Hokepoints: Point of Attack

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


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.


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.




How to read this chart: The first row is the % of passes that went there. The second row of each sector is the completions/attempts and the third is yards per all attempts. The "(†)"s next to attempts show interceptions. You have to mentally insert the players who are usually responsible for these zones if you want to place blame, e.g. to Raymon Taylor for stuff that happened on the weakside sideline:

                     Weakside        Center                Strongside
Deep sideline Deep hash Deep middle Deep hash Deep Sideline

12.5 YPA


15.6 YPA

0.0 YPA

13.2 YPA

Sideline Hash 6-15 Middle 6-15 Hash 6-15 Sideline

13/18 (†)
9.8 YPA

5.5 YPA

9/18 (††)
9.6 YPA

5/9 (†)
7.8 YPA

5/12 (†)
4.4 YPA

Flat Dump-off Dump-off Dump-off Flat

2.5 YPA

0.0 YPA

9/14 (†)
3.6 YPA

2.7 YPA

3.6 YPA

The "weakside" and the boundary side were usually the same thing, so unless the ball was centered at the snap, there was no such thing as a weakside hash, is why there's so little action there. So things:

There's lots of attempts in the flats and short areas in general.

That's an effect of playing some dinky-dunky offenses: CMU, Akron and UConn threw to receivers inside 5 yards about 45% of the time. The low YPA was an effect of dumpoffs and Michigan being pretty good at sniffing out screens. They don't bother me.

Some places with high YPA

These are trouble areas. I'll excuse the deep sideline on the strongside (i.e. Avery-Stribling-Lewis-Hollowell spot) since there's only two completions in five attempts and one went long. Getting gashed up the middle not so much. Linebackers not carrying their zones has created a soft spot in Michigan's defense. Let's look at those in some detail.

We had high hopes; it does seem that Bolden still has a ways to go before he's a positive pass defender. [Upchurch]


    We have six deep attempts down the middle so far. Completions: two Bolden errors and the insane Hail Mary formation at the end of the UConn game you can blame on insane formation.  Incomplete: Wilson and Countess were in position to intercept one against CMU; T.Gordon was too small to deflect but made life hard enough on an Akron WR that the pass went off his fingertips; and the last was Akron QB missing an open post after T.Gordon was suckered, however that would have been called back for a hold on Beyer.

Then there's 18 shots taken in the middle, again with 50% completions.

  • The good nine: 1) Black pressure forces a bad throw. 2) Rees misses a hitch.  3)Ross's near interception. 5)Pressure by Clark leads to pass that Ross was in position to tip. 5)Bad throw by Rees that Ross broke up. 6)Morgan gets away with a PI in the end zone, tipped to Countess who intercepts. 7) Last play of the Akron game. 8) Ojemudia in free forces quick/bad throw (UConn). 9) Morgan's one-handed interception prevents us losing to UConn.
  • The bad nine: 1) Ross misses a chuck on TE, gives up 1st on 3rd and 9. 2) Quick TE hitch in front of Bolden. 3) Bolden bites on an out and is burned over the top. 4) PA pop slant that Countess is left alone to cover from bad position. 5) Wholesale coverage bust leaves middle of field (and Taylor's guy too) wide open. 6) Morgan drops too far and opens a skinny post beneath him. 7) UConn game repeat of 4—seemed Ross didn't get depth. 8) Bolden leaves a seam early. 9) UConn's cheap TD when they run-blocked Ross in the end zone.

You see the middle linebackers' names coming up more in the negative sections than the positive ones, particularly Bolden's. I guess that makes sense given he's had the least amount of playing time. When things went well there was often pressure applied. That's normal, and here I remind you that when the middle is covered there's usually no throw. What's worrisome is high number of attempts on relatively easy reads. Ideal is passes aren't going here.

The OTHER place giving up a high YPA. That opponents are targeting 20% of the time.


I'm all alone. There's no-one here beside me. [Upchurch]

Well it's normal for teams to attack along the sideline where there's:


  • Less likely to be a safety
  • Opportunities to pick on edge defenders too focused on stopping the running game

Those chucks to the opposite flat are very much about the second bullet above. But yea, they're targeting Taylor. It was Notre Dame doing most of the damage:

Weakside Zone CMU ND Akron UConn Total


2/5 (†), 24 yds

6/8 , 78 yds

2/2 , 22 yds

3/3 , 22 yds

13/18, 156 yds


2/3,  64 yds

3/8 , 59 yds

1/2 , 40 yds


6/13, 163 yds

Other than UConn opponents got a big chunk of their yards by smashing Taylor. CMU was a bit too obvious about it and got one of them picked off. Tommy Rees was the only real arm among them and sent 16 passes into zones they expected Taylor to be in. That's life as the cornerback who isn't Blake Countess.

Blake Countess

Areas he's patrolling seem relatively devoid of passing yards.


