Five Question And Five Answers: Defense 2017

Five Question And Five Answers: Defense 2017

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2017 at 2:03 PM

Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A Offense.

1. HOW ARE WE GONNA SURVIVE MAN? THEY'RE ALL GONE!

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the dearly departed [Eric Upchurch]

Survive is easy. See Gary, Rashan. Thrive is harder. Michigan's talent drain has been significantly overblown in the national media, a land where Mo Hurst isn't a starter and there are significant question marks about Gary and Chase Winovich, but... uh... there was still a lot of it. See last year's NFL draft.

The main thing offsetting the talent drain is the Don Brown effect. His defenses have taken significant steps—sometimes massive leaps—forward in year two:

[metrics are yards per play, FEI, and S&P+; national ranks are presented. final column is the average of the three. Bolded years are Brown years.]

Year TEAM YPP FEI S&P+ AVG
2008 Maryland 56 63 75 65
2009 Maryland 87 64 44 65
2010 Maryland 14 20 31 22
2011 Maryland 83 74 102 86
           
2010 UConn 40 40 63 48
2011 UConn 56 23 34 38
2012 UConn 8 22 38 23
2013 UConn 64 56 72 64
           
2012 Boston College 63 81 80 75
2013 Boston College 92 98 80 90
2014 Boston College 30 68 36 45
2015 Boston College 1 5 3 3

Forward motion for Michigan is impossible after last year's elite outfit, but the table makes it clear that imbibing Don Brown's defense is a multi-year process. Michigan has a bunch of new starters; none are freshmen, so they're actually more experienced in Brown's defense than the departed were. This resulted in a lot less pointing during the spring game, and an absence of the big safety busts that cropped up at inopportune times last year. (Except for that walk-on against Gentry.)

Bill Connelly's 2016 defensive radar tells a hell of a story:

MichiganDefRadar

That slice out of the circle of excellency is yards per completion. You'll note that Michigan was fantastic at preventing 20 yard passes, and just average at preventing 30 yard passes—the implication is that when Michigan busted they busted huge, as they did against Colorado early and FSU late. The above is what the platonic opposite of a bend-but-don't break defense looks like statistically.

Getting a little bit more bend in the defense will help. Michigan's going to lose ground everywhere else but if they can pull that yards per completion number up 60 or so spots that'll go a long way towards treading water. This is in fact the pattern Brown's defenses follow:

And though the Eagles had been vulnerable to giving up big plays on the back end in Brown’s first few seasons in Chestnut Hill, by Year 3 they got the personnel and the scheme to the point where they were solid on both ends. In 2013, Brown’s first year helming the defense, BC gave up 47 passing plays of more than 20 yards (tied for no. 97 nationally); in his last year, it gave up just 29 (tied for no. 10).

Michigan isn't going to be bend-but-don't-break, but they'll be moreso than last year, when they were awesome... and brittle.

The other arrow pointing in the right direction is turnover acquisition. Michigan was unlucky last year. They generated a ton of sacks (5th nationally) but did not see that pay off with a lot of turnovers. Despite having that defense above Michigan only managed 13 turnovers acquired, 67th. That's just bad luck, not dependent on coaching. Brady Hoke's first defense recovered 20 fumbles; Harbaugh's first team recovered 2. QED. They should expect to be favored by the turnover gods more this year, he said for the 100th straight time.

The rest of it is having a lot of talent. Michigan has two certain first round picks on the DL and three more guys who are highly likely to be drafted just in the front seven. The other six are too young to tell but are mostly tracking well outside of corner. These previews aren't afraid to hand out 1s and 2s when the situation appears to warrant it; Michigan is not in that situation. Some units will be average; some will be excellent, and Michigan will mostly maintain as they shift into a mode where consistency of approach and recruiting allows them to expect top defenses annually.

[After THE JUMP: solve your problems with...]

Upon Further Review 2016: Defense vs Illinois

Upon Further Review 2016: Defense vs Illinois

Submitted by Brian on October 26th, 2016 at 3:15 PM

HomeSure-Lending_logo_tag

SPONSOR NOTES: I was struck when we were hanging out at the Bo Store that it was very cool that some of our main sponsors were very much like us: small businesses in the Michigan community run by guys who are just dudes, you know? I like to think that UGP and Homesure are the MGoBlogs of their respective fields: small, detailed, involved, pantsless.

In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.

If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan ran a ton of their dime package, almost half their snaps. Included were a bunch of exotics, like this thing where the line slides way one direction and McCray ends up a standup end:

3-3 line slide

3-3 line slide, I said, because I guess?

Meanwhile this was 3-3 standup DT:

split line standup DT

Illinois ran at McCray and picked up 17 yards.

