Picture Pages: Throwing Rock Against A Slant

Picture Pages: Throwing Rock Against A Slant

Submitted by Brian on November 17th, 2010 at 1:33 PM

UFRing the Purdue game was a blast from the past, and in a frustrating way. After the first drive Purdue spent much of the day with eight guys in the box, and Michigan ran at them anyway. Since Michigan's always based out of a three-wide formation this is the equivalent of having nine guys against a tradition I-form; Purdue spent the day showing really soft man zero that may have morphed into cover three after the snap but still should have provided Michigan ample opportunity to exploit the big chunks of space Purdue was leaving open.

Look at Roundtree here:

slant-under-stretch-1

That was his whole day: sitting by himself and never getting a bubble. There were a lot of reasons for this—primarily the weather and Michigan's reluctance to do anything risky against a Purdue offense that's much worse than Michigan's defense—that were in retrospect correct. At the time it was very frustrating.

Anyway, this Picture Pages is about what this eighth guy in the box allowed Purdue to do. Going into the UFR I was hoping I'd see something that would explain why the offensive line seemed to get whipped so badly, and I think this is it. So that's the setup above. It's Michigan's third drive of the second half. They start on the twenty, it's first and ten, and Purdue has eight in the box. Michigan runs a basic stretch at them.

A moment after the snap you can see that the Purdue linemen are slanting away from the stretch instead of flowing with it. This is not something you see often:

slant-under-stretch-2

At the mesh point Robinson sees the slot guy containing and Kerrigan moving upfield past Huyge, who's releasing, so he hands off.

slant-under-stretch-3

A moment after the handoff we see that Molk has completely sealed the playside DT. Normally on a stretch play this means the opponent is dead meat. That's because the playside DE has to maintain contain and sets up outside the OT, which means running a good distance outside, which means there's a huge lane for the tailback and whichever guard is playside gets a free release at one linebacker in a lot of space.

Here the DE has not maintained contain. He's slanted inside Lewan and threatens to get upfield for a TFL. Also the MLB is driving hard to the outside. Schilling either aborts his release to rub the DE or just gets caught up on the Lewan block in an effort to get out on the charging LB:

slant-under-stretch-4

A moment later we see that Molk has erased both DTs with the seal but the playside DE is sitting in that hole. Lewan knows he's lost the battle and starts shoving him past the tailback. Smith has to go outside, where he's got a lead blocker in Hopkins against two Purdue linebackers. Schilling has no chance on the MLB since he shot for this exact hole at the snap:

slant-under-stretch-5

A moment later Hopkins kicks one guy, Lewan shoves the DE, and Schilling is following the other linebacker into the hole. Smith's cutting up because he doesn't have much of a choice.

slant-under-stretch-6

Linebacker is now the blur between Schilling and Smith. Schilling's managed to get him to run past the play a bit and he's got to make a diving ankle tackle…

slant-under-stretch-7

…but he does:

slant-under-stretch-8

Michigan receives zero yards.

Video:

Object lesson type objects:

  • Purdue can only do this because they have eight guys in the box against six blockers. One goes with Denard, so that's seven on six. Normally you see playside DEs set up outside on the stretch because if they don't that lead blocker to the outside threatens to pound a single linebacker and send the tailback into the secondary. Here Purdue outnumbers Michigan, which allows them to slant that DE inside and still get two guys on the perimeter when Lewan pushes the DE past the back. Purdue consistently answered the "one safety or zero" question with zero, and these were the results. Here they get the play to go exactly where they want to and kill it.
  • I don't think anyone blocking did anything wrong. The only block in question is the one on the playside DE where the guy gets under Lewan because he's slanting inside. If that DE gets past Lewan into the backfield that's a major issue but a main principle of zone blocking is you take the guy where he wants to go faster than he wants to go. Guy wanted to go inside, Lewan shoves him inside and opens up a crease at the LOS. Extra linebacker makes the play. The only thing I think Michigan could have done here is a weird anti-scoop where Schilling shoves the DE outside of Lewan instead of shoving the DT inside of Molk. I don't know if anyone's ever tried that so it's hard to blame the players.
  • This is actually close to breaking for some yardage maybe? Despite all this Schilling's good-faith effort to do something with that filling linebacker and Lewan's ability to create a decent hole sees Smith almost cut past the charging LB, whereupon he'd get somewhere between five and many yards. He can't.

    That's not a serious knock on Smith on his most effective day as a Wolverine. A back with the ability to make the cut he does on this sloppy field and the speed/power to run through that ankle tackle attempt would be a special guy indeed; hopefully Demetrius Hart can be that guy.

So, yes, I think I did find an explanation in what Purdue was doing that partially exonerated the offensive line. Michigan saw this front all day and kept running into it, which resulted in a crappy day on the ground. In this case the "crappy day on the ground" is 4.3 YPC excluding sacks, which is basically what good DeBord teams averaged on the ground. Since DeBord absolutely loved to run "away" from the extra guy and out-execute in the face of herculean odds, this makes sense.

