Hokepoints Draws Up Death By Press Comment Count

Seth July 29th, 2014 at 11:11 AM


We shall have to *press* our *quarters*. Ha ha! do you smoke the pun dear Maturin?

We've been talking about how Michigan State's defense worked and how Michigan's this year and in the future could be using that as a model. I've brought up how the 4-3 over works, but the genius of Dantonio's defense is really in how he does coverage. Since it seems this is what Michigan will be doing, I thought a lay understanding of it wouldn't go amiss just now.

Coaches, you can offer corrections or tune out because this is going to be a little more basic. Spartans, try not to be too offended at the butchery I make of your wonderful defense. You are truly our state's top program and in no way does continuing to whine about a statement a 21-year-old made in 2007 make you petty.

Now let's go to the alignment above. We're looking at a 4-3 over; the defensive line is shifted to the "strong" side (technically Michigan's offense is balanced but the side with the two TEs is strong. Also that's the field side). We're also looking at a defense that is really creeping up. The safeties are 7 and 8 yards off the line of scrimmage, the linebackers are 4 yards off, and the cornerback at the bottom of your screen is in press. The variant on the 4-3 over is the defensive ends spread out (the SDE is in a wide-9 tech, the WDE completely outside the RT's shoulder), and the linebackers group in closer to compensate.


This is "aggressive." The guys apparently in charge of the deep part of the field are further off the line of scrimmage than the running back. There's a mismatch on your right, where a cornerback is matched against a tight end (Butt), but that hardly matters since any run is going right into a pile of bodies.

Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man

Getting up and bothersome to any receivers near the line of scrimmage has big benefits. The receiver will have a hard time getting into his route, throwing off the timing of the play and ensuring the offense gets nothing cheap like a quick out or in. A good press corner will prevent his receiver from getting into an easy route like a slant (the old fashioned man-coverage beating route). The danger of this is the press doesn't work all the time and then you've got a receiver accelerating downfield past a cornerback who's facing the wrong way. For this reason press teams would leave the safeties back to help. It ends up functionally not that different from Cover 2.


Of course that has a downside as well. While each receiver has 1.5 guys occupied with him, you've got the safeties and outside linebackers chasing the passing game instead of manning the run gaps. Defensive rule numero uno is don't be easy to run on.


A very popular alternative these days is Quarters. The link will explain further but simply put, with quarters coverage the cornerbacks and safeties have option routes depending on what the receivers do. They watch the inside guy (in a stack it's the back guy). If he goes vertical the safety has him; if he goes into the flat, the cornerback does and the safety plays Cover 2.

Watch this gif from the above link until you get a feel; the left side is the #2 receiver going vertical and the right side is him going into the flat.


"Going vertical" as I learned it, is the receiver going 8 or more yards downfield before making a turn. This is a strong coverage technique to cover the outside and downfield stuff the receivers will do, and leaves the linebackers available to cover short Cov 2 routes and react to the run. It's very base; the best way to beat it is to have your running game outmatch their front seven. The safeties are able to stand back and read, so like Cov 2 they're available to cut down whatever made it through. That's good enough for Virginia Tech, who's been running Quarters and been solid against the run for a decade and a half. But it wasn't good enough for Dantonio.

Very Aggressive Quarters

You may have already smoked out the difference between Michigan State's alignment against Michigan and the Cover 4 look that quarters starts out in. You've got that cornerback pressing a guy, for one. And the other thing: if the coverage is waiting until the inside guy is 8 yards downfield to be sure of their decision, and the safeties are standing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, aren't they setting themselves up for one of those "hey maybe I oughtta be chasing this guy who just ran by me." things?

State will pack their guys in the box so linebackers and safeties are right there to stop the run. The linebackers squeeze laterally into the box, so the coverage is strongest inside (knowing this, offenses don't typically expect to find open guys there, leaving those LBs free to run Narduzzi's favorite Double-A gaps blitz).

That makes them very stout against the run, but should have a weakness tradeoff against outside passes. If the #2 receiver goes vertical the safety has to turn and go with him, meaning there's zero help for the cornerback.

State's answer to that: "So what!" This is where stretching the boundaries of pass interference comes into play, because the cornerback's job is to grab anything, pay off anybody, or sacrifice however many livestock and virgins it takes to keep that receiver from getting downfield.

Here's where Dantonio's program development comes into play, because it takes a long time for cornerbacks to get to the point where their press will work often enough that the quarterback stops expecting that guy to be open. Also they have to be ready for what coaches will do to screw with them.

It's also where finding good players comes into play. You can't get away with this if you have crappy Indiana safeties. There's tremendous strain put on the defensive backs to play up and still cover deep; if they can't handle it (and the offense has any kind of downfield passing ability) the jig is up.

