Full disclosure - this meanders. I’m posting as a diary since, at it essence, this is a fans’ wrestling over how deeply coaches can/should engage in the ‘chess match’ of this sport. Coaches are praised or scored based on the ability to minimize weakness and accentuate strengths. A special ire defends in those situations where a weakness is obvious to all, and (to the casual or untrained observer at least) no schematic/personal adjustments are made in response.
And by chess match, I'm not thinking of the analysis of coaching moves and decisions with a more game theory approach that (oversimplification coming) evaluates from a statistical probability and risk reward perspective. I'm thinking more of how coaches more their pieces, or don't move them, around the board to create or react to match-ups and relative strength of personal.
M faces a common defensive conundrum this year, maximizing the impact of a talented pass rusher surrounded by an otherwise pedestrian unit. Conventional sportscasting wisdom is that you move him around so the defense can’t zero in with double teams. Despite what could be all evidence to the contrary, I promise we’ll see the BG graphic flashed during introductions, and an announcer will tell us, "Michigan is going to try and move him around and let him get after the quarter back."
In my personal football watching experience, this seemly obvious theory craps out more often than not. For every Lawrence Taylor there’s a handful of Jeon Kearses who follow a gangbusters season with a mediocre one, prompting promises to move him around so the offense can’t key on him, which quickly fail and are scraped by the by the coaching staff.
BG is the unquestioned lynch-pin of the defense. The good news is that you couldn’t ask for a better lynch-pin than a pass rushing DE who can hold the point against the run. But preview after preview will tell you that defenses will double and triple (seriously? Triple? Me thinks not) BG to contain him.
This spawned my original question, "So what’s the best way to exploit an offense doubling the DE on passing downs?" If teams are bound and determined to double BG it stands to reason that should create consistent blocking weaknesses such that proper exploitation of the doubles themselves would have equal or greater effect than a singled up BG.
After some thought I abandoned this question, as the obvious answer is, "Depends on how they’re doubling him." I assume most offensive coaches won’t go into the M game planning that they’re going to put a TE to his, slide protection, or keep a back in all day. They’ll get the tackle help in a variety of ways.
Its then up to Greg Robinson or whoever to adapt and adjust on the fly. That is what we expect, right? Watching film to ID how the opposition’s coaches deal with similar problems against past opponents, evaluating that against how he’s being attacked in-game out of certain personal groupings/down and distance, then calling whatever is appropriate to take advantage of the extra attention (rush straight up, run a stunt, bring a delayed blitz behind him or on the other side of the guard to BG’s side, flooding BG’s side with more rushers than they can defense, flooding the other side with rushers, etc.).
But to what degree can coaches make consistently accurate pre-snap forecasts based on that data, and do so fast enough to dial up the proper defensive call and deploy corresponding personal?
Should we expect coaches to be that good? I say “no.”
So we’re back to the alternatives of a) gambling on moving BG around and being aggressive (ARRRHHH) to force their hand, or b) leaving BG at his position, don’t fuck with it too much, and hope the players around him can be taught to identify how he’s being attacked in situations and take advantage accordingly.
For my money, I think you’ve got to leave him be and hope he plays well enough to force those doubles. You evaluate the opponents history and what they’re doing in game, then try to make that perfect call once or twice a half where you ID a tendency early in the play clock and sell out to attack it. I would also say that in certain games, you flip-flop sides with BG for a game or a second half to try and murder a weak tackle.
Wow, that was a lot of words to get to that suggestion.