Picture Pages: Cover Two Corner Route Doom Comment Count

Brian October 7th, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Why so the suck against Indiana? A few things leapt out on the tape. One was YAC given up by a physical inability to be close enough to the receiver to tackle on the catch. This is the James Rogers problem, and it isn't going away. Another problem might: freshman defensive backs think "zone" means "man." BWS caught an instance of this and picture-paged Courtney Avery giving up a big gainer on third and sixteen because he dragged out of his zone.

That was an excellent example of cover three. Here Michigan will run cover two and get nailed on it. However, it's not Avery's aggressive coverage that's the problem here, it's the Michigan zone's obviousness and inflexibility.

The setup: Michigan is trying to keep Indiana out of the endzone on the final drive of the first half. IU's driven it just inside the Michigan 40 and has a second and ten. They come out in their bunch shotgun set. Michigan shows two high safeties:


At the snap four guys rush and Michigan is obviously in zone. They have JT Floyd and Mouton in the middle of the field, Courtney Avery playing in the slot, Terrence Talbott and James Rogers on the outside, and Kovacs and Gordon as deep safeties. Mouton drops into a zone to cover a potential slant and Floyd is sitting in the middle of the field about ten yards deep:


A split second later we see what's going on with this bunch at the bottom of the screen: two short routes breaking inside and out with one guy headed deeper. Rogers is essentially motionless as Avery starts moving with the interior WR: corner-4

Avery follows… Rogers is motionless…


Avery follows… Rogers still not going anywhere… IU receiver still running to the sticks… Chappell throwing…


Alert: someone done failed.


Gordon comes over to clean up:


Indiana gets a first down inside the 20.

UPDATE: duh forgot the clip.

Who's at fault here? I don't know. I don't think anyone, really. Some guesses at object lessons:

  • This, like Odoms sitting way down in the hole, is a pass that takes advantage of cover two. The sideline 15-20 yards downfield is always a weak spot. Not a lot of quarterbacks can exploit that as ruthlessly as Chappell can, though in this instance it's so open a lot of QBs could make the play.
  • Michigan made this read easy by showing cover two and running it. Chappell knew it was zone because Michigan just about always plays zone and did not put another guy over the bunch, and as soon as Rogers sat down on the out he knew the corner was going to be open.
  • Advanced zone defenses that use pattern reading can adapt to these routes better. I'm not sure about this, but the key is that someone has to be responsible for #2 going vertical and go with him. That would be either Avery or Rogers. The other would come up on the out, leaving the drag to Floyd. Michigan doesn't do this here and probably doesn't ever do it because they've got a secondary with three sophomores, two freshmen, and positional vagabond James Rogers. Also some defensive coaches think pattern reading is suboptimal for reasons I'm not 100% clear on yet.
  • Avery seems like he's in great position if this was man coverage. He also broke up a slant against BG impressively. If Michigan ever ran man I bet he'd be pretty good at it. Can they do that? Eh… maybe against teams that don't spread the field. Here I think his coverage is good given the situation and the assumption Michigan is not pattern reading.
  • But it's not man and the freshman corners do this all the time. There's the BWS post with an example, and Indiana's last touchdown was Terrence Talbott in great man coverage on a slant… when he had a zone to the short side of the field that held Darius Willis and no one else once he covered the slant.
  • Can Gordon do anything more here? I don't think so, but I'm asking anyone with the knowledge. Is the safety's role here tackle and live to fight another day? What if this was Reggie Nelson?

There is some good news: Michigan did adapt to this route pattern, stoning it several times late. Indiana adjusted by sending the deep WR on a post and Floyd dropped back into it, forcing Chappell to chuck it high.



October 7th, 2010 at 11:01 AM ^

Michigan doesn't do this here and probably doesn't ever do it because they've got a secondary with three sophomores, two freshmen, and positional vagabond James Rogers.

Nonsense!!, the table of older Michigan fans next to me at the bar last Saturday who want Jim Harbaugh as our coach said he'd be able to 'coach up' those kids and it's all the fault of Rodriguez / Gerg. 

Of course then Oregon went and laid 52 on that great Harbaugh coached team later that night.  I'm looking forward to seeing those guys again this weekend.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:41 PM ^

just b/c it is so woefully (willfully?) ignorant.