In the defense's favor: in the college game, especially the game today where Tom Brady wannabes are less common than Denard Robinson wannabes (i.e. guys who are running threats but hardly devastatingly accurate deep passers), an offense that can rip you over the top is a rare cove indeed. The talent-depleted Big Ten has been short on defense-stretching receivers; a good 40% of Big Ten wideouts who'd pose a major threat to this scheme play for Maryland. Braxton Miller has a lot going for him but he tends to sail such passes over his open guys' heads. Devin Gardner, especially a beat up Devin Gardner, has a tendency to underthrow, turning open receivers into a game of Five-Hundred. Hackenberg might have success but his best targets are tight ends; Sudfeld has a similar problem now that his slot dude is the last man standing. And omigod can you just imagine what happens when this thing meets Gary Nova? "Like a Wrecking Ball" don't enter into it!


Last year Borges tried to screw with the Quarters reads by making it unclear who's the #1 or #2 receiver to that side, either with stacks or putting 3 receivers to the same side or like this (watch the WRs at the top of the screen):

Michigan ran just a two-man route, motioning the outside receiver into the inside receiver. Ultimately Funchess leapt a million feet in the air to beat Drummond to the outside, but look how seamlessly the Spartan defensive backs executed this and made it hard.

A novice might have a hard time with who's 1 or 2, but not a 5th year senior. Dantonio built his program, like Wisconsin's, on retention. He'll hold onto guys for three or four years usually before they see the field (or else the kids have to beat out the upperclassmen). It also makes those elders kind of crucial because the depth chart carries a lot of pressmen in training.

So for the first few seconds of the play, it's kind of Cov 2 man with everybody so bunched near the line of scrimmage that the run game will be right there and obvious, and thus easy to stop. Then quarters rules take over. And it can't be cracked wide open because pass interference isn't likely to be called unless you're playing at Notre Dame.

Can Michigan do this? Actually it's probably the best thing for the defensive personnel the coaches have collected, since the one thing we seem to have a glut of is really good cornerbacks, and more in development.



July 29th, 2014 at 11:26 AM ^

Our recivers need to be as physical with states corners as they are with them. The faster we can get their hands off and get them to turn and start chasing the better. 


July 29th, 2014 at 11:31 AM ^

Funchess isn't a TE but MSU's corners basically commit PI every play -- they're coached to do that, so I don't take the players' effort personally, but that's what they do.

The way to defeat it is to not just roll out a real-life Tacopants but if you've got 30+ pounds on the CB as well and he presses you, learn some damn blocking techniques and pancake the guy.

gustave ferbert

July 29th, 2014 at 12:51 PM ^

yes they were really good.  No question about that. I guess I'm more aggravated at how we could let that happen.  When i was a student and basically all the way up to 2007 or so, I never thought we would be competing with MSU for recruits, now we're using their schemes, have their coaches (Wellman and Nuss).  It's just a (drastic) change from the way things used to be. . .


July 29th, 2014 at 11:49 AM ^

I don't think it'll be an exact copy; that would be silly and I give the coaches more respect than that.  However, the differences will probably be more subtle and based on maximizing player strengths.  For example, depending on how Peppers pans out -- if, say for the sake of argument he becomes Woodson 2.0 -- he won't necessarily need to play press coverage if he can blanket the deep threat on every down, which in turn makes the safety's job much easier.  Little stuff like that.

That said, we have a good crop of corners, moving JMFR to the inside and going to a 4-3 over, so it's probably going to look a LOT like MSU's defense.  As BiSB says, this is anything but a dumb idea.  Just keep in mind we are still a Greg Mattison defense, so I don't expect him to hide his fingerprints.  You'll probably see some individual wrinkles working out of the 4-3 over base.

Space Coyote

July 29th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

Michigan will be utilizing much more cover 1 and cover 1 robber. If Mattison's past is any indication, it'll be multiple in its coverages, leaning more heavily on two-high defenses against spread-to-run teams and single high defenses against pass heavy teams.

FWIW, Cover 4 has probably (almost-certainly) been Michigan's worst pass-coverage call since Mattison arrived, for whatever reason. Likely it hasn't been repped as much as the other calls. But it likely looked it's best in all three years against Northwestern (when Colter was in) last year.


July 29th, 2014 at 1:30 PM ^

I don't think what we saw in spring will be what we roll out in fall.  The secondary is still very much in flux so I think big changes are possible in fall camp.  I don't necessarily think we'll see MSU-style quarters either, but one major MGoFlaw is the ongoing assumption of "everything is static until proven otherwise".  This isn't a foolish approach (if you don't know, past data is a better indicator than blind guessing), but it tends to be doggedly one step behind the developments.

