[Scheduling note: Probably no posts tomorrow; Adam will have a hockey thing later this afternoon and then we're off to celebrate various saviors. Have a Merry Christmas, and a very happy It Is Happening anniversary]
Earlier this week I started reviewing the Clemson-Boston College game to see how Don Brown's defense plays against a hurry-up spread offense. The idea wasn't to just see how they played when they got a zone-read run; I wanted to see how they lined up for a drive, and what tweaks he would have down-to-down, and most of all try to pick out the thought processes behind the defensive gameplan.
The first taught us only that BC came out in a very Michigan-like Cover 1, with the free safety playing too far back to do much more than bracket a receiver, usually that being the guy at the bottom of the screen. Here's the next drive.
Play 1: Zone read vs. Dog Blitz — And here's our first wrinkle, and here's where I betray my lack of knowledge because I don't know what to call this except a backside run blitz:
With the offense backed up against their own goal line Brown decided to play some paper against Clemson's rock. The DL is in an under but the SAM is the slot defender and the strong safety is rolled up like an under SAM. Nobody's got the slot receiver until the free safety, who once again is set up way deep. Since the frontside B gap is covered by the cornerback this is a nine-man front.
The WDE goes right upfield, the MLB heads for the open A gap off the snap while the WLB twists behind him and the SAM comes into that same backside C gap, an interesting take on scrape exchanging (I bet you the WLB has the running back and the SAM has the TE if it goes pass).
Anyway it's a simple handoff going to other side so we're back to player on player. Up front that's a win; the the NT stood up to a double-team and pushed it into the backfield to force the back to stop his forward momentum and take hard bounce to the next gap, which the CB is coming down to get. However the SS jumped inside to that same B gap, thus giving up the edge and 5 yards. I don't like BC's safeties.
Good thing there wasn't a slot read/packaged play here since the bubble is wide open. With the FS deep over the twin receivers BC's got a free 1st down in the pot, but they're not exactly all in.
[After the JUMP: the rest of this drive]
Play 2: Quick Slant vs. Cover 1—The video missed Clemson running out to a 5-wide alignment with the RB the receiver at the top of the screen; BC matched personnel and that's why you have a stocky WLB #52 lined up as the field corner:
There's a reason Cover 1 is such a popular base defense against spread teams and that's because it's simple, i.e. easy to get into when the offense is running tempo, while still being sound—everybody's covered, the middle of the field has extra help, and you've got a guy deep to clean up anything that slips through. Your numbers inside the box are equal to the offense's, unless their QB is part of the running game.
There are two primary downsides to Cover 1, which was Michigan's base defense this year as well. The first is the numbers thing I just mentioned against spread-to-run teams. If the QB is part of the running game rather than just a guy handing off, you're now playing the run a man short, meaning the defense has to either win that battle anyway or give up the luxury of that deep safety. That was Michigan's problem vs Ohio State: their seven were consistently able to beat our six.
This play is the other problem: you're in man-to-man coverage, thus you're only as good as your worst matchup (and subject to rub routes and the like but now you're getting into stuff that takes a lot of execution on the offense's part). On this one the #3 receiver's route occupies the MLB and his 3's man, so the guy on #2 is all alone and gets beat by a nifty first step. Remember Peppers getting beat early in the year like this? That's all it is: a man-on-man win on a defense that requires a good play to cover it.
I point all that out because like Michigan (not by choice) this year, BC very rarely zone blitzes. Durkin always wanted a Buck who can do that and you see here how that might be a handy thing to have on film since a DE dropping back is a nasty surprise against these quick inside passing games. But teaching DL how to zone drop burns a lot of limited practice time; at BC it was clear that Brown left that out by choice to focus those guys on mastering the heart and soul of DL work. They're truly excellent at hand technique and gap integrity and pad level and stunting. But this ain't the NFL; college defenses are designed with flaws you have to cover up by getting really good play.
Like this one:
Play 3: Bubble vs. Cover 1—Man that's a good play by the cornerback. Clemson tempo'ed coming out of the break and caught the BC safety way up and centered like he'd be for a trips formation.