Michigan's offense is going to net a huge RPS minus in UFR because of this rock, rock, rock playcalling, but don't take that too seriously. I get why they did it when Denard threw two horrible interceptions and a lot of his simple hitch routes to the sidelines were fluttering ducks. The conditions affected his throwing significantly, and allowed Purdue to spend 80% of the game running cover zero. When they stopped this on Michigan's late third-quarter drive from their own four, Michigan went right down the field until a clipping penalty on Lewan put them in second and forever.

More tomorrow when the offense UFR drops.

Picture Pages: A Final Adjustment

Picture Pages: A Final Adjustment

Submitted by Brian on November 11th, 2010 at 11:42 AM

This pair of plays is striking only in comparison to the defense. They're both inside zone runs Michigan gets about a yard on, but one's a third and goal from the one so that's all you can get from there. The first is in the second overtime; Michigan has just executed a throwback wheel of its own for a first down at the eleven. They come out in a three-wide.

two-1

Illinois does their usual bit with a linebacker over a slot receiver, but this time he's going to walk  down and blitz:

two-2

Michigan's running an inside zone. This can go anywhere but on this play the hole opens up behind everything as Illinois is slanting away from their blitz. By the mesh point something odd is happening:

two-3

The backside defensive end is headed directly upfield. Most of the time the DE will either sit and contain, shuffle down the LOS, or roar down it. Here he's getting way upfield. Two reasons for this, I think: 1) he really really has to contain because of the corner blitz and must not let the QB outside of him, and 2) by doing this he guarantees a handoff.

Meanwhile, Webb's pulling to the backside of the play to get a block on whoever the cutback guy is for Illinois. Because of the switch this is not the DE but the slot LB. Webb does not realize this:

[Update: commenters point out this is actually Koger, which it is. Apologies to Webb.]

two-4

Oops. With Webb blocking the guy who the zone read is supposed to option off Michigan's left a free hitter on the backside. He tracks…

two-5

…and hits:

two-6

Michigan gets two yards and eventually has to resort to a Houdini escape when Terry Hawthorne jumps a third and eight slant. The deflection miraculously bounces to Hemingway.

The second play is Michigan's second to last play of the game. It's third and goal from the one. On first down an inside zone run was stuffed when Schilling got slanted under. On second down a QB lead draw was stuffed when Forcier went airborne unnecessarily. On third down Michigan comes out in a three-wide package. From the one.

td-1

Before the snap the corner walks down again:

td-2

Illinois runs the same curve, shooting the DE directly upfield after several plays where he was tearing downhill at the RB; he made the tackle on first and goal. Webb, however, is taking a much different angle:

td-3

Huyge and Omameh are blocking downfield but not that well. Spence chucks Omameh to the ground and shows up in the hole; Webb is still headed for the slot LB:

 td-4

Shaw hits it directly upfield in this useless screenshot and does get the ball over the plane, but here's Tate celebrating:

td-5

So… that's an adjustment to an Illinois adjustment. After getting fooled by this the one(!) time it came out earlier, Michigan goes to the sideline for mere moments—the offense has to come right back out. In these moments someone grabs Webb and says "if the DE goes straight upfield your assignment is the linebacker crashing in from the slot." Then Michigan seems to invite that very play by coming out in a three-wide formation on third and goal from the one. They want that DE to erase himself and for a LB to get singled up on the 260 pound Webb. His block provides the extra momentum that barely gets Shaw over the plane.

The reason I'm so down on the defense and high on the offense is that these things seem to happen on one side of the ball but not another. It should be clear that no one's on the keeper when Scheelhaase takes it for big yardage, but then he does it again on the exact same play. It should be clear that something's not right in the way you're defending the option but nothing really changes. Etc. Michigan's offense adapts in ways the defense doesn't, and I don't think it's youth when the players who can't contain a keeper are Roh and Mouton.

Chitownblue asked about an RPS plus on the final play of the game, but that's an example of what I'm talking about. Illinois runs the same play they got their earlier conversion on and Michigan runs the same defense. You've got a rub route against man coverage and a seven-man protection you're blitzing into. If Illinois had gotten to pick Michigan's defense on that final play, they would have picked a man-zero all out blitz. They got it, but Jonas Mouton saved the day by making a great play. If he gets cut or just blocked Scheelhaase rolls away from Roh and has a receiver wide open for a score.

It is in these ways that Michigan's defense is different from its offense.

Bonus: you know that corner who jumped the slant in the second OT and should have had Michigan in fourth and long but for some Notre Dame-level BS? Michigan ran a circle route (a fake slant to an out) on the two point conversion and got Hemingway wide open.

Picture Pages: Snag Package

Picture Pages: Snag Package

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Earlier in the year Chris Brown of Smart Football offered up some clarification of a route package Michigan's running, and now I'm spotting it in key situations so I might as well Picture Page it. This will please people who complain about the relentlessly negative PPs in past weeks that are all about explaining why Michigan gave up a touchdown.