Just last weekend I run into another UM grad whose kid goes to the same school as mine. I always try to avoid talking to him b/c he, quite literally, has an inch of white fuzz gunk on his teeth and spits consistently when he talks, which....ugh.

Anywhoo, like any self respecting M grads, the topic of M football comes up pretty quickly. We exchange pleasantries about the record and I express my happiness that we have made some progress and that hopefully RR will remain with us for some time.

This guy, who is quite a bit older than I, says, 'I still don't like him.'

ME: Why?

HIM: I don't like his character.

ME: Character? What do you mean?

HIM: (thinks for about 5 seconds) Academics....

ME: Are you aware team GPA has gone up under RR?

HIM: blank stare

ME: I express a few other well-known indicators that academics aren't suffering under RR

HIM: (gets a little flustered and stutters a few syllables of nothing before stating) I just don't like him.

Now, I can understand people having problems with him on the field, seriously, I can. We are only 5 games into a 'potential' resurgance after some pretty bad years. Between the lines I think the jury is still out, at least technically. But, how anyone can look at his devotion to the Mealors, his obvious penchant for discipline, the character and likability of the players he is recruiting and their clear enjoyment of their situation on the team, etc. etc. and STILL have issues with his character is beyond me.

I just told him he should be ashamed that he knows so little and is still of that opinion and left it at that.

sorry, rant over


October 7th, 2010 at 12:49 PM ^

about RR and his impact on character, academics, and family values; it sounds like this guy has let rhetoric and media bias form his opinions for him.  If I were you I would not worry to much about him.  He will be throwing himself off a cliff here in the near future when the lemming population reaches critical mass.

myantoniobass …

October 7th, 2010 at 11:02 AM ^

Sad to hear Brian say the James Rogers problem "isn't going away." But glad to hear our zone did adjust to this.  I hope Rogers practiced covering a deep route all week. I recall him getting burned on practice videos deep, he tends to trip up at the receivers feet right as the ball arrives.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:06 AM ^

That last TD they had was frustrating to watch.

I wonder if Mouton would have been able to make it to Willis to help with the tackle had he not be picked off.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:15 AM ^

James Rogers seems to be much better at man than zone.  when matched up in man against ND receivers, he played very well.  Once we go zone,  he's just too stiff to cover a large area.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:18 AM ^

this would be the perfect defensive formation to throw a cover 3 at them, which wouldve disrupted the play. drop james back into a deep third with avery taking the flat. james would be in position to break up the pass. gordon can take middle, and kovacs gets the other third. it would be nice if the corner at the top of the screen bumps his man, and stays in the flat., dropping back as he reads the rb and whether he comes out of the backfield (which he didnt). jonas and jt can both take the hole (and i would keep jonas's eye on the rb slipping out for a screen or even a dumpoff) which each guy pretty much on a hash. this would at the very least give the line more time to get to chappell, putting pressure on him and forcing him into throwing it away. 


October 7th, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

Definitely agree with this. There's very little time left and you're trying to prevent a deeper pass, no clue why you'd go with a Cover 2 which exposes you to deeper vertical routes since they are likely to be throwing those in this situation.

Bad play call.


Gordon is a bit out of position, I agree there. Avery gets dragged a bit too far, but not that bad, he's in not-horrible position. Rodgers should have played his a bit softer too, but don't think that would matter a ton.

Gordon position + play called caused this.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

talbott handles the play perfectly. he engages his man, looks for the back coming out, and drops with him to close the gap that cover 2 allows. 

with a cover 3 here, 81 is still gonna be covered by floyd and then jonas if he keeps dragging, and avery can take the flat. i feel like you are wasting a man by putting avery on 81, and then keeping james in the flat. the play would be covered almost as good as you can cover it. obviously hindsight is 20-20, but in a formation like this, it's hard to see many plays that can exploit the cover 3. 


