Neck Sharpies: Don Brown Blitzes IV Comment Count

Seth October 11th, 2016 at 12:11 PM

Okay so I’ve talked about this before. Maybe more than once. But Ohio State loves this play, so much that its variations account for 3 of the first 4 plays on Curtis Samuel’s Oklahoma highlight reel (and 2 more are counters off it).

Inverted Veer (again)

This play is called “Inverted Veer” or “Power Read.” It was the staple of the Borges-Denard/Devin fusion cuisine era, because it is the mullet of offensive plays: manball business in the front, spread party in the backfield.

Here’s a basic setup:


The offensive line is blocking like power C: block down and pull from the backside, and cave the frontside.

A second after the snap reveals why it’s such a devastating play:


While a good ol’fashioned zone-read might option a backside defender, inverted veer options the playside end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS). That defender is allowed into the backfield and optioned: if he comes up too far, the ball is given to the running back, who accelerates away to the outside—You’ve been EDGED! If the end gets wide to prevent the running back from getting the edge, that opens up room for the quarterback to dive into the gap behind him—You’ve been GASHED!

[Hit THE JUMP for variations, and how Michigan defended this]

The rest of the blocks are supposed to be guys in advantageous positions. The only iffy matchup there is the slot receiver versus an overhang defender, and offenses have a bunch of ways of dealing with that. Like have him crack the MLB while the tight end kicks the SAM (left-below), or replace him with a lead-blocking fullback (right-below)


If your back is a heavier, North-South type and your jitterbug slot receiver is your best offensive weapon in space, try the ever-popular jet sweep version:


…and maybe make than an unbalanced formation to steal an extra blocker:


That’s what Rutgers did. Then something happened they did not expect.

So Michigan is in one of Don Brown’s “50” fronts:


Specifically, it’s the favorite “Pup” 3-3-5 look that dominates the 3-4’ish parts of the playbook. From the Don Brown Glossary I wrote last summer:


Pup is basically the flipside of Bandit, and it's all over the playbook, with the Pup often blitzing. Seriously, most of the last third of the playbook is just nefarious Pup blitzes, including one where he's standing around in the middle of the field making noises like he has no idea what's going on, then right before the snap he creeps right down the center and blitzes an A gap.

And that makes sense since you've taken what's normally your top pass rusher off the field for the Pup, and nobody likes a quarterback standing around all bowels intact-y. If Bandit is the 3-3-5, the Pup formations are really a 3-4 that has traded in some of the weakside OLB's pass rushing for more ways to confuse the protection.

Except Peppers isn’t the Pup like in the glossary diagram; he’s playing the SAM role, and by that we mean a Jake Ryan/Clint Copenhaver quasi-DE SAM.


At least I think Kinnel is back there somewhere—only 10 Michigan defenders actually appear in the video; either way they wrecked this with only that many.

The Reading Zone

The reason Rodriguez named his option the ZONE-read is because you’re not actually reading a player—that could be too easy to mess with for a defense. Rather, you’re reading a zone, just like in pass principles. As with passing zones, the point is to threaten both sides of where a player should have to cover, and attack the one he leaves most open. So the zone in play here is the area at the end of the line of scrimmage. And the guy being read is whoever among defenders draws that duty. Also like with passing into zone coverage, if you read it incorrectly, or the zoned guy can cover so much space it overlaps with the next defender, there’s nowhere to go.

On this play there are three relevant defenders lined up around the zone who might be the playside EMLOS.


Wormley is the strongside end, but he’s lined up inside the left tackle, so unless he’s slanting hard outside, he’s not a good candidate to read—after all if he is responsible for the lane outside the tight end he’s got two offensive players at least to shoot past.

Gedeon is a more likely target. He’s lined up a little outside of Wormley, off the left tackle’s shoulder. And then outside is Peppers, but he’s all the way on the hash, and isn’t that guy a nickelback or something?

One key that Rutgers missed here is that both Peppers and Delano Hill are lined up over the covered receiver. Covered or not, two defenders over the same player is almost always a sign that the first guy is blitzing. Sure enough, Peppers starts to motion inside just before the snap.


In the second frame above you can see the tight end saw what Peppers is doing and is pointing. The TE at that point decides he’s going to block Gedeon since Peppers is standing in the option zone and leaning like he’s coming.

But nobody in the backfield appears to hear it—the RB and QB are both playing this like a inside linebacker will be optioned. The running back will still try to block Peppers, and the quarterback keeps his read eyes on the linebackers, flipping to McCray when he and Gedeon cross.


Now it’s time to make the decision: keep and try to run behind McCray before he can recover, or give and hope the jitterbug can beat a WLB to the corner. That seems like the better option.

Except the QB didn’t read Peppers, allowing Michigan’s Thorpe-like object to foray deep into the backfield, right where you don’t want him to be. The RB can still try to block here—maybe get a chip or something—but any block this close to the running play is gumming up the works. Maaaybe if that’s a old fashioned, neck-rolled SAM, and you’ve got Curtis Samuel you can get away with that. But this the best player in the country. He gets a whoop.