It's third and four from the 29 on Michigan's second drive of the day. Michigan comes out in a standard formation:

 snaghq-1

Smith, Hemingway, and tight end Kevin Koger are going to run a snag concept. This consists of three parts:

  1. The #1 (outside) receiver runs a slant and then sits down about five yards downfield.
  2. The #2 receiver, in this case the TE, runs a corner route.
  3. The tailback runs a flare.

This is what it looks like on a diagram. It's on the right:

snag-concept

Chris Brown on the point of this package:

The snag is a variant of the smash, where one point is to get a high-low with the corner route and the flat route (except now the flat is controlled by the runningback), with the added dimension of an outside receiver running the “snag” route — a one-step slant where he settles inside at 5-6 yards. This gives you a “triangle” stretch, where you have both a high/low read (corner to RB in the flat) and a horizontal read from inside to outside (snag route to the RB in the flat).

In previous games when Michigan's run this the opponent was in three deep and the read was simply reading the playside linebacker: throw it where he's not. Here Illinois runs what looks like a combo coverage. Just after the snap:

snaghq-2

Illinois has a hard corner to the bottom of the screen and a soft one to the top. Robinson's reading the snag package all the way. Here he's starting at the playside LB, who's figuring out what to do with Koger.

It turns out he goes with Koger:

snaghq-3

The hard corner is taking away the flare and this linebacker is turning his hips, so the snag route itself (Hemingway's) will come open. Denard should probably be throwing the ball now.

snaghq-4

He should definitely be throwing the ball now.

snaghq-5

THROW THE BALL AAAIAIGH

snaghq-6

Okay.

snaghq-7

Hemingway's about a half yard short of the first down and is fortunate that Martez Wilson read the route package about as fast as Denard did. He's still two steps away from Hemingway, allowing Hemingway to take that orbit step wide receivers to do evade overpursuing tacklers…

snaghq-8

…which gets him past the sticks for a first down.

snaghq-9

Object lessons:

  • Maybe Michigan's passing game isn't as unsophisticated as the spread n shred used to be? This is a favored package around the NCAA right now, which is why Smart Football could bring it to my attention—he'd seen it in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, despite having a quarterback who's going to break the all-time rushing record for his position and possibly Tim Biakabutuka's Michigan rushing record, this is not the West Virginia offense. Disclaimers about Tate cameos and catchup ball apply, but Michigan's running 61% of the time this year. That's not far off from Carr's last three years, which were 56% rush (2007), 61% (2006), and 55% (2005) and it's a far cry from Rodriguez's Pat White offenses that ran 75% of the time.

    Despite missing a game and a half, Denard already has more attempts than White did as a sophomore and needs just 22 attempts per game to match White's 274 attempts as a senior (which wasn't even an RR offense anymore). Michigan's 14th in passer efficiency, which says a lot more when you're throwing it around at a semi-normal rate.

  • But maybe so, or maybe not. Previously in this series we've broken down the curl/flat combo (twice) and frequently mentioned the snag. Here Illinois runs a combo coverage that blankets the curl/flat to the top of the screen and probably should do the same to the snag but for Wilson's tardiness. They're prepared for this play. On the other hand, they were completely unprepared for the all-hitch routes that Roundtree kept dropping, and Michigan got their bomb on. So maybe nevermind.
  • The game is still slowing down for Denard. This is the euphemistic way to say "he's not reading defenses fast enough yet." (For a given definition of "enough," anyway. He's 11th in passer efficiency.) He's late here and I think he was late a couple other times. It's hard to tell whether certain balls are inaccurate or thrown in the right zone window, but thrown too late. I think the fourth and nine Roundtree touchdown may be an example of this. He couldn't hit Roundtree in the numbers because of the safety coming over and forced a moderately difficult catch out of him.
  • Great protection. This happened all day. Robinson sat back there like John Navarre, most prominently on the second(!) 75-yard completion to Roundtree where Michigan slid the line and he re-enacted his throw to Roundtree from the spring game except without the guy coming into his face.
  • Maybe this is why he never scrambles? He seems uncertain about his reads still so he sits in the pocket wondering if he's missing something when he should just run, Forrest, run. For a guy with his ability on the ground he's got a weird antipathy for taking off. I've got him for four scrambles on the year.

Picture Pages: This Is Not A Stack

Picture Pages: This Is Not A Stack

Submitted by Brian on November 3rd, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.

You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!

So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:

kovacs-1

This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.

At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:

 kovacs-2

Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?

kovacs-3

Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)

kovacs-4

The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:

kovacs-5

The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:

kovacs-6

Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:

kovacs-7

Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.

Here's the video:

I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.

The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:

 wvu-2007-inside-zone

At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-2

At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-3

This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-4

MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-5

There are four WVU guys in the area:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-6

And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-7

On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.

So, things:

  • It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
  • I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
  • Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
    base-3-4
    4-3:
    moutong-ugh-1 
    Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
  • Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
  • Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
  • I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.