October 7th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

We got burned trying to play cover-3 against this formation too, for a touchdown. When you drop three deep, you don't have enough defenders to cover the in route and the out route from the bunch, as well as the slant route from the far side and potentially the tailback coming out of the backfield. My guess is that if Indiana reads cover-3, they send the tailback out instead of keeping him in to block. Here's my mini-picture-page version of this: http://www.realkato.com/blog.php?pid=1722

It's a play specifically designed to beat zone defenses. So you can respond by playing man-to-man and hope that your young corners can keep up with Indiana's veteran experienced WRs, or you can have your young safety jump routes and hope that he doesn't mess up and get beaten over the top. I think GERG's decision was: better to get beat underneath than to get beat long... bend, don't break. I don't necessarily agree with this approach, though, and as the season goes on, we're going to have to trust our secondary to make some plays.

Kilgore Trout

October 7th, 2010 at 11:20 AM ^

Sorry if this is obvious, but why is zone better with young / inexperienced players?  I never played organized football, but have played a ton of basketball.  In basketball, zone coverage can be very effective, but if you don't communicate right and really understand what you're doing in depth, it can get ugly.  Whenever a bunch of guys just get together to play without a lot of time together, it's always better to play man to man.  I am not doubting the prevailing logic here, just trying to understand.  


October 7th, 2010 at 11:27 AM ^

Playing man usually means you've developed individual skills - like hand checking/bumping/chucking, reading eyes, and so forth, that are difficult to master. When going up against veteran receivers, it's easier to be trumped by their fundamentals in getting off of you. In man coverage, losing a receiver can be disastrous - and is likely to happen with inexperienced corners.

Zone coverage requires communication pre-snap, but once the play starts, it's usually pretty simple (except for pattern reading, which is pretty complicated). Again though, it leaves you exposed in parts of the field.

With either coverage though, a perfect pass will beat perfect coverage every time.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:42 AM ^

to continue the BBall analogy - when do teams go zone? to provide a different look, or to help cover up defensive problems. Look at U of M's hoops team the last few years, we've run the 1-3-1 to mess with other teams, but also because our center was 6'8'' for most of the year. We couldn't man up on a lot of teams, we didnt have the size/skill. Similar in football, if you don't have the size/skill to go man, you go zone. 

Also, the offense has specific routes and wideouts change their strategy based on man or zone coverages. You'll often hear the term "sitting in the zone" on TV - that means usually an in or an out or a curl route where the wide out goes past the 1st level of the zone (corner) and stops before he gets deep enough for the safety. That route won't work against man, as the defender will be sitting with him, but you get the idea


October 7th, 2010 at 2:07 PM ^

if you get a bunch of guys together to play football, you're probably not going to play zone for the same reason: if it's pickup-level play, most people have no background in the game at all (not to mention you don't have yard lines or other things to kind of help with zones). It's much easier to tell someone "you've got Green Hoodie" than to say "you three have deep thirds".

As I understand it, decent zone defense requires basic knowledge that the average person-on-the-street just doesn't have. It's reasonable to expect that most players would have that knowledge ... then again, even in the NFL, there are guys who just don't seem to understand the concept. (Ernie Sims is a good example of this: maybe some of the problem in Detroit was that his fellow LBs didn't play zone well either, but time and time again Sims would be chasing down a receiver who sat in the middle of the field and waved at the QB.)


October 7th, 2010 at 11:21 AM ^

He's got deep half, and was held towards the center by respecting the drag route. Especially since this becomes a post later in the game, he's doing the right thing. You could argue he should play the corner route more agressively but since he has gotten beat disastrously this season I'm sure he was following G-Rob's orders. The only beef you could have is that he could react to the throw a bit quicker since Chappel seems to be eyeballing him.

I think this is an RPS -1.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:30 AM ^

Agree on the RPS, but wonder why he would have to respect the drag route?

If you look at the 5th picture you've essentially got 5 UM defenders zone covering 2 IU receivers (the deep safety for UM isn't in the 5th picture, but you see him on the 6th).

It's a good read by Chappel because the only other IU receiver that is really open is the guy sitting down in front of Rogers.


October 7th, 2010 at 6:52 PM ^

When I first looked at it, for some reason I thought he was dragging deeper, and assumed it was a seam. That said, I still don't think he could play the corner too aggressively, or else Chappel would read him and it would become a long fade.I still think Gordon did the right thing.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:22 AM ^

And when Gordon has something more than 4 games of experience, he will recognize this and may be able to jump it sooner
<br>Good play and good throw by Indiana


October 7th, 2010 at 11:51 AM ^

is running cover 2.  James Rogers has the flat and out responsibility while Avery has the in and hook responsbility.  Gordon is covering the deep half over the top.  Based on the other routes that were being run by Indiana offense, it's on Gordon IMO.  Gordon simply went too deep and if he had not gone too deep, he would've gotten the corner rotue covered sooner rather than retreating deeper and deeper.  IMO, it shows Gordon's inexperience at S by retreating too then reacting when the ball was thrown rather than reacting to the WR.