One strength I identify in Mattison is that he adjusts the schemes to fit his players.  Once he saw what he had in Kovacs he had that guy running all over the place; his moving JMFR to MLB goes part and parcel with the switch to the over.  It doesn't always work and he does have his preferences, but he's not a stubborn guy.  So until I know what Peppers is going to do and who the FS is, I'm not going to bet on any coverage.  If he goes with the quarters it won't be because MSU is doing it; it'll be because he looked at his DBs and figured that's the best way to use them.

That said, if I was a betting man I agree -- we're more likely to use multiple coverages than a single base set, quarters or cover-1 or whatever.

Space Coyote

July 29th, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

And still believe we'll see our fair share of an Under front. I do think a single-high coverage will be more the norm than not, simply because that, IMO, fits Michigan's personnel as well as being Mattison's preferred option over a two-high look. But we'll see our share of it all, based on Michigan's personnel, skill sets, and opponent offensive philosophy.


July 29th, 2014 at 11:39 AM ^

Yeah, at the most basic level, the idea is that if your CBs can handle the downfield threat without safety help, the safeties can stop the run.  That's pretty much the 1997 Michigan defense except we did it with an All-Pro NFL CB just doing his thing, whereas they're taking not-quite-as-good talent (I mean FFS who is) and coaching them dirty.  Your DL still needs to hit home because this sort of aggressive defense only works for so long, but I have to respect Narduzzi's deep understanding of the margins he's playing with.

A huge frustration with last year's UM-MSU game was that Gardner either got hit or had to bail just as a receiver was breaking open.  That constant "almost" was deceptive; it was if anything a sure sign the defense was working as planned.  They don't need to cover the receivers all day.  Only for the first few seconds because that's all the front seven are gonna give the QB.  I hate how the CBs are coached but I have to marvel at how all the pieces fit and work together.

To get back to point though, Michigan can't deploy this defense just by rolling out stud CBs.  We need to work our our issues with the DL, which generated very little organic pass rush last season and sending JMFR on an A-gap blitz isn't going to fix that by itself.


July 29th, 2014 at 1:12 PM ^

Fairly or not Mattison is known for his blitzes so while I'm sure that'll happen, my main concern is -- like the last two seasons -- if we generate pass rush ONLY on blitzes, we'll be walking that fine line between effective and effectively telling the offense how to beat us.  We got burned a lot last season on 10-yard passes over the MLB's head.

That said, I really do want to see what JMFR can do on an A-gap blitz.  I want to see what he can do when the center releases the DT.


July 29th, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

I don't have many stats on hand about this, and hopefully someone does here, but my impression from watching MSU the last three years when their D has ben elite, is that the pass rush isn't totally on the DL; they blitz a lot.  MSU runs a 3-3-5 on passing situations, and use it correctly to get people running at the QB from odd directions and confuse the OL.  I feel like I rarely see the MSU DL even have to generate an organic pass rush on their own.  Last year, Calhoun led the team with 7.5 sacks, then they had two LBs 2nd and 3rd in sacks.  I realize UM is probably not going to roll out the 3 man DLs to free up the LBs to blitz in confusing ways without sacrificing pass coverage, but MSU doesn't put the pass rush on the DL just beating people consistantly.  Narduzzi dials up a lot to put his players in great positions to make plays.


July 29th, 2014 at 1:21 PM ^

.  . . because I'm inclined to cite the UM-MSU game, which screams outlier.  They blitzed the A-gaps the past three years because if they didn't have the snap count figured out in a trash tornado, they were targeting the O-line's biggest weakness (the interior) and all three years it looked like our OC was shocked & awed by the A-gap blitz.  Short answer?  Against Michigan, they blitzed the A-gaps because it WORKED ALL GODDAMN DAY.

Against teams that can actually pick up the linebackers, that's not an every-down trick.  Their defense is much more flexible than that and you don't necessarily measure a D-line's effectiveness in sacks.  Their D-line's job is to keep the ball behind the LoS and flush it out, which tends to result in a lot of throwaways and 2-yard runs to the outside.  But I'd have to UFR every MSU game from the past 3 years to prove my point and that's way more green & white than I'd care to look at without getting paid a mint.  I'd rather be wrong on the Internet.


July 29th, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

I'll defer to everybody else's MSU knowledge, but in general the effectiveness of outside blitzes is greatly impacted by whether the DL has gotten any penetration inside. If it hasn't, then a good QB has time to step up into the pocket and get the pass off.

I've seen this a million times over the years with Michigan on defense, with our outside blitzers continually getting to the QB only after he's been able to step up and deliver the ball because the inside push from our DL isn't doing anything to collapse the pocket.

Blue in Seattle

July 29th, 2014 at 2:49 PM ^

I've heard this comment made about the Seattle Seahawks right before and after they shutdown Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl.  Why are only the champions cheating?  I haven't looked up the rule recently, but I thought for the first 5 yards and before the ball is in the air the reciever and corner back got to play good ol' American football.