Picture Pages: Losing Contain, Again Again

Picture Pages: Losing Contain, Again Again

Submitted by Brian on October 25th, 2010 at 11:20 AM

Promised last week but Wife Day occupied the designated space.

This week's great linebacker debate is about how I'm sitting in a tree with Kenny Demens, finding reasons to posbang him that would not be reasons to posbang Ezeh or Mouton. That's not really how UFR works on defense. A three-yard run is a usually a +1 for the D, a zero-yarder +2, and a TFL +3—though it's context dependent—and I try to assign credit and blame to get to those numbers. There is wobble when the other team makes an error or there's a rock paper scissors play. If I was going to give Demens positive he didn't deserve they'd be coming off his teammates in the front seven and the only guys to suffer relative to expectations were Rotating Ineffective Nose Tackle and the Banks/Black combo.

Mouton also come in for a big minus and clucking, but I thought that was easily justified by the clips provided. If it's not here's another one. It's late in the third quarter and Iowa has third and three from the Michigan eleven. They come out in an unbalanced formation with a covered TE; Michigan responds with a 4-4:

moutong-ugh-1

Iowa will run off the right tackle. At the snap Kovacs blitzes. Banks, the DE to the bottom of the screen, takes on a double team from Iowa's LG and RG; Renaldo Sagesse is getting single blocked by the center:moutong-ugh-2

A moment later Banks and Patterson have both gotten in bad situations. Sagesse is a yard downfield and sealed to the inside. Banks has managed to stick at the LOS but he's about to be effectively comboed and sealed to the inside:

moutong-ugh-3

Kovacs gets picked off by the fullback. Roh's gotten a cut on the backside but Gordon is flowing behind him; RVB has gotten down the line to cut off a hole; Sagesse is getting buried by a double downfield. Mouton has set up on the Iowa RT as Banks just kind of sits there at the LOS:

moutong-ugh-4

Here's an endzone angle of the last moment:

mouton-angle-2

That's a lot of grass to Mouton's right there. I wonder what he's going to do about that:

mouton-angle-3

Dios ffuuuu, man. This will be clearer on the video but this was not some crazy block by the right tackle here—Mouton fought inside of the guy, sealing himself. The sad thing is that Kenny Demens has cleared the trash from the Sagesse double and is showing up in the hole:

moutong-ugh-6

If Mouton is outside the guy he's almost certain to tackle short of the first down…

moutong-ugh-7 

…but he's not:

mouton-angle-4mouton-angle-5

Another third-down touchdown from the ten given up by a combo of players but especially one in particular; another four points on the board because of a basic mental error from a Michigan defender. This one is ten times more frustrating than Courtney Avery's because Mouton is a fifth year senior who's been doing this his entire career, including earlier this year against UMass on another egregious play that was picture-paged.

Video:

Object lessons:

  • Either Mouton has suffered the worst kind of coaching malpractice during his career or he's just not all there. Or both, I guess. He should not be making this mistake. He has made this kind of mistake dozens of times. Maybe there's something in the scheme that makes it confusing as to when he's supposed to be the contain guy, but I don't think so. WLBs should know this as part of their DNA. There's a theory floating around that Mouton has gotten used to playing next to Ezeh and now assumes he has to do everything himself and may get all clueful now that he's playing with a linebacker that usually shows up in the right spot at the right time, but I don't think so. It doesn't matter who you're playing next to since hopping inside that tackle is guaranteed doom.
  • The defensive line didn't do the linebackers any favors… Other than some sporadic help from RVB and Roh this was par for the course. Here the NT is Sagesse instead of Patterson but the end result is similar to what happened all day: effective combo on Banks gets him passively single-blocked and gives Mouton a tackle to deal with. Combo on whoever the NT is crumples and/or seals the guy.
  • …but could this actually be something resembling okay from Sagesse? It's not good by any stretch of the imagination but the reason Demens is flowing into the gap unblocked is because the C could not pop off of Sagesse after shoving him downfield. That mess falls in a heap, meaning that the nose has taken out two blockers. I didn't plus the guy because I thought it was more luck than anything and ending a play on your knees two yards downfield doesn't seem like a strategy sustainable in the long term. I didn't minus him either because he kinda sorta just managed to do his job.
  • More good Demens play. He doesn't get blocked but because Sagesse is blown off the LOS this isn't the world's easiest scrape. He makes it and should have an opportunity to tackle if everyone else does their job. It's impossible to say whether or not Ezeh would have made the same scrape, but we've seen enough of him to know that he doesn't do it consistently. He might be standing right where he was at the snap, or he might not have the agility and recognition Demens does to get around the garbage. (FTR, Demens did not get a plus here; Mouton was –2, Banks –1.)

We don't know whether or not Demens does execute this consistently, or whether his run-fill gusto is exploitable with misdirection or play action. His Iowa game was promising, though. I'm sure he'll have some wobbly games during the second half—Iowa was not one. I repeat my stat of wonder and alarm: when Demens was on the field runs that did not pop outside contain because of mistakes by Mouton, Black, and Banks averaged under 2.5 YPC. This happened essentially without Mike Martin. Whatever problems existed with the run D had nothing to do with him.

