruits that are highly touted like Pipkins are used to dominating their opponents physically but in college to be effective you NEED good technique. Is it possible? Sure, Lamarr Woodley and Brandon Graham both contributed as freshman. I certainly hope that Pipkins can develop that quickly and contribute this year and even turn out like one of those guys.
Graham, Woodley, and Mike Martin all got playing time. But none of them started, and they were awesome. Pipkins might be great, but he will be a rotational player and not a starter this year. Besides all the things you mention, high school kids aren't as strong. The weight lifting and natural body developement as one ages in college cannot be overcome completely by genetics. Running backs and cornerbacks don't need to be as strong, so they can start as freshman, but if you can't outmuscle a guy 4-5 years older than you, its will be tough to play on the d-line.
While I agree with your line of thought, I don't think generalities are going to fill the bill here, hence, my chance to look stupid prediction.
If Mike Martin and RVB were still around, I wouldn't make my prediction. After seeing what this staff did last season (two true freshman starting at end of year), and my belief in Pipkins being much more talented than Q Washington, I think Pipkins gets the nod later in the season.
pretty optimistic about Big Will and QWash, those two giants know its their time to shine and I think we could be surprised. Like you said, they are just soo big they will eat up some line and let some other guys fly around and make plays.
Turnovers are primarily performance based. Very good teams have good Turnover Margin (TOM). Very poor teams have poor TOM.
M will finish the year with a better TOM than last year (it was +7).
DRob will throw half the interceptions he did last year.
The experienced secondary will increase interception takeaways.
Forced fumbles will stay about the same.
Fumble recovery rates will move towards 50% but will end the year at 60%.
Life should not be a journey to the grave to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What A Ride!" HST
"Turnovers are primarily performance based. Very good teams have good Turnover Margin (TOM). Very poor teams have poor TOM."
Does having a good team result in having a positive turnover margin, or does having a positive turnover margin result in having a good team?
I remember a stat from a few years ago from the NFL, when a team won the turnover battle by 1, they won a clear majority of their games. When a team won the turnover battle by 2 or more, their win percentage went up to something ridiculous, like in the 80% range. Sure, it is an NFL stat, but I think it still applies to college football. Turnovers are obviously huge turning points in the game, and teams that end up with the best turnover margins will typically end up with good records.
I do a weekly Turnover Analysis during the season in the Diaries. In only 25% of college football games, are TOs a factor in determining the winning team. Turnovers alone will rarely make a poor team (from a W/L standpoint) into a very good team.
Last year M ended the season with a +2 win/loss advantage due to TOM. So, I would postulate M would have ended the year at 9-4 instead of 11-2 without the TOM advantage.
A 9-4 record is still very good (typically top 25). So M was a very good team that was benefited by TOs to be an even better team.
Life should not be a journey to the grave to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What A Ride!" HST
because the talent gaps between teams are much bigger than in the NFL. About 1/3 of the games on each team's schedule are on-paper blowouts (MAC-level opponents, Indiana/Duke-quality conference opponents) that even a bad turnover deficit probably won't turn into a loss.
I'm looking at our Yahoo pickem for week 1 and 18 of the 27 games have twenty-point spreads or bigger (or are off-the-board blowouts against 1AA teams). There probably won't be an NFL point spread that large the entire season.
That the slight decrease in defensive performance could be mitigated by some progress from the offense (i.e. Denard interceptions). That's the hope I am holding onto. I also really hope that Pipkins can crack the line-up and perform because even if the starting line is good like the author stated d-line rotates heavily and last year when we had basically no way to take Martin or RVB off the field it sapped our defensive performace a bit.
“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 Schembechler
I think we will get better pressure from the ends this year, which might help in passing situations more than against the run, but if BWC, Washington, and Demens can keep the run in check then that may be all we need. Add improvement from players in the box like Morgan, Ryan, and delayed blitzes and stellar open field tackles from Kovacs and it will mitigate the losses from last years front 4 pressuring the qb and TFL production. I think the fact that Demens, Roh, and Kovacs are seniors will make a big difference as well, like senior performances from Martin and RVB were 2011.
