Picture Pages: Backside DE Pursuit Comment Count

Brian October 12th, 2010 at 12:50 PM

Over the past five years I've watched a lot of football plays over and over until I understood them (or threw my hands up and asked the peanut gallery). The play I've seen more than any other in that time is the zone stretch. DeBord ran almost literally nothing else, and it was the most common play in the RR offense's first two years. Though Michigan's gone away from it with Denard, boy do I have the zone stretch down.

This is not a zone stretch. It's a power off tackle QB run where the nearside guard pulls (AKA "down g") and the guys on the outside block down. But it does demonstrate a key element of defending outside runs of any variety where cutbacks are possibly lethal.

It's the first play of Michigan's fourth drive of the day. MSU has just scored a 61-yard touchdown on a zone stretch cutback that we'll address later. It's first and ten; Michigan comes out in a three-wide package with Stephen Hopkins as the back. The first shot is a little early; Robinson drops back so Hopkins is at stretch depth.

The key guy here is somewhat unusual given the play: the backside DE. He's to the top of the screen: backside-flow-1

On the snap Michigan sends Robinson to the strong side of the formation:


Key bits in the frame above: Webb and Lewan are blocking down on the playside DE and DT as Schilling pulls around. Hopkins is sprinting out as a lead blocker, leaving Schilling and Hopkins taking on the two playside LBs; Molk has to cut the WLB.

In the next frame Molk has gotten out on the WLB. Schilling has gotten shoved back by that playside DT, which we can't see yet but will in the next frame. The backside DE has read the direction of the play and is in the process of releasing from Dorrestein:


Molk chops the WLB. He's dead. Webb has crushed the playside DE inside. There's major gap. Problem: Robinson has basically caught Schilling already because of the shove from the DT:


…he's now a yard in front of Denard and not moving forward. This is the equivalent of being behind Denard.

Meanwhile, the backside DE has totally disengaged from Dorrestein by giving ground and is taking a pursuit angle slightly downfield. Dorrestein is caught up in the wash closer to the LOS, demonstrating why you give ground in pursuit. You can watch him get slightly further and further from the LOS as he flows down the line:


In the next frame Hopkins gets a good block on the OLB. Schilling is now a yard behind Robinson and useless, leaving a one-on-one matchup between Denard and Greg Jones:




Robinson jukes past the over-pursuing Jones. He has room to do this because the playside DT is off the screen upfield and the playside DE is still trying to get off Webb's excellent block. He is one step from cutting back outside and turning on the afterburners when…


The backside defensive end, now four yards off the LOS and running his ass off, makes a desperation lunge. Robinson trips and the gain is held down to seven yards.

[No video yet since I'm still converting.]

Object lessons:

  • Denard: pretty good at running. The vaunted Jones looked like Ezeh here.
  • Backside DE pursuit is important. It goes like this: diagnose run play headed away from you. Get playside of your blocker by releasing from him and flowing down the line of scrimmage at an angle that takes you about three yards downfield by the time you hit the point of attack. Hope someone funnels the ballcarrier to you and tackle.

    Without the backside DE doing this correctly, Denard has 15, 20, maybe 60 yards.