Mouton, meanwhile, is incredibly frustrating. This year he's turned "big positive, bigger negative" into "big negative, bigger positive" but I'm not going to spend 2011 pining for him. Michigan can't and shouldn't pull him since he makes a lot of good plays; I don't think Michigan's run defense is going to suffer greatly without him.

Picture Pages: (More) Freshman DB Doom

Picture Pages: (More) Freshman DB Doom

Submitted by Brian on October 21st, 2010 at 11:33 AM

This one's not going to be a revelation. It's just more of the same from nickelback Courtney Avery, who you may remember from "aargh crippling third down conversion" and "I play man coverage always." But I'm grabbing it to show just how damaging it is to have these guys who should be redshirting running around on the field.

It's third and ten from the Michigan 14 on Iowa's third drive; Michigan has an excellent chance to boot Iowa off the field here. They come out in a three-wide set. Michigan responds with its 4-2-5 nickel package:

avery-guh-1

Courtney Avery is the nickelback and the key guy. Michigan's going to rush four and play three deep, leaving four guys in underneath zones. Avery is on the hashmarks to the top of the picture on the slot receiver:

avery-guh-2 

Iowa's underneath receivers run crossing routes past each other—a mesh route. the two receivers to the top of the screen are going vertical, with Rogers on the outside guy and Avery on the inside one:

avery-guh-3

Avery is dropping deep to cut off space but turns his back to the QB. Has anyone else turned his back to the QB? No:

avery-guh-4

Here you can see two things: 1) Avery actually did a good job of rerouting the slot. Iowa's receivers are running paired posts and they are a yard away from each other. Cam Gordon should be in position to make a play on a throw here; it's unlikely Stanzi will force it if the drag isn't breathtakingly open. 2) Avery is completely out of his zone moving inside with his back turned to the QB:

avery-guh-5

Stanzi sees it and throws just as Roh lights him up:

avery-guh-6

Avery is nowhere. He can't change direction fast enough to get back out to his zone. No one could:

avery-guh-7

Touchdown:

avery-guh-8

UPDATE: Video.

Object lessons:

  • Courtney Avery should be redshirting. He looks like a quarterback who played a little man coverage in high school, because that's what he is.
  • Courtney Avery is not redshirting. Never Forget.
  • Rerouting receivers is an important part of zone coverage. Avery changes the WR's route here and forces it deeper, into an area in which Cam Gordon is a threat.
  • …but you have to pass the guy off way faster than this. I can't imagine you're ever supposed to chase the guy this far inside, or totally turn your body away from the QB.
  • Demens is fine here, I think. Mesh is tough on LBs in zone. Here he lets the receiver outside of him but he has to expect Avery will be there. He also knocks down the other guy running a drag, which is a bonus.
  • This is four free points from a freshman DB after the rest of the team got a stop. Maybe if Avery pulls off the slot receiver Stanzi has a shot at him on the post but that's a tougher throw than the little drag route here and with the reroute and the pressure chances are Stanzi either throws the drag anyway and picks up five or eats a sack.
  • I would abandon the nickel. Thomas Gordon is almost exactly Avery—a high school quarterback switching to nickel-type DB in college—except he's got a redshirt year behind him. I can understand the desire to get another DB on the field in passing situations but Avery's been a huge liability so far; Gordon has not made similar mistakes.

So there's this and there's 404 Tackle Not Found—two huge swing plays that went against Michigan's freshman nickelback. Missing Troy Woolfolk is an enormous deal.

Picture Pages: The Total Lack Of Backside DE Pursuit

Picture Pages: The Total Lack Of Backside DE Pursuit

Submitted by Brian on October 12th, 2010 at 3:44 PM

What happened on the 60-yard touchdown? The opposite of the thing that MSU did to prevent a 60-yard touchdown. This is a zone stretch. Michigan State has just run a stretch that creased the line because of a poor pursuit angle from Obi Ezeh. They tacked on a 15-yard facemask and got the ball out from deep in their own territory.

On the next play they run the same play to the other side of the line. Setup: msu-zone-td-1

Michigan is a 4-4 front with the linebackers playing even. Kovacs is rolled up to the weak side. MSU was in a balanced ace twins formation but pulled the backside TE to be an H-back on an overloaded line. The snap:msu-zone-td-3

It's a zone stretch. By this point something bad and unusual has happened: MSU has successfully scooped Mike Martin. See Mouton right in front of the umpire? He's got the MSU C coming out on him. The backside guard has his helmet across martin and will get a cutback gap for his running back.

Note Kovacs above flowing down the line. He has to check on Cousins first, then flow down after the ballcarrier in case he tries to cut it all the way back. A moment later the handoff has yet to be made but we're at a critical point:msu-zone-td-4

Ezeh is headed to the front side of the play. Many people have criticized him on this play for not being around but this is his assignment. MSU has overloaded one side of the field and he is the outside force defender. This is hypothetically a great adjustment. The guard releasing downfield has no chance to block him and Gordon is hitting it up to absorb the TEs block. If Baker has to bounce Ezeh will be there unblocked.