Kind of like this,



or this,




July 29th, 2014 at 12:18 PM ^

1) the B1G starts fielding an addtional ref on defense this year, and 2) our safeties maybe be talented, but they don't have too much experience in this scheme


July 29th, 2014 at 1:53 PM ^

Some evidence of the point: in the clip, M runs a corner/seam route that gets both of them reasonably open thanks to the way Borges knows the DBs will leverage the routes. Gallon runs seam, CB has outside leverage. Funchess runs corner, safety has inside leverage. But the throw over the top to the seam ends up taken away by the field to the opposite side playing C2 against the nub.

There are a lot of safeties out there, perhaps ours included, who won't find work like that weak safety did to get over the top of a seam route on the other side of the field. And a lot of DBs in general will get beat a lot worse than either of theirs did given the playcall.


July 29th, 2014 at 4:03 PM ^

But if our OL was better and we could use the 2 TEs to the strong side to run routes wouldn't that occupy the Strong Side safety.  If we run a simple corner/out combo with those tight ends it leaves gallon wide open on the seam once he can shake off the TSA full body pat down he was getting.  It seems like once the Strong Side safety notices both receivers to his side are committed to blocking he immediately takes off to get deep over the top of the routes on the other side.


July 30th, 2014 at 6:26 PM ^

I'm not convinced the TE-Wing side is Cover 2, especially since you can't see any routes over there. It's pretty easy for the backside safety to get involved in the seam route when it's a 2 man route.

FWIW, it's actually a good concept by Borges. Max protect in case you get the zone blitz stuff. You have a way to beat the Cover 4 Press with the corner route to Funchess.

Mr. Yost

July 29th, 2014 at 3:39 PM ^

Just to have football content has got me all tingley inside.

I refuse to read this while at work...I'm going to go home, open up a nice bottle of red, dim the lights, sit down with my laptop and read this entire piece word-for-word.

Football is here.


July 29th, 2014 at 10:54 PM ^

I really like the explanation of the read and react cover2/cover 4 scheme. If we utilize this, I would bet that it will take quite a while to get it down, even for a senior. Once they have been drilling this for over a year it could very well get nasty, but I wonder if this will leave two DB's arguing after a play where 2 guys cover the same WR. At least we have some real game time to figure out whatever it is we're up to before heading into South Bend. I can't wait to go to the opener!! Please keep the scheme discussions up - this is one of the many things that makes this blog special.

Mr. Yost

July 29th, 2014 at 11:06 PM ^

Is I run Cover 2 Man out of the the 4-3, Nickel and Dime all day in NCAA '14 and you just can't stop it.

Press to give the DL more time, bring a safety up to spy the run...you go play action and my DL is there, you run and my safety is there cheating up.

I'll live with the few missed press coverages that get beat over the top for 10-15 yard gains because the QB doesn't have enough time to sit back and wait for the WR to truly seperate.

Start to run on me and I'll show blitz and crowd the line. May even leave a FB unmanned and blitz a LB every now and again.

Can't stop me. #Clamps.


July 30th, 2014 at 3:05 AM ^

"You are truly our state's top program and in no way does continuing to whine about a statement a 21-year-old made in 2007 make you petty."

> if this is sarcasm, then sorry.  It's hard to tell based on text.  However, if this isn't sarcasm, then it's...

The epitome of kissing ass.  I'm sorry, but it has to be said.  Yeah, MSU was the best team in 2013, but which team was better in 2012?  Literally, by all objective standards, was Mich St a better team than Michigan two seasons ago?  Seth, stop being a bitch.

EDIT:  And no, if you are still whining about comments made by Mike Hart, arguably the most arrogant Mich player in the history of the program... statements he made seven years ago, then you are retarded.  You are literally complaining about a person who is completely dissassociated with the Michigan football program today.  If you are complaining about Mike Hart... still... then you're fundamentally insane.


July 30th, 2014 at 6:35 PM ^

MSU runs two unique concepts: A 4-3 Cover 4 Press look and a truly revolutionary zone blitz package.

The corners have to play outside leverage in the Cover 4 Press look because they still have run support responsibilities. How Narduzzi coaches those corners to be able to get off for run to their side while pressed is remarkable. They are able to differentiate between a block on the safety, a short drag, and a deeper route all with similar stems. And they almost never make a mistake in those reads. An example of a mistake was the 50 yard run in the first quarter by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. CB came inside just 1 step too many and it was off to the races.

The blitz 6 and drop 5 into zone is revolutionary and they rarely got burned in this package. Ohio State's big pass play right before halftime of the Big Ten title game is the only play that comes to mind. And it's less the pass rush and more the way they teach the 5 guys still in coverage. I've never seen it run as much as they do it and more teams will incorporate it quickly.

They dabble in other coverages like all teams, but it's the Cover 4 Press and zone blitz packages that separate them from everyone else.