Otherwise, the defense got the receiver covered.


Those who are a DC or a coach, correct me if I'm wrong but that's what I got from the pictures and video.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:00 PM ^

It's an easy read for Chappy. If the Corner stays high on the corner route, he just throws to the flats; in this case, the corner stays put and the corner route is open. It's one of the oldest combos in the book and hard to defend. It stretches the safety and the safety has to hold to check for middle routes before he can bite on the corner route.

Rogers could have helped a bit by either being up closer to the outside route and at least try to funnel it the safety. I don't know how well the OLB walled off the inside route.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

The problem is, jumping the route too quickly can lead to long touchdowns.  Gordon does in fact make the right play here. If he jumps up, the experienced receiver will skinny his route and the 5th year QB will loft it over the crashing safety.  In a cover 2, the corner route will almost always beat the safety to the soft part of the zone; it's only when the corner drops back enough to disrupt this spot that this pass fails (and then the QB checks down to the out).  In a 3rd and long situation, the CB should focus on the deeper part of his zone, as it's always easier to stop a first down if the catch is made in front of the sticks.  A more experienced corner, or one that is just less hesitant to react, makes this a much more difficult play to complete.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:36 PM ^

Would you rather he step up and get beat deep on the deep corner because his momentum is carrying him forward a la Notre Dame?  He's still a young and inexperienced safety, who needs to play it safe.  He made the tackle after just a couple yards of YAC.  He was not out of position.  On drives near the end of the half it is much more important to guard the deep ball, and stop plays that go beyond the sticks.  In this case, a 3rd and long play, Rogers is the guy out of position because he refuses to move one way or the other.  He needs to force the QB to make a tough pass to the corner or a safe pass to the flat, not leave both wide open.


October 7th, 2010 at 1:35 PM ^

would equal 16 yard completion.  Playing it correctly would equal at worst 10 yard completion.  Playing it aggressively would equal at worst a TD pass.

Rogers appears to play the flat and even if a WR catches the ball at the flat, he would get minimal gain assuming that Rogers tackles him immediately.  I do agree that Rogers needs to re-route WR(preferably the one who is running the corner route).  With that being said, it's still mostly on Gordon for dropping back way too deep.

Cosmic Blue

October 7th, 2010 at 11:33 AM ^

Indiana used that formation where they had 3 WR bunched out wide to one side of the field several times. Watching it live, it seemed michigan rarely even had 3 guys on that side of the field and if Indiana threw a simple screen we'd be F'd. However, indiana never did this, and i would really like someone to explain why.

did we actually have this covered? were we conceding 8 yards and indiana never went to it because they thought they could get more elsewhere?


October 7th, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

I'm certainly no defensive expert...but the schematic problem here seems obvious when you look at the third pic in the pic pages series above. At that snap shot, i think there are 2 fundamental flaws:

1. We have 4 four guys on the far half of the field where only one reciever is going out which leaves 3 on the other side covering 3 receivers.

2. Our deep safeties are REALLY deep...at that point, 7 yards beyond the sticks.

Seems like a few minor adjustments could make this pass way more difficult to complete. With a 4-man rush, maybe safeties don't need to be quite as deep (even one step would help) and seems like Floyd (or someone) should have slighly cheated over pre-snap to account for the imbalance.

Cosmic Blue

October 7th, 2010 at 1:29 PM ^

i think the first time indiana presented this look (or at least early on) one of our linebackers immediately ran over towards the trips once the ball was hiked. Chappelle then threw it to the single reciever on the other side.

i dont recall as obvious a sell out of the LBs on subsequent appearances of this formation. but maybe indiana thought we were going to do that and so didnt throw quick screens. if they had, and we were crashing towards it, we would have blown it up

i guess that is one way to defend it, but it seems to me if you are going to tell your player 'run over to that side as soon as they hike the ball' he should just line up over to that side of the field pre-snap. that way you dont get caught not looking upfield or have your momentum carry you out of the play


October 7th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

Seems like he's a great recruiter but it appears that guy's he's responsible for are not stepping up. Also, the special teams play has not been very good either. Seems like GERG had issues with him last year, also...