Note two things: Martin is totally sealed now and this frame is just like a frame we saw on the last Picture Pages where the backside DE is about to disengage from his blocker and flow down the line for cutbacks. Here:backside-flow-3

Back to this play, on the next frame we see… wait, where the hell is Banks?msu-zone-td-5

Banks?

msu-zone-td-7

BANKS!?!?!?

Right now Banks should be directly between the two State linemen blocking no one downfield. Maybe he won't make a tackle. Maybe Martin getting sealed here makes this cutback a dangerous proposition either way. Maybe an excellent back like Baker breaks a tackle. But a the very least, 280 pounds of defensive end in a not-very-big hole slows Baker down significantly.

Instead of a 280 pound defensive end there is air:msu-zone-td-8

Note that poor Mouton has no chance here since he took a shove from the center who  got the scoop on Martin. Then the tackle who had no one to block because Michigan was shooting Ezeh outside decides he may as well block the one guy still in the area. Linebacker double team downfield and back running in to area equals death.

Cam Gordon comes up hard but is too far to the inside…msu-zone-td-9

…(and Banks is still at the LOS)…

msu-zone-td-10

…seeya, let's burn something.

[Video still en route.]

Object lessons:

  • NOT Ezeh's fault. He had an assignment. Would he have executed it? Eh… maybe. But he can't be blamed for following his assignment on a cutback run he had a frontside gap on.
  • Not Mouton's fault much, if at all. Martin made it hard on him by allowing the C something close to a free release and then the clever scheme Michigan ran got Michigan a free hitter to the frontside… and a doubled linebacker to the backside.
  • IME, this is 90% on Banks and Martin. Yes, Gordon came up too shallow and robbed himself of an angle but Baker's hard cutback wasn't impeded in the slightest and when someone shoots into the secondary like that to the backside of a play it's not surprising that the safety was caught off guard. If Gordon is more experienced here maybe he gets an angle and cuts this down to a 40 yard gain or something.

    But giving up that gap is on Martin, and not closing it down, or slowing it down, is on Banks. Banks's error is greater since he's not dealing with a double team and all he has to do is run away from his blocker into the gap. He doesn't have to beat anything. He just has to get in the way. Instead he falls on his butt because he does not get away from the LOS and gets caught up in the wash of Martin getting playside of his blocker.

  • The rest of it is Gordon. He's not that fast and took a poor angle. He was not going to be able to hold this down much but there's a big difference between 40 and 60 yards.
  • This is actually a clever scheme that takes advantage of Michigan's strengths and beats the blocking scheme. The shame of the play here is that its weak point so ruthlessly exploited is Mike Martin's gap. Mike Martin is Michigan's best defensive player and can almost always be relied upon to not do what we saw here. If Martin does what he usually does, Ezeh has a shot at a TFL on Baker as he tries to bounce it outside Roh. If fifth-year-senior Banks does not get caught up in the wash from Martin's attempt to rectify his error, Baker gets a decent run that probably comes up short of first down yardage. Neither of these things happened and Cam Gordon was subjected to tremendous pressure he did not roll double sixes on.
  • Man it would have been nice to be in two-high here. Kovacs coming downhill at this holds it down, too.

Picture Pages: Cover Two Corner Route Doom

Picture Pages: Cover Two Corner Route Doom

Submitted by Brian on October 7th, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Why so the suck against Indiana? A few things leapt out on the tape. One was YAC given up by a physical inability to be close enough to the receiver to tackle on the catch. This is the James Rogers problem, and it isn't going away. Another problem might: freshman defensive backs think "zone" means "man." BWS caught an instance of this and picture-paged Courtney Avery giving up a big gainer on third and sixteen because he dragged out of his zone.

That was an excellent example of cover three. Here Michigan will run cover two and get nailed on it. However, it's not Avery's aggressive coverage that's the problem here, it's the Michigan zone's obviousness and inflexibility.

The setup: Michigan is trying to keep Indiana out of the endzone on the final drive of the first half. IU's driven it just inside the Michigan 40 and has a second and ten. They come out in their bunch shotgun set. Michigan shows two high safeties:

corner-1

At the snap four guys rush and Michigan is obviously in zone. They have JT Floyd and Mouton in the middle of the field, Courtney Avery playing in the slot, Terrence Talbott and James Rogers on the outside, and Kovacs and Gordon as deep safeties. Mouton drops into a zone to cover a potential slant and Floyd is sitting in the middle of the field about ten yards deep:

corner-2 

A split second later we see what's going on with this bunch at the bottom of the screen: two short routes breaking inside and out with one guy headed deeper. Rogers is essentially motionless as Avery starts moving with the interior WR: corner-4

Avery follows… Rogers is motionless…

corner-5

Avery follows… Rogers still not going anywhere… IU receiver still running to the sticks… Chappell throwing…

corner-6

Alert: someone done failed.

corner-7

Gordon comes over to clean up:

corner-8

Indiana gets a first down inside the 20.