Meanwhile I titled this "ugh what is this" and don't remember if I called it anything in particular. Brown's defense quickly outstrips the reader's tolerance for formation detail.

ugh what is this

Bleah! I mean, hooray! But also bleah.

SUBTITUTION NOTES: The frequency of three-man lines and general dearth of snaps (just 42 on defense)  led to some absurdly low snap totals for the DL. Charlton led the way with 30; Glasgow, Wormley, Hurst, and Gary were around 20; Godin, Winovich, and Mone were around 13.

Gedeon and Peppers played every snap; McCray missed a few with an injury and was replaced by Devin Bush. Stribling, Peppers, Hill, and Thomas did not come off the field; Lewis was lifted at the very end. Extra DB snaps were scattered between Lavert Hill, Kinnel, Metellus, and Watson. Kinnel probably would have gotten 20 snaps if he didn't go out injured just before the half.

[After THE JUMP: if this is short it's not my fault.]

Upon Further Review 2016: Defense vs Hawaii

Upon Further Review 2016: Defense vs Hawaii

Submitted by Brian on September 7th, 2016 at 2:50 PM

HomeSure-Lending_logo_tagSPONSOR NOTES: Homesure Lending returns to sponsor this post, and as a bonus he's sent the blog to Iowa by finding us a block of five together. This will create glorious road trip content. (Matt has stipulated that I clarify he is not to blame if the Iowa game turns out like that stupid triple overtime Penn State game; we have agreed to collectively blame the first commenter on this post.)

In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.

If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.

PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS NOTES: Good news, everybody: we've purchased PFF's Michigan and opponent data for the season, which will allow us to do a bunch of things previously impractical. We've got snap counts, for one, and their grades, and some drill-down stuff I'll reference when it seems relevant to what I'm saying.

One important disclaimer: I'm not looking at this stuff until I go over the game myself, to prevent confirmation bias.

FORMATION NOTES: Normal Brian is super happy Don Brown is Michigan's defensive coordinator. UFR Brian is frickin' pissed. I'm going to split the next UFR's "Formation" column into "personnel" and "formation" because I give up trying to jam that all into a few words. Even that figures to be insufficient.

About halfway through this game I decided that:

  1. Michigan is a 4-2-5 defense.
  2. Sometimes they run a 3-2-6.
  3. I need a "box" column denoting persons in said box with maybe a .5 for gray area guys.
  4. I need to stop bothering with even-odd stuff since that's not actually important for this level of analysis.

And then momentum carried me through. You improve the most between week one and week two; I'll endeavor to do so.

Anyway. I'm going to try to call out safeties and depth, insofar as this is possible. This is nickel one-high:

4-3 nickel

And this was 4-3 over two high:

base 4-3 over

These are the same personnel packages. Hill is the gray area guy kind of over the slot and Stribling has dropped to be the nominal second safety. Everyone in this secondary has to be able to play multiple roles.

Nickel two high:

cover-2-outside-run-1

And honestly I don't know what to term this:

peppers abort

That is two "safeties" at like six yards. Peppers would bail into a deep zone until he read run, FWIW. Nickel two low, I called it. /shakes fist at Don Brown.

I don't even want to get into the various fronts yet.

PERSONNEL NOTES: Deep breath. The back seven was pretty static and has a clear depth chart. Without Lewis, Stribling (45 snaps) and Clark(51) went just about the whole way until garbage time. Ditto Thomas(54), Hill(54), Peppers(54), McCray(44), and Gedeon(54). Brandon Watson (28 snaps but most of those late) had scattered snaps as a nickel corner on passing downs. Usually Michigan lifted a DL when this happened. Tyree Kinnel did get five snaps before the backups came in en masse.

The backups at all these spots are also clear: Kinnel and Hudson at safety, Long and Lavert Hill at corner, Devin Bush and Wroblewski at LB, File Not Found for Peppers.

The line started out with Wormley, Glasgow, Mone, and Charlton across it. Once Mone was out Michigan played a lot of Matt Godin, and they yanked Chris Wormley early. Gary actually got 32 snaps to Wormley's 27. Winovich went the whole way after Taco exited and actually racked up more DL snaps than anyone else with 40.

About midway through the third quarter Michigan unearthed Lawrence Marshall, Michael Dwumfour, Michael Onwenu, and redshirt junior walk-on Garrett Miller. Miller actually played 21 snaps and graded out well per PFF but at 271 on the roster it is highly unlikely he's going to be a contributor going forward unless things are in the darkest timeline. I didn't grade him well, FWIW.

[After THE JUMP: Viking raiders from across the sea / they've come to plunder you and me / oh no i've been stabbed / but our defense makes me glad]