Nickelbacks may no be “starters” per se
Last week we took a look at run defenses, and concluded that Rutgers isn’t the steaming pile of hilarity we’re all expecting. This week, we’re taking the same look at pass defenses. Spoiler alert: Rutgers IS the steaming pile of hilarity we’re all expecting. If not steamier and… uh… more pile-like. The question at hand is as follows: who will have the best pass defense in the Big Ten in 2014?
If you’ve forgotten, we’re just taking a simple two-step process: we look at how good teams were last year at a thing, and we look at attrition among the folks responsible for the thing. Our key assumptions are as follows:
Again, this is the easier piece.
Yards per attempt allowed, adjusted for sacks: YPA is generally considered the statistical gold standard for overall goodness of passing games, so it is a pretty useful stat for demonstrating pass defense (It is almost certainly superior to cumulative stats. Yards per game can be misleading based on differing numbers of attempts; Purdue was middle of the pack in terms of YPG allowed, but that’s only because they faced fewer passes because their run defense was so ungodly atrocious, and they were usually behind, so offenses didn’t really feel the need to throw the ball).
We've adjusted for sacks, counting a sack as a pass attempt, which makes sense because if you drop back five times, and complete one pass for 10 yards while getting sacked four times, your yards per attempt should really reflect the fact that attempting to pass went poorly most of the time.
|Team||YPA - sack adj.|
Passing S&P+ Defense: Click the link for a thorough explanation, but it is an advanced statistical model analyzing what defenses allow on a given play against what you would expect. Advantages are that it takes opponent strength into account, it factors in sacks, and it filters out garbage time. Numbers are national rankings.
20+ yard passing plays per game: Completions happen. A team will often gladly offer an opponent a 10 yard completion on 3rd and 17. But 20+ yard completions are a strong indication of a pass defense prone to breakdowns, and one that cannot do the thing it is trying to do.
|Team||20+ yard passes/game|
Sacks per game: Sacks can be either a cause of good pass defense or a symptom of good pass defense. A quality pass rush will lead to better defensive results when the opponent tries to pass the ball (see: Nebraska and Ohio State), and solid coverage will lead to more chances for the pass rush to get home with “coverage sacks” (see: Michigan State). It’s hard to separate the two causal possibilities, but for our purposes we don’t need to. They’re both good.
Putting it together
Here is how the teams shake out in rough order of how they fared in the above categories, with emphasis on the first two categories.
Like last week the teams generally break out into four tiers:
[AFTER THE JUMP: Attrition tolls for thee. If thee be Ohio State or Nebraska]
As with the front seven, determining how many starters a team returns is tricky. Nickelbacks may no be “starters” per se, but they often play a significant number of snaps (and the snaps they play are disproportionately passing downs). If you look at a team like Michigan State, who is likely to replace a graduating strong safety (Isaiah Lewis) with their primary nickel defender (RJ Williamson), does that move mean they lose one starter from the secondary? Two? Zero? Hell if I know. Also, linebackers play a large role in pass defense, especially in zone-heavy systems. So what I'm saying is that this is grain-of-salt stuff.
To give a very rough estimate of what the secondary for each team is losing, I include the total number of Passes Defended (Interceptions plus PBUs) for the departing starters. Passes Defended isn’t a perfect stat (corners will usually accumulate more than safeties), but it’ll give you a general sense.
|How good in 2013?||Returning DBs||Passes defended by lost starters|
Overall, a remarkable number of defensive backs return conference-wide this year (nearly 70% of starters, compared to the roughly 63% from the front seven) The teams generally fall into two categories: minimal attrition (the first ten) and “uh oh” (Iowa, MSU, Ohio State, and Nebraska).
Wisconsin was good last year despite being very young. They only lose safety Dezmen Southward, and they return a budding star in Sophomore Sojourn Shelton. However, they will be under more pressure this year because the entire freeking front seven.
Corner Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos will be among the best in the conference. If they can cut down on the big plays, and if the secondary stays healthy (depth is a concern everywhere other than Tight End in Happy Valley), they could be really good.
Please continue to exist in this physical plane
Michigan loses Thomas Gordon, but if they can find a safety (cough cough JABRILL PEPPERS), they return a lot of experience at corner. The emergence of Jourdan Lewis along with Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor gives Michigan a lot of quality depth. This COULD be the year in which Never Forget is finally forgotten. At which point we will have succeeded. Or failed. I’m not sure.