In Soviet Defense, EMLOS Options YOU

Here’s Michigan’s play. Hill is nominally in man on that receiver but thunders up at the snap since his man isn’t eligible—Delano is playing the hybrid Peppers role while Peppers moonlights as Jake Ryan. Dymonte Thomas went a step further: he’s the “rat” covering a zone and a gap you’d normally have a linebacker handle. McCray swung to the strong side to become the de facto MLB.


“City” is the base Cover 1, but they’re doing it with lighter personnel. Like you’ve got a free safety, Dymonte Thomas, covering an easily attackable backside B gap, and Gedeon substituting acceleration for mass to handle an A gap, and of course, Peppers taking the role that Wormley or Rashan Gary would normally have. That is disadvantageous if he ends up meeting a guard in close quarters, but very advantageous if he ends up in enough space to dodge a block and recover—or has to cover two sides of a zone read.

The Gedeon blitz won an extra man when the tight end went after the wrong linebacker, leaving McCray a free hitter. That is just Peppers formed up, saw the RB trying to stalk block him, and whooped a hapless RB. That’s how you get two defenders swallowing the ballcarrier two yards in the backfield; either one

But let’s assume for a moment that Rutgers ran the play correctly, since you know Ohio State will. This defense is still set up well to defend that.


I don’t know if those trails (from start position) are confusing or helpful. Anyway if the defense does suss out what the defense is doing, they’re still having to option Peppers. Their best case scenario is to try to block him anyway with the RB like they did, and give up on the outside; a QB keeper if the TE can seal McCray puts the quarterback in a 1-on-1 with the deep safety.

Of course that means the offense has to see and react to all of this in real time, with players moving around all over the board. And by the time you’ve done so the play is forced inside and subject to a running back vs Peppers block in the backfield. How many offensive coordinators would take that?

It’s very Don Brown. Rather than have a defensive end attacking the formation’s strength with brute force, he’s got a slippery speed weasel lined up in space. He can come off that edge so fast that pass protecting against it is a nightmare. In the run game he’s hard to get a body on, and so athletic from a formed-up position that he’s capable of playing both sides of an option, or delaying that for so long that reinforcements arrive.



October 11th, 2016 at 12:37 PM ^

It seems to me that part of the key here is that the run blitz forces the decision to occur much quicker. As a result it allows the linebackers and the rest of the defense to react more quickly. Is this true?

Obviously in this case it didn't matter since the qb should've kept it.


October 11th, 2016 at 12:40 PM ^

Looks to me like Stribling rotates back to essentially a safety position once there is no threat on his side of the field, and Thomas comes down into the box. He would've had a shot on the QB if he had kept the ball before the deep safety would have.


October 11th, 2016 at 1:06 PM ^

Reading that if they blocked the play properly that the QB is one-on-one with the deep safety scares me with Barrett. That is at least 10 yards, if not a touchdown. If Thomas is able to rotate down and get a shot on the QB that is a 3 or 4 yard gain. Even if Thomas doesn't make the tackle, it would cause Barrett to hesitate at the very least, allowing time for someone else to recover.


October 11th, 2016 at 5:31 PM ^

I may be misunderstanding, but I think part of that is McCray attacking the ball. If the QB keeps there, I don't see McCray over-pursuing to the back. Again, entirely possible that I am misunderstanding the assignment there. Hopefully a smarter person can elaborate.


October 11th, 2016 at 12:43 PM ^

So what Don Brown does with this is changes the "option" guy from a DE on the line of scrimmage, to a quick LB/S 2 yards deep in the backfield. It goes from making an easy read on a stationary DE in a bad position to make a play, to an impossible read on a hybrid space player who is already in your face. 

That's pretty neat to see. 


October 11th, 2016 at 12:43 PM ^

Coudn't the TE and inside play-side WR switch on/off LOS, keep the same blocking assignments and have a flare/bubble screen setup as a built-in counter?  A hard charging Hill will have to commit to one side of the block on Lewis, and the WR (now a slot) could read that fairly easily.  With Peppers heading to the mesh point at the snap, he wouldn't be able to defend it (well, maybe HE would), and the WR would then be one-on-one with the FS downfield.  I understand this play is from Rutgers, and they likely don't have the personnel (QB) to make the 2 quick reads required, but I would bet Braxton Miller can.  

That being said, I doubt a similar situation would be defeneded the exact same way again (Don Brown = Mad Scientist), but I wouldn't doubt we see some trickeration with an inverted veer in Columbus.


October 11th, 2016 at 1:05 PM ^

Yeah, that's the game that you're constantly playing. The DC comes up with a way to stop a base play, and the OC tries to work in wrinkles to make that more difficult to defend. That said, I doubt you're going to be able to get a QB to consistently make those two reads in quick succession when there's a real blitz coming, like there is here, because in this case that HSP is still charging for the QB if he keeps.