UPDATE: duh forgot the clip.

Who's at fault here? I don't know. I don't think anyone, really. Some guesses at object lessons:

  • This, like Odoms sitting way down in the hole, is a pass that takes advantage of cover two. The sideline 15-20 yards downfield is always a weak spot. Not a lot of quarterbacks can exploit that as ruthlessly as Chappell can, though in this instance it's so open a lot of QBs could make the play.
  • Michigan made this read easy by showing cover two and running it. Chappell knew it was zone because Michigan just about always plays zone and did not put another guy over the bunch, and as soon as Rogers sat down on the out he knew the corner was going to be open.
  • Advanced zone defenses that use pattern reading can adapt to these routes better. I'm not sure about this, but the key is that someone has to be responsible for #2 going vertical and go with him. That would be either Avery or Rogers. The other would come up on the out, leaving the drag to Floyd. Michigan doesn't do this here and probably doesn't ever do it because they've got a secondary with three sophomores, two freshmen, and positional vagabond James Rogers. Also some defensive coaches think pattern reading is suboptimal for reasons I'm not 100% clear on yet.
  • Avery seems like he's in great position if this was man coverage. He also broke up a slant against BG impressively. If Michigan ever ran man I bet he'd be pretty good at it. Can they do that? Eh… maybe against teams that don't spread the field. Here I think his coverage is good given the situation and the assumption Michigan is not pattern reading.
  • But it's not man and the freshman corners do this all the time. There's the BWS post with an example, and Indiana's last touchdown was Terrence Talbott in great man coverage on a slant… when he had a zone to the short side of the field that held Darius Willis and no one else once he covered the slant.
  • Can Gordon do anything more here? I don't think so, but I'm asking anyone with the knowledge. Is the safety's role here tackle and live to fight another day? What if this was Reggie Nelson?

There is some good news: Michigan did adapt to this route pattern, stoning it several times late. Indiana adjusted by sending the deep WR on a post and Floyd dropped back into it, forcing Chappell to chuck it high.

Picture Pages: UMass Counter Reconsideration

Picture Pages: UMass Counter Reconsideration

Submitted by Brian on September 23rd, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Normally in these posts I've noticed something or understood something or am trying to explain something. No so much on this one. I grabbed this because it's a play where it seems like four different things could go right or wrong to turn it into a better or worse play than it ended up being, which is a five-yard run on first and ten.

It's the beginning of UMass's first drive of the second half; Michigan has just put up three touchdowns in four minutes of game time to surge into an 11-point lead. UMass starts off in an Ace formation with twin WRs to one side of the formation and twin TEs to the other. Banks and Kovacs are to the top of the screen, RVB and Gordon to the bottom:

ezeh-nt-right-1

At the snap the tailback starts running to the left side of the line. Martin gets under the center and starts pushing him back. Michigan linebackers start stepping to the playside, and Kovacs starts burrowing into the line:

 ezeh-nt-right-2

A moment later the action has continued but the tailback has started coming back to the right. The move left was a feint; this is a counter. It's pulled the Michigan linebackers to the right:

ezeh-nt-right-3

A couple things on the above frame: it certainly looks like Martin is in a position to tackle in the A gap if the play ends up there, and he has gotten into a position where he is useful. But: I +1ed him on this play I shouldn't have since the defense is trying to seal him to one side and has. I don't think this is a negative play since he hasn't gotten blown off the line or anything, but it's not a win for the D.

The confusing thing about the linebacker play to me is if Martin is going to go to one side when the play starts it would make sense for the MLB to immediately go the other. This is "making the nose tackle right" if the nose can cut off that gap, which it certainly looks like Martin has.

HOWEVA, in the UFR comments, Steve Sharik made a point I hadn't ever thought of: when you pull linemen you are putting more blockers in a gap than there are defenders if everyone just takes a gap. So it makes some sense that Michigan LBs were in a read-and-react mode against UConn, which was pulling linemen all over the place. ND also makes heavy use of pulls, and frankly I'd be surprised if Michigan bothered to change their gameplan for UMass. The Minutemen did their share of pulling, anway. So it's more complicated than that. If Ezeh hammered it up behind Martin on this play and the opponents were pulling around into Martin's gap they would find a lot of space.

By the next frame the tailback has taken the handoff and the defense realizes it's a counter. Banks and Kovacs are engaged in a shoving match with the OL on the right side of the line that is going nowhere, which is usually a +0.5 in my book. It won't be here, as we'll see.