  • Why no cut from Dorrestein? In frames two and three it seems obvious that Dorrestein can get an easy cut block on the DE, eliminating him. Instead he tries to flow down the line with him, gets caught up in the wash, and loses the guy who eventually makes the tackle. I'm sure he's coached to do this, but I can't understand why the play doesn't call for an easy cut block on this guy. Even one step of delay and Robinson is off.
  • Webb is a major component of the run game. He's got a fairly easy block since MSU is intent on the inside zone and the belly and whatnot so the backside guys are attempting to slant into the gaps inside of the blockers. Even so he drives the DE way, way inside and holds that block long enough for Robinson to make up for the shove that eliminated Schilling from the play.
  • This play is a counter to the inside zone. I stole my thunder on this one in the last bullet but to reiterate: Michigan was running a ton of inside zone on which the backside DE was contain and the backside DT was blasted off the ball by double teams. MSU made an adjustment on Michigan's previous drive—the three and out on which Smith was stuffed on an inside zone on third and one—and Michigan comes out on their next play with this. They get the playside linemen blocked way out of the play and the WLB cut; they should have two lead blockers for Robinson against two guys but for the shove on Schilling. Even though they lose one of the lead blockers the linemen have been bludgeoned out of the play to the extent that Robinson can juke Jones to the inside and still pick up a good gain.
  • Hopkins pops guys. This is not a surprise since he's 230 pounds of near-fullback, but Stephen Hopkins has displayed superior blocking ability in his brief cameos. He gets in people and shoves them back; Smith and to a lesser extent Shaw get in the way of people and hope it's enough. I want more Hopkins. He makes Denard better and provides a thunderous counter to all that dilithium.
  • This was the story of the first half. This is one of maybe a dozen plays on which one player fails to execute and costs Michigan a touchdown. Here it was Dorrestein and somewhat Schilling; Robinson made up for one of them but not the other. Other times it was Lewan or Robinson or Roundtree or Grady. I think this was just one of those days. So far I've seen mostly domination from the offensive line. I wonder what changes in a rougher second half.



October 12th, 2010 at 1:06 PM ^

"He makes Denard better and provides a thunderous counter to all that dilithium."

I think Smith is a good back but if you're going to be using your superback as a lead blocker regularly, it may help if he's you know, big.


October 12th, 2010 at 1:10 PM ^

It's not just that Hopkins is a superior blocking back - on his limited carries, he showed the ability to lower his shoulder and move the pile.  He would also be a beast on 3rd and short situations, which is where Smith has struggled most.  To me, he looks like he could develope into a Brandon Jacobs type of runner (when Brandon Jacobs could actually, you know, run well), given his combo of size and agility.


October 12th, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

Brian,  it is this level of in depth analysis that makes this blog the best on the net.  I would love to see the MSM even attempt such a thorough and detailed analysis.  Thanks, as always.

Crime Reporter

October 12th, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

Nothing against Smith, who I think has done a good job considering his injury, but Hopkins had some nice plays in his limited time Saturday.

He moved the pile on his two runs, while Smith was yet again stopped on another third and one (it's happened in several other games).

We will need our bigger backs going forward into the meat of this schedule.

MI Expat NY

October 12th, 2010 at 1:09 PM ^

What changes in the second half?  I'm going to guess it's us being down 14 to 21 points the whole time and becoming a more pass-first offense.  

I'm with you on Hopkins.  I like Smith and Shaw ok, and they seem to better receivers, but I think Hopkins has the best shot right now of giving us a truly complimentary RB (assuming Toussaint is still suffering from injury woes).


October 12th, 2010 at 3:07 PM ^

I honestly don't think this team becomes a "pass first" offense when behind.  In last minute, come from behind victories against ND and Indiana, they mostly ran the ball with one or two deep completions thrown in. But they remained "run first", IME.

Against MSU, they just weren't breaking any big gains on the ground and (in my belief) decided to attack MSU's weakest-link: their secondary. Unfortunately, there were some drops and bad reads.

MI Expat NY

October 12th, 2010 at 4:19 PM ^

I don't think we should become "pass first," and even when we do pass there will be no mistaking us for our Lloyd era teams, but there's no denying the facts.  Once MSU led 31-10, we passed 12 times and ran 5 times.  Up to that point we had run 28 times and passed 18 times.  

I don't think it's coincidence that once we were forced to go away from our strength, we went 3 and out, 41-yard TD drive,  INT (on the third play of the drive) and 3 and out.  


October 12th, 2010 at 5:12 PM ^

I think you're a little too hard on the passing game.  We are not far off from being very, very good in that area as well.  Denard just has to relax and not force things.  On the third INT, he had Stonum completely uncovered (Stonum's man followed Denard's eyes to Grady), but hasn't yet learned to make that second downfield read.  When he does, our offense witll be unstoppable.

