This Week's Obsession: The Brahma Defense

This Week's Obsession: The Brahma Defense

Submitted by Seth on October 23rd, 2013 at 2:32 PM

lord_vishnu_wallpaper_hd_3-normal5.4

On one hand it was freak plays against a freak offense. On the other hand it was a whole LOT of offense. On the other other hand Indiana is actually quite talented. On the other other other regression in pass rush. On the other other other they're consistently there to make plays. On the other other other other they consistently don't make those plays.

The Pantheon:

  • Vishnu Cook. Cannot be exactly defined. Known to be rather impatient with people who screw with his flowers.
  • Aci Parashaktibender. The personification of the divine power of creativity, particularly off the dribble.
  • Shiva Fisher. The destroyer who comes in both the form of a benevolent copy editor, and the fearsome form of a chartmonger.
  • Blue Indra South Bend. God of rain, thunderstorms, and snark, with hair and beard the color of flames.
  • Dheikovantari. God of medicine and that one constraint play he's always on about.
  • Coach Brhaspati. Guru of the gods.
  • Saramathleti. God of knowledge, music, arts, science, and overseer of vast spreadsheets wherein these things are contained.

The Question:

What is the essence of Michigan's 2013 defense, and how will it hold up against the remaining schedule?

Mathlete: For me, I see just one thing about this defense. They are a good defense. They are not a great defense, they are not a dominant defense, they are not a shut down defense, but definitely a good defense. They've had two awful halves (second half against Akron and second last weekend).

2 -Upchurch - IMG_4561
They are a good defense. They will never be a great defense. They are a Thomas Gordon defense. [Upchurch]

They've been put in some bad positions by the offense and haven't been able to bail them out a lot. But they haven't put the offense in a bad position yet this season. The only real deficits the offense has faced this year have come after defensive touchdowns or short fields induced by the offense.

I think Mattison has found the perfect positioning for the talent and the offense that Michigan has. Lacking real play makers he has put together a defense that has limited big plays against non-Indiana teams, forced teams to drive the field, convert third downs and go 10 plays without making a drive ending mistake. Most teams can't do that very times in a game. Nebraska, a healthy Northwestern and Ohio State probably can. Michigan State hasn't proven it can against an FBS team that isn't Indiana. Iowa may be able to, but probably not to a major degree. This works because this defense shouldn't be needed to win games. They aren't quite talented/experienced enough to do that without incurring major risk. Michigan's offense should be dynamic enough that a good defense forcing teams to beat them should get them to 9 wins, easily.

That's where the trouble came against Penn State, the offense didn't push the pedal enough and the defense wasn't quite good enough to push against the stacked deck. I am convinced that an offense that is aggressive, even with a few extra turnovers is the perfect compliment to this defense. We will struggle against the remaining opponents if that aggressiveness goes away because turnovers will still happen (that's football) but the defense is just not equipped yet to be the game-changing unit.

[Brian's complete lack of surprise, after the Jump]

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Minnesota

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Minnesota

Submitted by Brian on October 10th, 2013 at 3:30 PM

FORMATION NOTES: This is nothing out of the ordinary for Michigan, but who's up for a perfect overhead view of Michigan aligning in a 4-3 under?

4-3-under-overhead

There are your 6, 3, 1, and five techniques left to right across the front with Gordon hanging out in what I guess is an 8 or 9.

Michigan also showed over fronts, which they have to from time to time because Minnesota loves to flip its strength.

boomd-1

This did not result in a discernible uptick in effectiveness.

This is the Maryland I:

maryland i

This is Michgian in old friend Okie Zero.

okie-zero

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: A lot more nose tackle in this one; Washington got more time than he did in any game to date this year with Pipkins rotating in regularly; once Pipkins went down Ash did get a few snaps late. Rest of the DL was generally Clark/Heitzman/Black with Ojemudia/Wormley/Henry backing up. Glasgow got a couple snaps before the end as well.