Is it time for Gibson to become the Recruiting Coordinator?


October 7th, 2010 at 11:55 AM ^

There is a reason you don't put so many true freshman out there together.  These guys are not freaks of athleticism that can't be kept off the field....they are our only option.  The coaches need time, the players need time, and the goal is to minimize the ugliness. 

As much asour defensive performance at  the Indiana game was as close to torture as I've ever experienced (it seriously took a toll physically, I couldn't relax until Monday).  We all have to stop looking for blame.  I'm hoping that everybody is learning, both coaches and players alike, and the defense will improve somewhat.  I will root for the defense like it was my own son rather than the eye of a grizzled Wolverine fan.  Hope for the best, set no expectations.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:13 PM ^

I'm more inclined to trust RRod's assistants that came with him from WV more than I trust GERG.  They have a better track record of developing talent at this level than GERG has.  I assume the reason GERG was hired was to implement RRod's vision for our defense.  This is essentially year one of that process with their commitment to the 3-3-5.  Its not surprising that our defensive execution resembles that of our offensive execution in year one.  More that anything we need continuity with the coaching staff and the time to develop players with whatever system they run.

Blue in Seattle

October 7th, 2010 at 4:20 PM ^

I think Coach Rodriguez hired GERG because he wanted a large amount of coaching experience at DC to get him over this rough patch of inexperience.  I'll admit to speculation and 20/20 vision, but the only way I could explain the Scott Shafer hire was that everyone told Rodgriguez as he came in that the Michigan D is strong because it's always been strong.  There was no instant jump ship from Defensive players like the offense, so why not hire the hot shot young aggressive but inexperienced DC to lead the talent?

Oops, the Defensive Talent cupboard is actually pretty bare and most of what's left is graduating or departing because they like Lloyd's style over the new coach (all very understandable from a players perspective).

GERG understands what he theoretically should be planning, but he just doesn't have the talent to execute.  Yet, what I see is the Michigan D willing to try out many different ways to deal with the weakness on top of putting young players in the best position for them to succeed.  I think Shafer needed to go because he tried to implement the perfect plan and then let his frustration at the lack of player execution show too much.

Just like for Coach Rodgriguez, the only true test for GERG is time.  This is GERG's second season with the Defense, while the offense is on year 3.  Consider that this offense is also young and improving (how many seniors will we lose from this offense?) I think there is still plenty of time for the defense to creep along just enough to end up with the win.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:40 AM ^

A lot to take away from that game.

1. Chappell went 45/64. That’s a lot of pass D game experience.

2. TOP. 41:47. Again a lot of reps for UM's D.


I'm a pessimist by nature but damn there is a lot of tape and experience to be gained in that game, heck there is two game worth of pass D experience alone.


October 7th, 2010 at 11:41 AM ^

Thanks to this post I will now be even more nervous for the MSU game on Saturday. Does Dantonio remind anyone else of the The Emperor from Star Wars (pre Mace Windu scarring of-course)?


October 7th, 2010 at 11:43 AM ^

I think people are forgetting down and distance. The point of the zone is to drop and keep everything in front of you. This is one of the few times where Rogers is in the same time zone of the receiver. That being said he need to drop 5-7 yards at least pretending to go with the WR who is running right by him. If James drops back, like Avery does, then Indiana has to throw over him giving Gordon time to mover. Gordon has DEEP half so it's pivotal that he gets his drop, as we have talked about with the post coming as well. I think is tihs a combination of good play, but made easier by Rogers inability to play cornerback.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:00 PM ^

I'm glad Cam Gordon is keeping the play in front of him. I seen Cousins pump fake many times this season and dont want Cam to bite on it.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:03 PM ^

Does this mean that Avery is close to passing Rogers on the depth chart?  I'd be OK with this.  I really respect Rogers for working hard for 4 years and finally getting to play, but the sooner our actual cornerbacks are ready to play, the better.