Minnesota is a bit of a sleeper, and frankly I'm not sold, but they had a solid-ish season last year, and Eric Murray and Michael Caputo are… above average? We’ll go with above average.
They suffered a number of injuries last year, but as a result a bunch of guys got experience. WIll LIkely is only 5’7”, but is probably their best DB (as well as the player with the easiest-to-pun-upon name on the roster). If their pass rush can remain as good as it was, they should be able to make the leap to the B1G without much regression.
Unnamed Michigan State football player
They lost a first-round corner in Darqueze Dennard and a multi-year starting safety Isaiah Lewis. So maybe they take a step back. But if you expect me to denegrate them in this space, you are insane. Trae Waynes is a potential first-round talent at corner, and starting nickel RJ Williamson battled Lewis for the starting spot two years ago and will be just fine at strong safety. Also they have a free safety whose name escapes me, but I've been told he is pretty good.
Not really sure what to expect from Northwestern. They return every starter, including the starting corner they lost in the opener last year (Daniel Jones, because Northwestern has more Joneses than Ohio State has Browns). But they weren't THAT good last year, and they haven't finished in the top 40 in S&P+ pass defense in the last decade.
I consider it a kind deed to put Purdue this high. They lose Ricardo Allen, and they return a large pile of whatever. They won't be embarassing. Happy?
I’m a bit out on a limb here. Iowa was the second best pass defense in the conference last year, and they return two solid pieces in safety John Lowdermilk and corner Desmond King. However, they lost free safety Tanner Miller and corner BJ Lowery. They also lost their entire linebacking corp, which racked up 6 INTS.
They were pretty good in the back end last year, but they lose both starting corners and a free safety, and most of their production in the process. Strong safety Corey Cooper may be able to plug some leaks, but they won't be as good this year.
Take a mediocre (at best) pass defense and remove a first round corner and any whiff of safety experience. Okay, maybe that's poor phrasing. If there's one thing Ohio State has, it's whiffs. Lots and lots of whiffs. Ohio State allowed 143 passing plays of 10+ yards, 14 more than anyone else in the conference (Indiana, obv.). They allowed 7 pass plays of 60 (!) yards or more. Sounds like Springfield's got a discipline problem.
If you could distill the very essence of Gary Nova and spritz it onto a defensive secondary like MiracleGro, you would have the Rutgers secondary.
You see, the schematic problem with Indiana's pass defense was...
Even Notre Dame be like, "man, that's poor coverage on Jeremy Gallon"
They surrendered 25 passing TDs. They had 3 interceptions. They defended 31 passes on the season... AS A TEAM. Even on a terrible defense Tim Bennett defended 21 by HIMSELF. They are bad. We should get to play them. That would be more fun.
Again, the strictures require me to make a prediction. Gun to my head, I'd ask "why are you putting a gun to my head for THIS?" but if pressed I'd give the following order for 2014:
Nickelbacks may no be “starters” per se
Sounds like Springfield's got a discipline problem.
Maybe that's why we beat them in football nearly the half the time. *High five*
The CB/Safety athleticism should be at a pretty high level this year. Most UM secondary units that I can remember usually had that 1 guy that was just....there.
This season it actually seems like it is a possibility that each secondary position could have a very solid player in it and there is some depth too.
I’m hoping the coaches take advantage of this and play more aggressively, regardless of youth/inexperience, and take some chances because watching another season of “bend, don’t break” defense will be painful.
At some point, you've just got to let these guys play. Turn the dogs loose. But, with no real pass rush last year (remember the whole "right to rush 4" thing going on in summer camp? Should have been a big hint to all of us), that probably didn't seem like a good idea to Mattison. Hopefully this year's defensive camp meme is "Let's make a QB sandwich".
I see them playing with more "wild abandon" so to speak. I think the coaches know that 2014 has to positive. Hoke knows that another average showing will make his seat pretty damn hot. I think they know it's go time and they have a pretty damn big monkey(can't win, can't develop players, can't beat Sparty,etc.) sitting on their backs.
While the defensive backfield might be green, a rock solid to possibly dominant dline could cover up a lot of deficencies there.
agree. BiSB - you're underselling OSU. they have a lot of talent even if it's inexperienced. and unfortunately, we get them at the end of the season, by which time that talent will have some experience. also, defending the pass is made eaiser when your D-line is loaded with all-american recruits.