Usual rotation at LB was halted after Bolden made some errors, and then it was just the starters. Secondary was the usual except that Avery was the starter at CB and Taylor only came in for nickel packages.

[After THE JUMP: this is the drive that never ends.]

Hokepoints: Point of Attack

Hokepoints: Point of Attack

Submitted by Seth on October 1st, 2013 at 4:53 PM

IMG_3178

Taylor on an island [Upchurch]

Brian forwarded me a mailbag question regarding where Michigan's defense is getting attacked through the air, i.e. are there certain coverage areas that have been particularly weak? It took me most of a day to chart every passing play; the resulting post is rather straightforward. Consider this your bye week from my logorrhea.

Data are here.

What I tracked:

1) Where the ball starts (hash or center). If the tackles lined up inside the hash it was "center"

2) Which zone it was thrown to, on a telephone keypad grid. 1, 4, and 7 are around the numbers to the sideline; 2, 5, and 8 are the area around the opposite hash to the wide side only, and 3, 6, and 9 are down the middle.

stadiumatnight

If a ball was on the line I always erred to the zone closest to the quarterback. This makes sense if you imagine a player covering Zone 6 will be responsible for carrying a player through that zone, and would be in better position to defend that pass than a guy over him.

3) Which side (strong or weak) of the defense. I noted "Strong" as wherever the SAM lined up in 4-3 sets and where Countess lined up in nickel sets. Once or twice this conflicted with the offense but it's better this way for identifying which players are being targeted.

Weakside/boundary players, usually: R.Taylor, Wilson, Ross/Bolden, Beyer (as WDE) on nickel, Clark on 4-3.

Strongside/field players, usually: Countess, C.Gordon, Beyer (as SAM) on 4-3, Clark on nickel, T.Gordon, Morgan/Bolden, Stribling/Hollowell/Lewis/Avery.

Sacks, throwaways, scrambles, and other such events that took the emphasis on coverage were excised. I couldn't reward those things which occurred because coverage was good enough to make them happen so keep that in mind as you read.

Chart?

Jump.

Awww.

Picture Pages: Folding Back

Picture Pages: Folding Back

Submitted by Brian on October 1st, 2013 at 10:28 AM

fbz3gg1_thumb[1]This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.

A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.

I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised  by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.

I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.

The Good Part

First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.

line-shift-1

That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.

On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.

line-shift-2 - Copy

One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.

Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.

[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs UConn

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs UConn

Submitted by Brian on September 27th, 2013 at 1:21 PM

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan alternated between their 4-3 with guys often split over the slots like so:

4-3 even

And their nickel package.

They also had some weird snaps where they would take their WDE and line him up like a SAM:

over-flare

This was always a drop into man coverage on the TE by Clark. I did not call this out as a new formation. I probably will in the future.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary saw Avery replace the youngsters as the third corner when Michigan was in nickel, which was quite frequently. The rest was Taylor/Countess/Gordon/Wilson as per usual.

At linebacker the usual rotation of Ross, Morgan, and Bolden. Beyer went the whole way at SAM, I think.

On the line, another light day for nose tackles. Both got some run but it was a lot of three-techs out there. Clark got the most run at WDE with Ojemudia backing up. Black was out there almost all the time; Henry and Wormley got more snaps than any other SDE/3T type with Heitzman also participating quite a bit. Glasgow and Godin appeared rarely, if at all.

[After THE JUMP! Points! Yards! None of those!]

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Akron

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Akron

Submitted by Brian on September 19th, 2013 at 2:51 PM

FORMATION NOTES: Nothing weird. This one has pinched DTs, but they only did this once. This was in the first quarter, so you can see the three linebackers on the field:

4-3 pinch

In the second half they ditched a linebacker in favor of nickel packages (and probably tipped a stunt):

stunt-giveaway

This is what I mean when I say pistol diamond: four guys in the backfield, hanging out and stuff.

pistol-diamond-te

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary was almost entirely Wilson/Gordon/Taylor/Countess with the nickelback usually Jourdan Lewis and occasionally Delonte Hollowell. I don't think I saw Stribling except on special teams.