MI Expat NY

October 12th, 2010 at 5:26 PM ^

I'm not trying to be hard on the passing game.  It's just not our preferred style.  We do a decent enough job on an occasional third and long, but I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that this offense is going to be able to consistently move down the field if the defense is only expecting pass.  

This isn't a criticism of Denard.  I love me some Denard and absolutely want him running our offense.  It's just that you don't go from not being able to throw at all to smoothly operating a pass based offense.  Our pass offense, with Denard, works because of the threat of the run.  Defenses aren't scheming to stop our pass plays, they're scheming to stop our run game, making the passing game easier.  When the threat of run is removed, it becomes much more difficult and you see the results from the second half.  

I expect Denard to continue to improve.  You're right, Stonum was open on the third interception, and in the future (next year?) I'd expect him to make a relatively easy read.  But he's unlikely to ever be confused with Chad Henne, or even Tim Tebow, it's just not his skill set.  

I guess the question becomes, what do we do when we're down 2+ scores late in the game?  I only see two viable options: (1) go with the philosophy that our normal offense, when we're in a fast tempo can operate as a "two minute" offense (basically what we did against ND and IU); or (2) bring in Tate to operate a pass based spread.  I'm honestly ok with either option.


October 13th, 2010 at 11:30 AM ^

but hasn't yet learned to make that second downfield read.  When he does, our offense will be unstoppable.

In most every game this year, Denard has made quick zips to the first open guy on the read and has been successful in doing so - positive yardage and all that. But man, after watching the Every Offense videos, he is consistently missing Stonum, a shade further downfield  who is WIIIIIIIDE open for 6.

I have to believe that the coaches are showing him that in the film studies, and I do believe in time that he will take that extra step, take that extra second, fake the short to mid pass and lay it out there for Stonum, who will go in untouched.

He is already scary good (insane at how far he has come since last year, really), and we have a really explosive Offense -- but it will just get absolutely SICK as the OLine continues to gel, Denard's game matures, and we have HEALTHY backs to compliment him in the running game. 

Bring on Iowa and CAPITALIZE on what they give us early on!! And they will give it to us early on until they adjust to what they are seeing. We'll eventually get exploited and get in a shootout, but if we can get up 2 scores and stay in front, we can win this game.


October 13th, 2010 at 9:18 AM ^

and I'm UM, I still call QB keeper.  Especially since Robinson has proven that he can take it to the house on any play.  With UM's experience against Indiana putting up scores in a short timeframe, I'm not worried about being down 14 or 21 points- I know how quickly my team can score, even without forcing the ball downfield.


October 12th, 2010 at 1:30 PM ^

awesome and nuanced analysis. Watching without the benefit of replay, this is something that is nearly impossible to pick up.

Re: potential chop block, one thought of mine is that although a chop block is good in theory and would be good here, it takes your player out. If Dorrenstein gets just enough of this backside D end, he can also flow down the field, becoming a useful blocker for Denard if he breaks one and/or does his usual improvisation. Not a ton of D ends will make this type of play and even though this d end did, it was a very tough tackle at that.


October 12th, 2010 at 1:37 PM ^

This is one of maybe a dozen plays on which one player fails to execute and costs Michigan a touchdown.

I haven't had the stomach to watch this game again, but I was hoping this is what was the case.  Hopefully these failures are coachable/correctable in a short period of time and not failures forced by a superior opponent, which will spell doom against Iowa/OSU.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:33 PM ^

website in history. If I wanted to create a site for myself, it would be about M football, but i wouldn't be clever enough to include all of the things I see here.
I tell everyone I know about it, jealous as I was initially to guard my source of knowledge. If they don't love it, I immediately dismiss them as a fan of Michigan football


October 12th, 2010 at 1:59 PM ^

As usual, this is really helpful.

Schilling gettting shoved back by the DT or not, I don't know how long we expect Denard to stay behind him. Schilling was rendered useless in the play, ok -  but would it really matter that much if he only partially engages the DT then bounces out faster? Denard is still going to have to slow down and wait anyway.