Tyvis Powell started 5 games last year (I assume after the good safety broke his foot), played in all 14 and his starts aren't terribly different than Jarrod Wilson's.
and do so with their ability to understand situations, read routes and know their own strengths and weaknesses by never ovoercommitting, and they either do this as the result of experience and talent, both speed and agility with the confidence of knowing how to use both.
The truth is when Michigan's defense is solid and strong or exceptional, it's had secondary guys who can make plays against the deep pass and prevent enough chain-moving plays even when the rush hasn't forced a quicker pass. A great defense has a secondary that complements an average to better pass rush because it makes everyone more confident in stopping teams.
Michigan finally has that this year with a player who could be not only a stopper in the backfield but a super playmaker.Michigan has strength at cornerback both in quality and numbers. Safety is still a question mark, but there are answers.
Add that to an experienced and effective linebacker group and a decent rush led by a coach who likes sending more than the other team can block, and you have the makings of a dynamic defense. This is what Michigan has this year. But, of course, they have to prove it.
In 1997, Michigan had a great defensive interior and secondary that could stop any attack in its tracks. The only great name on that team wore No.2, but his confidence along with the character and mental strength and ability of his teammates carried that team game by game through an undefeated season.
I always start from the premise of that team's ability in assessing what other Michigan teams are capable of. And this team, this year, has many characteristics of that team if they become mentally tough enough and understand how to complement each other's talents and weaknesses.
Collectively, this will be the best secondary Michigan has put on the field in quite awhile. . A great secondary can cover up a lot of potential mistakes. It makes linebacker play stronger and a pass rush more effective because it gets more time to get to its target. A good pass rush makes a secondary better by allowing it to play less time in space. And a good linebacker group makes both the Dline and secondary better when it fills holes and covers secondary receivers properly so the defense becomes totally efficient and limits drive time and effective possessions.
UM's defense lives up to the hype that I'm falling for hook, line and sinker! I'm not expecting '97 level, but all this talk about experience replacing youth, I'm buying in!
And we're down to in the 40 days til the season starts area, oh boy!!
The comment for the Indiana .gif was just perfect, I about fell out of my seat. kudos to you sir.
I could watch that Funchess gif about a hundred times . . . and I think I already have. Here's hoping he'll create some more this November in C-Bus. Looks like the chances are good.
I just read this post and I am also one of the people that are fully sold on this years upcoming D being something special. Wondering about this I went over to 11warrior to see if they had any such insight into how their secondary would be this year.
According to this they are looking to be the best secondary in the conference.
I do not believe that with what talent they are returning that they will be better than MSU or UM in the secondary but I believe they will be higher than 10th best in the Big 10.
They are counting on a lot of "stars" which is something we've been guilty of as well. I am not talking about our secondary per se as we actually have players who have played in college football games and done decently but just in general. They dont have a guy as high as Peppers but think if you had 3-4 guys every year in the top 200 in your secondary - your expectations would be high as well which is what they are doing. I have no idea what their back 7 would be but Roby did not impress me and was supposedly their best of the secondary and Shazier who did impress me is gone. That said they get a lot of "starz" like we do and I am sure some will be big hits, and others will make the mistakes of youth - something we have suffered in inordinate amount of.
As for UM defense I see it returning to a top 20 type unit. Despite the OSU game which was a horror the run defense was actually 'decent' last year - and had been since Mattison returned. What fell off big time was the pass defense which was pathetic. That needs to improve and by returning almost everyone but Gordon it should. And I am NOT counting on Peppers like everyone else is - he is a freshman who is going to get exposed and have to learn and will have mental and physical breakdowns like every freshman in the country. But I think guys like Lewis and Stribling now have enough game experience combined with flashes they showed to really compete with Countess and Taylor and push/displace as need be. My main worry is Wilson cannot ever get hurt or really rest this year, and the open question at the other S. I think the LBs are solid to good and the DE starters are very experienced with some decent backup talent. And the DTs I think are a year away from being potentially very special as a group....but I am counting on Henry and Wormley here as I really liked what I saw last year from very young guys like that. Having a Hurst or Poggi jump this year would be a bonus.
Looking at the stats above I can say that sacks are overrated. Best at sacks = meh pass defense, best pass defense = meh or bad at sacks....Interesting.