I predicted big things for Des at Michigan after seeing him play extensively for 2yrs in HS, however even my most optimistic visions did not have him starting as a freshman or even seeing substantial playing time. In other words the kid far exceeded my highest expectations and wasn't even a EE as a frosh. I expect that having made the nearly impossible leap from playing HS football to Div 1 at a position as difficult as linebacker. He has the capability to really make another giant leap in year 2, even exceeding what might be considered a traditionally solid leap. This could really help out the D-line as it develops as a unit.
they need to fill their gap effectively. if doubled, you want them holding their ground at the LOS and allowing a linebacker to flow to the hole outside of him. if singled, they need to get some push and not allow the RB to run up their gap.
This year it seems people are mainly focusing on the D Line as the only source of weakness, and this will lead to a worse overall defense in 2012.
Rewind back to August 2011, and pretty much the entire defense had questions. Most of those questions were answered fairly quickly. I trust this staff to get the absolute most out of the players we have, and if you look at the talent level we actually have, it's not too shabby. Will we see growing pains along the line vs Bama? Absolutely. Will these lead to a loss? Quite possibly. But for the rest of the year, I expect to see marked improvement to the point where our new line is operating as an above average Big Ten unit, and quite possibly at or near the production we had last year.
Am I being overly optimistic? Maybe, but last year's performance made me comfortable with being optimistic.
... although it is not one I share (yet). The one thing I've gleaned from ~35 years of watching football is that line play is the biggest hidden factor - perhaps the biggest factor, period - in winning games. We're losing three NFL-quality lineman (Molk, Martin, Van Bergen) from a defense that was unreasonably great on fumble recovery and short-yardage.
The bigger problem with such a glaring D-line weakness is that it allows our biggest opponents - MSU, Nebraska, and OSU - to avoid their weakness in the passing game and just run the ball behind the powerhouses up front. If QWash and BWC can't demand double-teams, we're going to see an awful lot of Countess getting dragged past the marker for a first while Demens and Kovacs are lying underneath O-lineman.
If the coaching staff can get this team to transcend the loss of three NFL-quality lineman that moves past great and into genius. I would be pleased beyond punch if this came to pass.
The NFL would have a thing or two to say about your assessment. Mike Martin was a third-rounder. Molk barely got drafted at all -- though his injury had much to do with it, he's been called "undersized" the whole time. RVB wasn't drafted. I liked how they did, but "NFL-quality" isn't an accurate way to describe them.
Michigan took what was very clearly NOT an NFL-caliber line on EITHER side of the ball and got them to play very, very well. You can actually see the lines improving (with some obvious growing pains) over the course of the season. That doesn't bode well for Alabama, but it does bode well for the season overall. You honestly think Mattison will be content to see Kovacs buried by blockers all season?
I expect D-line regression, but Mattison isn't a one-trick pony. He'll play to this season's strengths.
I'm a little high on Jibreel Black as well. I remember him being probably our most productive backup last year at just a little over 250 lbs. He played in every game, lining up in multiple looks already as a defensive reserve, and playing special teams, and pulled in 12 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks. Add almost 30 pounds and play him every game at End and Tackle and his production will go way up. If he had started last year he probably would've had more tackles and sacks than Gholston, who only put up 35 solo and 2 sacks as a starting rush end. He's gonna wear out opposing linemen with his push and athleticism by games end. I'm excited about what he's gonna do this year starting at 280 lbs with a 6'2" mans leverage.
You only rush 4 because when you're bad if you blitz wrong you're giving up a TD. Then when they know what they're doing and are better, you can start blitzing from all over the play. Only to hopefully get to the point where you're recruited well enough that you can get pressure by just rushing 4 to be a truly great defense.
And why so sure Kovacs will stay the same? Matty's been giving him a lot of praise, which he usually heaps out by the tea spoon full. Maybe he will be even more amazing.
Zone blitz: any scheme where a LB or safety blitzes and the coverage is zone. This may or may not mean a DL dropping into coverage; e.g., bring one LB and rush 5 while playing 3-deep, 3-under coverage.
Fire zone: a defensive scheme where there is a blitz accompanied by a DL dropping into coverage, and coverage is zone