Also, I totally agree, more Hopkins please.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:35 PM ^

Schilling isn't supposed to engage at all, he just pulls around Lewan and Webb; Lewan is charged with blocking him. On this play the playside DT shoved Schilling backwards as he tried to pull, which messed up his footwork and momentum. If he doesn't get the shove he's out front with Hopkins blocking Jones.


October 12th, 2010 at 4:59 PM ^

Schilling could've blasted the backside DE once he arrived on the scene in pursuit.  As it was, its pretty clear that Jones must've been Schilling's assignment because that's who he goes to hit even after Jones has been juked out of the play.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:00 PM ^

1.  Wasn't the TD pass to Webb off of something similiar to this?  He engages the backside DE, releases and as the backside DE crashes down the line Webb goes out into the flat for an easy TD.

2.  Can anyone recall UM having a wr go the opposite way of Denard in the backfield faking/setting up a reverse to get the backside DE at home?  I see other teams do it some but I can't recall seeing UM do it.

Pea-Tear Gryphon

October 12th, 2010 at 2:20 PM ^

I was waiting all game for the misdirection reverse. State's defenders were flowing to the ball so fast that they seemed open to getting gauged by a reverse off of that type of play. Instead of Dorrestein and Omameh sealing to the play side, they seal away from the play and let the D flow down. Then DR pitches to whichever receiver is tabbed to do the end-around. I would like to see the outside guy (Odoms in this case, but would prefer it be Stonum) be the one swooping around and take a pitch from DR with the edge set by Dorrestein and Omameh. That would keep the LB's and DL at home for just that split second to guard against the reverse the next time. Or at least fake the reverse to keep them home. Maybe we see it a little more if Iowa flows that hard to stop DR.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:01 PM ^

It took me a couple days to watch it after being in the stands, but I've gotten through the 1st half as well.  What I came out with so far is that we were, as Brian said, so close on a dozen plays to a different ballgame:

  • The obvious: Robinson throws late and behind Roundtree on the 1st possession for the INT in the end zone. He had him if he makes a better throw.
  • 2nd possession, Robinson had Stonum open down the sideline and over threw him into the end zone. He had the safety and corner beat.  Just needed a better throw.
  • Same possession, 3rd and 3 - Robinson gets stopped short of the sticks...Dorrenstein flat out ran by the either linebacker that would have slowed them enough for the 1st down.  Dorrenstein knew it as soon as he whiffed...  We had to settle for 3 points.
  • MSU 1st touchdown IIRC came 2 plays after that 3rd and 15 conversion after we had them stopped.  The play never stood because of MSU false start penalty.  Ugggg
  • We made up for the Roundtree drop by getting into the end zone a few plays later
  • MSU 2nd touchdown - 1 play after State fumbled the snap and it was there for the taking...I thought Ezeh had it...
  • Robinson made a decent throw to get the ball out to Odoms  just before halftime for a 40+ gain.  Fieldgoal blocked/bad snap - If Robinson leads Odoms that was a touchdown.  He had them beat.  Now that's asking a lot, but it was there.

After seeing all this I felt better because you can see how close we were and it wasn't that we just got manhandled/beat... That 1st half could have been 28-7 if we are on instead of off.  As some have said, we can beat anyone, but we can lose to anyone too...

I'm hoping for being on this week and beating Iowa. That will take the sting out of this week a bit.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:15 PM ^

Love this kind of stuff.  Awesome post.

A couple thoughts:

- The TE's have been a key component of the rushing game this year, as Brian says.  With Webb being a senior and Koger a junior, I believe, it seems like we should take one both this year and next to replace them, if indeed RR would like to make the TE's a permanent part of his scheme.  So far I don't really think we're in on any, though.  I wonder if not having another TE will hurt us next year.

- Secondly, if we don't end up taking a TE in this class, I wonder if Hopkins is slated for that H-back spot that Webb and Koger currently play.  He has the size, blocking ability, and can receiving ability for it, plus, it could lead to some new looks with him recieving hand offs from that spot.  