At LB, it was the usual Bolden/Ross/Morgan rotation. Bolden had some issues and late it was just Ross/Morgan. SAM mostly didn't exist, but Beyer got the vast majority of those snaps if you include the nickel DE looks.

On the line, much rotation.Clark and Ojemudia rotated with a little bit of Charlton. Black was almost omnipresent. Wormley, Godin, and Heitzman all got significant amounts of playing time; Glasgow was marginalized in this game to make way for Willie Henry. The nose tackles played a bit but they were largely lifted in the nickel.

[After THE JUMP: it's fine, it's fine, it's fine… erp.]

Picture Pages: Adjusting On The Fly

Picture Pages: Adjusting On The Fly

Submitted by Brian on September 17th, 2013 at 3:18 PM

I'd planned on posting another Picture Pages this week from the Notre Dame game on the assumption that there wouldn't be much from the Akron game to discuss. Surprise! The good news—ish—is that this continues our discussion of where Michigan's line is.

This is another Toussaint lost yardage play that marks the last time Michigan's run their as-yet-unsuccessful counter to their zone game. ABC provided a slick closeup of events (the difference between doing this for an ABC broadcast and BTN one is enormous—viva ABC), so we'll get a zoomed-in look at goings-on.

ND's in an even front; Michigan has two tight ends. They'll pull Schofield as the rest of the line tries to sell another zone.

image

Michigan immediately runs into the problems that is Louis Nix, who either isn't buying or is just assigned to slant outside of Glasgow.

image

That's bad, that'll happen sometimes when you play Nix. As Nix surges upfield of Glasgow, Schofield sees him and knows he's got to deal with that lest Toussaint get swallowed in the backfield.

image

Glasgow violates the fake rule I made up by turning upfield. Schofield's coming, but he doesn't comprehend that he isn't totally screwed until…

image

Both guys go to Nix, leaving one of ND's ILBs unblocked. Toussaint makes things worse by trying to bounce around a rampant Nix, and gets chopped down.

image

image

That's a two yard loss.

Video

Slow unnecessary for this one.

[After THE JUMP: Notre Dame faces the same problem, finds different results.]

Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-10-13: Greg Mattison

Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-10-13: Greg Mattison

Submitted by Heiko on September 10th, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Opening remarks: 

"Well, we're ready to go out for the next one, I guess. That was an exciting game. The thing I'd say is that I was very proud of how hard our kids played and how they were very resilient. The biggest thing -- we've talked about it all since we've been in it, is red zone defense is critical. If you can keep teams from scoring seven down there, you're going to win. There were so many opportunities down there, which is not always a great thing or a good thing, but that happens when you play a good football team, and I was really proud of our kids, the way they played down there."

How much do you take into account how good Notre Dame's offensive line is when you judge your defensive line?

"They're very good. They're strong, they're big, they're experienced. But I still believe that we should win the battles we're supposed to win. A couple times we gave up yardage that we shouldn't have given up because guys got out of their gaps. Guys didn't play the technique. When you're a young player, you have to play great technique. That's the only chance you have. I think a couple times we didn't do that. We weren't gap-sound a couple times as far as fitting our gaps. When you look at our tape, you're sitting there going, 'This should have been a hit.' I go back to the fact that they all stuck together, though, and they all played so hard during the game. Now it's time to move on to the next one."

Preview 2013: Linebackers

Preview 2013: Linebackers

Submitted by Brian on August 29th, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Special Teams.

Depth Chart
STRONGSIDE  LB Yr. MIDDLE LB Yr. WEAKSIDE LB Yr.
Cam Gordon Sr.* Desmond Morgan Jr. James Ross So.
Jake Ryan Jr.* Joe Bolden So. Royce Jenkins-Stone So.
Brennen Beyer Jr. Mike McCray Fr. Ben Gedeon Fr.

Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.

Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.

Inside Linebacker

These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."