Instead, I'd expect to see PA off this look. A PA bubble or pop pass seems like it could effectively attack the looks here. Personally, if it were me, I'd try to cook up something which uses that same pre-snap motion look with the TE ahead of the play, then motions the WR into the backfield on the Jet Sweep, with the QB play actioning then leaking into a slide motion to his right with the TE breaking from the backside of the formation. That would give a mobile QB like Barrett an easy run/pass option on the backside of the play, and would put the linebackers and safeties into a situation where they need to know which direction the play is going. A hard counter.

Doctor J

October 11th, 2016 at 1:19 PM ^

Do you think this is how Sparty got us with that fullback wheel last year? Everyone bit so hard to the playside that the backside leak of the FB went unnoticed? 

I definitely see what you're saying with the TE in this instance - he would be in stride and very much open. 


This was a great read! 

True Blue in CO

October 11th, 2016 at 12:47 PM ^

I have to believe Urban Meyer and staff have already been looking at Don Brown and his schemes against teams like Clemson during his time at BC. Hoping Michigan can find new looks to attack OSU.

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October 11th, 2016 at 1:01 PM ^

But they'll still be trying to run their base plays until we stop them.  Last year we knew what was coming and didn't make the adjustments necessary to stop them so they kept doing it.  Forcing them out of their base play is a win as they are less familiar and less likely to execute well on variations.

Watching From Afar

October 11th, 2016 at 1:29 PM ^

On the last breakdown where you show how the defense is built to defend the play, the backside guard isn't shown pulling. If he pulls, then doesn't the 1-1 QB vs. safety turn into a 2-1 G + QB vs. a safety? Or did I completely miss the point?


October 11th, 2016 at 1:38 PM ^

If this was just his one way to attack inverted veer, you can scheme around that and coach your offense to read Peppers. . . but I'm sure Brown has a few variations to counter that.

I'm liking this style of defense.  Brown doesn't sit back and let the offense make decisions like "we're gonna option the DE" or "we're gonna spread them out" or "we're gonna tempo them".  He flips the mentalities, like he's the offensive coordinator trying to move the ball in the other direction.  Here are MY plays; now let's see if you can react to them.

Not to question is credentials but since every other DC sounds the same, at first I naively figured that "we're going to apply pressure" was just his way of spewing the platitude that defenses need to be aggressive.  I think I'm starting to figure out just what he means.


October 11th, 2016 at 2:00 PM ^

I am guessing Brown is in absolute heaven with the defensive personnel on this team.

I would think most teams try to defend these plays with good execution (clap clap) and the hope some of your athletes can outdo to opposition (not the greatest chance with OSU)....With some wrinkles thrown in of course.

With Brown's background at places where there was no chance he could out-athlete the opposition he was forced to develop this system to compete. Add in the Peppers etc on the M defense and he can do something really special. It does seem like they have been steadily cleaning things up and adding packages as the season progresses.

I only wish he would have come in last year (nothing against Durkin) so we could be 100% sure this Death Star is fully operational by the time we head to Columbus.

steve sharik

October 11th, 2016 at 2:26 PM ^

The reason Rodriguez named his option the ZONE-read is because you’re not actually reading a player

Sorry, but it was named zone read b/c it was zone blocking with reading the backside DE. Specifically, Rich preferred outside zone. Utah Urban was the first one I recall seeing use it with inside zone and the back going downhill as opposed to off-tackle to outside. (Of course that really means some guy in FCS or DII--or even DIII, JUCO, or HS--was doing it first.)

With the evolution of the zone read going from choosing to read the backside DE or the backside ILB, the power read/inverted veer has evolved to choosing to read the playside DE or the playside OLB.

Old-ish school zone option vs. speed option was simply differentiated by who the QB was optioning--the playside DE or force player. In some defenses, that's the same player; in others, not.


October 11th, 2016 at 2:45 PM ^

While Rutgers was pathetic and predictable, Don Brown ate their lunch all day long.  Durkin's method was to count on the line to dominate making it easier for the back seven to react.  Not only does Don Brown not react, he is constantly messing with assignments based on alignment and blitzing.  If the defense continues to cut down on busts the Buckeyes offense will have its hands full.

Frank Chuck

October 11th, 2016 at 5:46 PM ^

But notice that all of our players (Peppers, McCray, and Lewis) are in position to gang tackle the Rutgers player near the LOS even if it is correctly blocked.

Against OSU, if Peppers or McCray shed/evade blocks and/or take the correct angles using good anticipation/awareness (a.k.a. re: instinct), then these plays can be stopped as TFLs (which is the case here).


October 11th, 2016 at 6:15 PM ^

I've never understood why teams knowingly make that interior WR ineligible.  It clearly tips run and allows the D to have more freedom.  I don't understand why that extra 1-yard of positioning relative to the LOS matters for the play design.  Why not keep him an active threat?  


(I also think similar things whenever I see a DT line up further away from the LOS to tip stunt)


October 12th, 2016 at 1:05 AM ^

This is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing...and for building my excitement and hope for The Game. I just hope this analysis means they will not be able to easily put up 42 pts

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