October 12th, 2010 at 2:43 PM ^

Does anyone know if there was some reason Hopkins never got back in.  He seemed to be very effective for the few plays he was in and then never reappeared, even in situations where a big back seemed like exactly what we needed.

contra mundum

October 12th, 2010 at 2:54 PM ^

A couple of points. Robinson was really amped during this game, and often didn't show the patience he had in previous contests. If he attacks outside a little more and lets Schilling get back in the play, likely he'd have set this up a bit better. Sometimes, faster is not better.

Jones is a good LB. He misses Denard, but he forces him back inside to a spot where he knows (or hopes) he has help. This is a nightmare matchup for a ILB, the only thing worse is having noone helping outside of you here. Jones knows he has a man for outside contain, seals Robinson from getting between he and Hopkins and force Robinson to cut inside.


October 13th, 2010 at 9:12 AM ^

Maybe Jones overpursued- Denard's a great athlete, so I could see a LB getting a little squirrelly and going too aggressively into tackle mode.  But looking at the pages again, there is a lot of FieldTurf to the outside; if Robinson cuts it outside, who could funnel him, and where would they even do it?  The danger zone is to the outside on that play.  It's likely that Jones was coached to overpursue outside and force a cutback, if any, inside.  That could also explain why the backside DE was flowing down the line- it's almost like he expected Robinson to be there.


October 12th, 2010 at 2:59 PM ^

Unfortunately, this play was about as good as it got on the ground for Michigan.

By the second half, Denard was in pocket-passer mode -- I don't know if that was because of MSU's scheme or UM's (likely both) -- but once this offense makes that tactical switch, they should put Tate in. He's way more accurate in the air than Denard and he can still run when the opportunity presents itself.

Not that I was calling for Tate during the MSU game, only that in hindsight it seems he could've exploited MSU's secondary better since Denard couldn't exploit enough on the ground or in the air.

Maybe it's been mentioned elsewhere (I haven't read all of the threads since the game), but I'm just curious to know if anyone else had the same thought about this offense.


October 12th, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

is decision-making rather than ability, given that Robinson has made many of those throws this year prior to the MSU game. If his decision-making is going to improve, then it's going to happen with game experience, which means he's got to be the guy.

Also, while Forcier can run, he is human and not dilithium ... even in situations where the score does not favor Michigan, the threat of WOOP is always there. Forcier does not WOOP.

My feeling is that Rodriguez has seen what Denard can do, has determined that he is the man moving forward, and has decided to stick with him in all situations barring injury or insurmountable leads. Yes, Forcier can run the offense effectively, but Robinson is better.


October 12th, 2010 at 4:44 PM ^

replacing a Heisman candidate, or maybe the eventual winner with Tate is nuts! Keep in mind the fact Denard's receiving corps dropped a bucket-full of passes of which couldn't have been good for his confidence. As for Dorrestein, on this play break-down he demonstrated what coach Rod has been saying for quite some time now is that Perry and the rest of the O-line need to get better at staying with their blocks. Perry turned his back on his man and the guy went right by him on the way to tackling our little 'unchained lightning'. Mr. 'unchained lightning' needs his space so when he gets to the next level he can blow those bad little defenders away...'dem bad wittle defenders 'dem are...  

Del Griffith

October 12th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

Great job on this site & this post.  The breakdown  and analysis is very much appreciated.  

But just remember, that on any of unproductive MSU drives you would likely find similar mis-cues.  It was not in the 1st half where the game was lost, it was the 2nd.    


October 12th, 2010 at 4:56 PM ^

Looking at this at non-dilithium speeds, it seems like Robinson would've been better served to bounce this one outside of the Hopkins block, away from the flowing pursuit.  I know the theory is to run right at Jones, to negate his speed, and if Dorrestein had held his guy a few seconds more, there would've been more space.  But once Robinson ran past Schilling, he should've gone into improvise mode and hit the turbo button towards the sidelines.

Having not watched the replay, I'm interested to read the UFR, and see if there are more plays like this. Also, it seemed like Robinson should've kept it a lot more, instead handing off to the RB going up the middle.   I don't know if it was bad zone-reads, or if the defense forced it to happen.