Rating: 4

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Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]

DESMOND MORGAN
hit and shed
gets in, gets upfield
sheds block, slows Bell
pow!
no more forward for you
can move
comes from backside to tackle 
kind of Ryan-like here
was young
lost on counter
accepts a block
slashed to the ground
cut like a mofo
read and react
nerfs counter draw
takes on two blockers
sidles all the way
shuts down Martinez draw

DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.

The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:

Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!

The guy is a brick.

After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.

As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:

The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.

Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.

The UFR chart is reflective of this:

Opponent + - TOT Notes
Alabama 5.5 10 -4.5 And this was the best ILB play!
Air Force 8 10 -2 Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.
UMass - - - DNP
Notre Dame 5 2 3 Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.
Purdue 5.5 3.5 2 Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?
Illinois 7.5 4.5 3 This is relatively bad!
MSU 9 2 7 Remember the athleticism worries with him?
Nebraska 11 4 7 Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.
Minnesota 11 5.5 5.5 You stop when he hits you.
Northwestern 4 9.5 -5.5 Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.
Iowa - - - DNP

OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.

For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.

Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.

In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:

"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."

Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.

[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]

This Week's Obsession: Pick a Hero

This Week's Obsession: Pick a Hero

Submitted by Seth on August 28th, 2013 at 10:31 AM

4 - Fuller - 8646548312_0c63ca1d13_oUpchurch -8645433395_55fbfcfb4e_oUpchurch - 8194562770_f047901922_o8646501226_936f70e3fc_oUpchurch - 8173041774_951f10fb90_o

Let's talk about the guys we haven't talked enough about yet. The breakout kids. The unexpected boons. Our pantheon of heroes:

  • Batblogger
  • Capt'n Seth of the Comma Police
  • An Bender, Flyin' Ace
  • The Heiko Kid
  • The Blue Creature from the Bend
  • Brett Thiessen (secret identity remains hidden)
  • Coach Unpossible

The Question:

Casey Stengel used to do this thing with the media where every year he'd point to a player on his team who wasn't already an established star (Gardner, Gallon, Lewan, Norfleet) and say "that guy is a lot better than people think." And that guy would have a really big year. Mentally (or mathematically if you're Mathlete) subtract John Q. MGoReader's expectation for the guys from your expectation for the guys this year, and tell us who's going to be surprisingly good?

BiSB: I'm on Team ACL this year. On the "breakout star" front, I'll go with BLAKE COUNTESS. I think a lot of people are expecting, or even hoping, that he'll come back

8646495402_91c26cfcdf_o
Rev up the Countess hype again | Fuller

approximately as he was as a freshman (which would still be pretty good), thinking his injury would offset whatever gains he has otherwise made. But we live in a world in which ACLs are repaired with unicorn dreams (or at least that's how Heiko explained it to me) and heal in six to nine months. Jake Ryan tore his five months ago, and is already running and doing lateral stuff. Countess is a full year removed, which in modern ACL years is "what, me worry?"  I think on the conservative side we're going to get the Blake Countess we would have gotten in 2012, and on the upside we're looking at a guy who will compete with Bradley Roby and Darqueze "You Spelled Denard Wrong" Dennard for first team All B1G.

My "breakout contributor" guy is CHRIS WORMLEY, who also tore his ACL about a year ago. Heitzman is the starter at SDE, but Wormley can be a difference-maker. He's bigger and stronger than Heitzman, and already has a year in the system under his belt (even if a lot of that year was on an exercise bike). He'll get plenty of snaps anyway because of the depth at SDE and Mattison's love of DL rotation. He may never take over the starter label because Michigan doesn't really do the whole "roster update" thing, but I think by the end of the year he's the most effective guy at the position, and he'll be getting ~40% of the snaps.

Also, Norfleet will be the new Steve Breaston, by which I mean at some point a tight end will maddeningly refuse to pitch him the ball and as a result you will scream terrible terrible things to no one in particular.

---------------------

Seth: NORFLEET IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED (else everyone would pick him)

[After the jump: NOT NORFLEET]