Where the play lined up didn't seem to matter too much as to where it would go. Weirdly, plays from the right hash seemed to get a lot fewer yards. YPA by placement of the ball with attempts in parentheses:

Ball on/Thrown to: Weakside Middle Strongside Total
Left hash 7.8 (25) 11.4 (11) 4.7 (25) 7.2 (61)
Centered 8.9 (12) 8.8 (11) 9.3 (9) 9.0 (32)
Right hash 5.8 (17) 5.3 (16) 3.2 (23) 4.6 (56)
Total 7.4 (54) 8.2 (38) 4.9 (57) 6.6 (149)

Guess: right-handed quarterbacks have a harder time placing the ball on the right sideline, so a lot of the stuff that went that way went short?


ND Sux

October 2nd, 2013 at 7:35 AM ^

Didn't you ever see "Back To The Future?"  There's no guarantee that Blake Cloneness (see what I did there) turns out the same.  One tiny event change alters the space-time thingy.  For example, if that one little brat doesn't hit Blake II with a stick in 3rd grade, he doesn't grow up as tough.  Get it? 


October 1st, 2013 at 5:33 PM ^

The number of attempts toward certain zones is almost worse than the yards. What I mean is deep completions will have to have more yards than flat stuff, (duh) but the difficulty of the throws brings the YPA back down. Now it.s like the success opposing offenses have there just encourages the next one.

Wee-Bey Brice

October 1st, 2013 at 5:40 PM ^

Is Jabrill Peppers eligible yet?


EDIT: Actually, before I jump head first off of the Ray Taylor bandwagon, how much of this can be credited to lack of pass rush? DBs can only cover for so long


October 1st, 2013 at 5:57 PM ^

Before jumping to conclusions, I don't have data on any other teams. From fan memory I'd guess passes toward Taylor are still quite high but consider:

1. Blake Countess is known to be very good, so whoever was across from him would get picked on. The tradeoff for having Countess at nickel is he has been protecting the field corners. Ray Taylor is clearly the 2nd best corner on the roster.

2. Opponents are limiting themselves by surrendering 3/5ths of the field to Countess on a fifth of their plays.

3. We lived with Floyd, and Taylor>Floyd except that one Illinois game.

4. Rees did a lot of the damage by being Tommy Rees. He has good receivers too.

5. UConn abandoned this "Attack Taylor" strategy, and the defense did a pretty good job in that game.


October 1st, 2013 at 6:13 PM ^

I realize the LB's are having problems dropping into coverage over the middle but could the fact that both safeties are usually playing fairly deep also affect the ability of the other teams to hit those passes? 

LB slow to drop into coverage and safeties playing kind of deep opens up a big hole over the middle of the field.


October 1st, 2013 at 6:02 PM ^

I don't know how I feel about this.  On one hand it was a fun read, but before I say "thank you" I can't help but think this is also the sort of content opposing OCs would actually pay money for.

On the upside, it doesn't reveal much beyond what we already know.  It does validate it, though.


October 1st, 2013 at 6:14 PM ^

Believe me: they already know where other teams are attacking. The day a blog posts something that opposing coaches read and say "wow, I can use that to beat this team" is the day before you read in the newspaper that coaches are hiring bloggers to do something other than write press releases and call them blog entries.

Ron Utah

October 1st, 2013 at 6:20 PM ^

What's alarming is the high completion rate we're giving-up on the weakside (Taylor) along with the high YPA.  If you're going to play soft coverage and give-up some short stuff, that's okay.  But not if you're also going to give-up long stuff.

In the middle, we clearly have work to do.  I think our defense is soft here by design, but the LBs MUST do better at carrying routes and handing them off to the safeties.

There is nothing here opposing DCs don't already know.  But we must fix it.

Eye of the Tiger

October 1st, 2013 at 6:23 PM ^

To what degree are Bolden's errors in pass coverage correctable? I've always thought of him as a solid, Morgan 2.0 type player--not a star, but someone who could become a dependable and above-average starter. But I've been dismayed by his errors in coverage against not-good opposition. Am I being unfair? 


Son of Lloyd Brady

October 1st, 2013 at 6:33 PM ^

Well Morgan is in his 3rd year as a starter and Bolden second year as a backup, so its not as though Bolden is doomed, just that he hasn't seen as many high quality looks as Morgan has. I would think that the coaches would put him in on more run downs if he struggles in pass coverage, so on occassion when it ends up being a pass he isn't as adapt at reading the play.


October 1st, 2013 at 7:28 PM ^

Exculding play-off Bolden played for Cincinnati Colerain in High School which is in the Greater Miami Conference which is a run first, second and third kind of conferece across the board with out very many QB's, TE's or WR's to speak of so pass coverage is probably newer for him than some other guys who played against more balanced teams in High School.

I dumped the Dope

October 2nd, 2013 at 8:09 AM ^

Ohio burned up Wisconsin on deep sideline routes to the endzone, think one over the deep middle before halftime.  Miller can zing it right in there, we have to get prepared for that.  Take even one of those deep plays away and that becomes a different game.

I do see other teams pick on Ray Taylor a lot...but eventually he strikes back.

Let me also add that Zen for me would be to look out over the field in a couple years time and see Peppers on one side and Adoree Jackson on the other.  I know landing Adoree Jackson is probably akin to winning the Powerball but the guy's got amazing speed and moves.  Watch that highlight tape on Youtube if you don't believe me...freakish!!

To footnote, would like to see Morgan right in Hyde's grille time and time again at the line of scrimmage...just like Borland...