That leaves poor CB #5 all alone with two receivers and a bubble. He plays it calm, watches his man step back, gets upfield of the block, and blows it up. I am impress.
Play 4: RB Draw vs Will Blitz—Clemson has a neat play that mimics a speed option with an H-back coming in motion to lead block, then the RB stops and gets the handoff and it's regular ol' inside zone.
The blitz that BC has called is a staple of Cover 1 defenses. If you think about how Cov1 works it makes sense that it would be:
How defenses handle the RB is more than I'd like to get into right now. Also the "S" here can be a safety-ish SAM linebacker or a linebacker-ish strong safety.
Black lines are players who are pass rushing, red lines are players with just coverage responsibility. The gold lines are guys with multiple jobs: cover something AND cover a gap in the run game. Gold liners have to react to the play. A WLB blitz doesn't change anything about this except the basic things everyone's doing—he just runs right at his gap and if the RB goes out for a pass he has to break off the blitz and cover that.
What you're giving up is another linebacker hanging out to gum up the quick inside passing game: a WLB in man on an RB who's staying in to pass pro can "go find work", ie drop into a zone to gum up the inside passsing game. Blitzing the linebackers into gaps they'd be watching anyway is a low-rent way to attack the run game. Blitzing the linebackers into other gaps and having various DL stunt into gaps the linebackers would normally be covering is a low-rent way of futzing with that. Brown does both.
On this play it doesn't matter so much since the run is designed to attack the other side. It gets very little because BC's front seven play great. Let me show what I liked about them here. We're watching this DT, #90. He's got the B gap (between the LG and LT). They're combo'ing him, so he pops them both:
Remember all the bitching I did last month about how Michigan's DTs weren't protecting their linebackers from releases on zone stretch plays? On inside zone the fight isn't so side to side but it's the same principles at play.
Here's a guy doing not a perfect job but a better job. He sees the LT coming down on him so he shoves the LT back, then pops the LG back, and then just has to get leverage on that guy to maintain his gap. At that point the LT has done his job in getting the LG position, and can move into the second level. It looks dangerous for a second:
But they've got this. Clemson's play tried to use the quarterback's legs (by way of a speed option look) to draw the SAM away from his gap. But the SAM is in the gap. Or at least he was until he got distracted by the QB who doesn't have the ball.
NOW it looks dangerous. Fortunately the back doesn't see the unblocked guy's attention wander, and has already cut upfield. Here's where that split second the DT gave his buddy comes back to help. The LT had enough time to step downfield but not enough time to get his feet under him. BC has a thick smart MLB who steps into the block:
The difference between a very good defense and an okay one is that small.
Play 5: Levels vs. Okie One—Man I miss the okie. BC used it as part of their stuntastic 3rd and long defense. Since they don't have to worry so much about run fits they can do some mean things.
That is just diabolical. Unsurprisingly the blocking only holds for so long before the DE who lined up way outside the backside hash is coming up the frontside A gap to force a throw.
The coverage is no different than they've been running all day, except it is. Remember on the first drive how Clemson went deep twice and the free safety was nowhere to be found? At the time I said I think it's because BC feared Clemson's X receiver and wanted that guy bracketed.
Well this time the FS took his patrol to the side with the trips receivers. While the slot and flanker are running in routes hoping to lose their men or catch a zone coverage, the QB thinks his Y receiver (who I think is Artavis Scott, i.e. a bad matchup for that linebacker-ish SS the Eagles have) is going to have his man beat inside and room to lead him there.
He is wrong.
And it's intercepted.
Things: This is still very much the same scheme as Michigan had this year, but they're taking more risks within the scheme. Whereas the last drive was three cover 1s with the FS shaded left, this drive featured:
- A dangerous read-option beater blitz that tried to get a TFL inside the Clemson 5 yard line
- A base cover 1
- A base cover 1
- A safe WLB blitz cover 1
- A crazy front with freakish stunting, FS cheats right.
Given Michigan is already this base thing, and iffy situation at safety next year I'm not confident that Brown will mess too much with this formula. However his scheme relies on really good front seven play, and dodgy linebacking could be very bad. That will be Brown's position (he was that at BC and a DBs coach prior to that) in addition to the scheming.