Mouton and Ezeh are free, though Ezeh is about to get a guy peeling off Martin:

ezeh-nt-right-4

Mouton sitting in that gap dissuades the RB from trying to hit it up; a step later he's still moving outside as the center attempts to get out on Ezeh:

ezeh-nt-right-5

Ezeh gets his face across the blocker and Martin is fighting through his guy; no place to go (except maybe cut behind Martin for a big gainer, but RVB seems like he'll shut that down):

ezeh-nt-right-6

A moment later this is obvious. Mouton is nearing the second TE, giving M three defenders on three blockers and Floyd ready to handle a bounce:

ezeh-nt-right-7

Here is some confusion. The RB fakes outside…

ezeh-nt-right-8

…which causes Mouton to hop outside the TE and surprises Floyd; Kovacs has finally yielded to the physics of his leetle body, giving the tailback a crease:

ezeh-nt-right-9

Kovacs and Floyd close the crease down, but it's six yards:

ezeh-nt-right-10

Video; watch how the tailback's little juke outside gives him the crease:

I misidentified this play as an inside zone, which it kind of is but that does not take into account the counter action. These are the things I think about it after some consideration:

  • I should not have given Martin a plus nor Ezeh a minus. Both plays are fine. Ezeh did react in time to get across the center and Martin cut off his gap, then fought back through his blocker in time to help close down the play's intended hole. But Martin did not force a cutback—that was the play design—and didn't help on the tackle.
  • On a later edition of this same play Banks should have been minused for flowing down the line too hard and opening up space for the tailback, but I still think Ezeh is slow to read and react, thus allowing him to be "blocked" by a center who's falling to the ground because of Martin's violent burst into the guard; I'd rather run the D like Martin is going to able to slant into the gap he wants against most teams and watch the cutbacks. Kovacs's ability to pursue hard when he has a gap to one side of Mouton to fill, then redirect and make a tackle when the RB cuts inside of Mouton is impressively aware.
  • This was the story of Banks's day: I'm not doing much but I'm not going backwards either.
  • Kovacs is small and this hurt him here as he tried to stand up to blockers, but really if it takes this long for help to arrive it's not his fault.
  • Mouton and Floyd are confused when it comes to edge play; here it seems like Mouton should make sure he bounces the RB to Floyd and instead he hops outside, creating a gap that the RB can use. If he bounces it to Floyd he should be able to tackle; if Floyd expects that Mouton will funnel it inside he should be able to tackle. Neither happens. More of this deficiency can be seen in the earlier Mouton picture pages and the easy touchdown UMass scored when Floyd let the RB outside.
  • I think I would prefer a chancier scheme that said "aww, the hell with it" and blasted linebackers into open gaps once they read run. If Michigan's going to get ground like they did attempting to play read and react—a lot of should-be-zero-yard runs like this one turned into four or six—they're going to give up a lot of drives like we saw Saturday. Getting those zero- and negative-yard plays on early downs seems more likely to get the defense off the field. This will put more pressure on the safeties when this doesn't work out, but they seem like good tacklers and guys who take good angles.

Picture Pages: Someone Fed Mouton After Midnight

Picture Pages: Someone Fed Mouton After Midnight

Submitted by Brian on September 21st, 2010 at 11:42 AM

This is just pure aaargh right here, but how about a preview of why the Michigan defense was so terrible against UMass?

It's first and ten on the Michigan 35 on what will be UMass's second touchdown drive. UMass comes out in an ace set with two tight ends to the short side of the field:

 awful-mouton-1

Michigan is in a 3-3-5, basically, but the twins formation and the double TEs distort it. Roh's off the field momentarily, replaced by JB Fitzgerald. UMass is going to run it up the gut:

awful-mouton-2

There's no pull on this so it's an inside zone. There's nowhere to go with RVB shoving his guy into the backfield, Kovacs beating the second TE to the inside, and Leach blitzing unmolested off the weak side. Michigan has basically killed this play as the RB has no choice but to head outside, where…

awful-mouton-3

…Mouton is totally unblocked. You can also see Kovacs poking his head through at the top of the line and Van Bergen getting his shove on.

Anway, Mouton: with no one outside of him because of the alignment he's the force defender who must get the tailback inside of him, where Leach and a scraping Ezeh can deal with the tailback if he cuts back inside tackle. (For some reason, this is "keeping leverage on the football.") And he's playing against a I-AA tailback. So he runs up real fast…

awful-mouton-4

…lets the tailback outside of him…

awful-mouton-5

…and personally turns zero yards…

awful-mouton-6

…into 15:

awful-mouton-7

Takeaways:

  • AAAAARRRRRGH

Seriously, there's nothing else here except Mouton making an enormous mistake. The good news is that if they fix that stuff the scheme of the defense is fine. It's not like they're asking the players to do anything particularly difficult or novel: make tackle. If cannot make tackle, funnel RB to help. Do not let RB outside of you. This has nothing to do with a shift to a 3-3-5. Look, here's Mouton doing the pretty much the same thing last year, albeit against a blocker:

That's the bad news: if these linebackers have been starting for three years and are still making these mistakes, why would they stop now? GERG linebacker fairy theory is about it and that took a major hit against UMass.

Maybe it was just an off day, one on which the linebackers took it easy and reverted to old, bad habits. Yeah. That, too, is the ticket.