Picture Pages: Hash To Hash Zone Drop Comment Count

Brian September 9th, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Brandon Herron picked up a lot of minuses yesterday but it could easily have been Kenny Demens if he was the guy tasked with hauling ass to a far, far away zone coverage instead of making Alex Carder spit blood. He was given a tough job.

But he didn't execute that tough job, and we remain a results-based charting service. The good news is that he did get better at not executing his tough job. If you're looking for evidence that this coaching staff is better than the last one at teaching people how not to be terrible defensive players, here's some hope for you.

I found two plays that were exact replicas of each other. It's third down on one hash in both. WMU is in a four-wide shotgun while Michigan deploys its Okie package. Michigan will send wide-side blitzers and Brandon Herron will be directed to drop into a zone on the other hash—IE, run halfway across the field. WMU completes both passes, but Herron gets better.

Play The First

You are focused entirely on Herron, who is on the near hash in front of Demens, threatening blitz:


On the snap Heron pivots as Demens comes; RVB drops in to a short zone as Michigan sends five:


Herron crosses the hash marks three yards off the LOS:


Still three yards:


Now he's maybe three and a half yards deep and not even to the midway point as Carder cocks to throw the hitch to the slot.

Two other things to note:

  • Gordon got a free run at Carder but slips as he moves in for a killshot. If he doesn't, he's likely to bat the pass or sack Carder.
  • RVB is totally cutting off the other inside hitch, though his back is to the QB.


As the ball goes over Herron's head he's four or five yards deep, still not to the other hash, and not facing the quarterback:


First down.


Play The Second

This is going to be the exact same play by both teams. WMU runs the same all-hitch; Michigan runs the same zone blitz behind it. It's third and four on WMU's first drive of the second half. Herron is below the bottom hash this time.


As the snap reaches the QB Herron is pivoting…


…and on step two he's already got a yard of depth:


By the time the WR cuts off the route he's at the spot he was when the ball went over his head last time:


Important: this hitch is seven yards and the previous one was ten. The extra two steps the WR would take to get to the depth on the previous play would also get Herron all the way to the hash, whereupon he could give that WR the business. He's closer and a bit deeper earlier in the play.

You can see the improvement in the zone drop in the next frame, when the ball is halfway to the WR. Herron is right there:


Unfortunately he's had to run hash to hash with his back to the QB and never turns around.


First down again.

Object Lessons

A primary disadvantage of zone blitzing is having to haul ass so hard you can't look at the QB. You can see this in RVB's drops both times, too: when you're dropping into a surprising zone far away from where you start the play in order to facilitate QB pressure you can't just shuffle backwards like a linebacker, keeping your eyes on the QB and the receivers in front of you. To even get in the area you have to turn your back to the world and then whip around when it seems like the right time.

This seems hard. (Todd Howard is nodding his head right now.) Certainly we don't see it happening on either of the plays above. This is probably easier in the NFL when everyone's more athletic—and it may be an argument for the fastest, whippiest WLB Michigan can throw out there.

If your zone blitz works the pressure you get is often coming from the same area the open guy is. On the first play Thomas Gordon is in free. If he keeps his feet he's got a great shot at batting the ball skyward. A guy leaping at the QB may cause a delay. In a normal blitz package this might not get you much, but with Herron rotating over lateness is dangerous for an offense.

It doesn't take much for late to be late. Carder is late on the second play. You can see that on the frame where he's in his throwing motion: the WR has already settled and is looking for the ball. If he's on time the argh about Herron not turning around in the next frame is considerably reduced.

If offenses execute perfectly there's not much you can do about them, but offenses do not execute perfectly and defense is all about giving little margin for error. Michigan did a much better job of that on the second play than the first.

They're learning. This is good and bad. You could see the confusion on the first drive, the big errors that got a little smaller as the day went along. But if we're looking for evidence that this year's coaching staff is more adept at doing things other than preserving their meticulous hair, we've got a couple examples.



September 9th, 2011 at 12:32 PM ^

What has given me the most hope, the most confidence for remainder of this season and beyond is that our coaching staff - specifically the D coaching staff - clearly seems to be able to recognize, adapt and adjust to changing game conditions. 

That element of our game has been missing for a very, very long time.

Zone Left

September 9th, 2011 at 12:34 PM ^

Remember too, the receiver ran about five yards further downfield on the first one, making the distance Herron had to run considerably longer. 

It's not like he was lost or screwed up, he's just not Larry Foote (WITH SPEED!).


September 9th, 2011 at 12:37 PM ^

As they say in "Dune" - "this I believe, is a feint within a feint..."   I have confidence that this look will present a completely different action tomorrow night.  Long season ahead but I have confidence that GM is always going to be setting up future actions with current threats.



September 9th, 2011 at 1:18 PM ^

Looking at the set up there are certainly other blitz packages GM can throw off of this similar look. One that jumps right out is instead of sending Gordon off the corner and sprinting Herron out, drop Gordon at the snap and loop both Demens and Herron at the RG. Lots of possible options. Hopefully we see this same package and variations off of the WMU blitzes in this game.


September 9th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

seems to involve more complexity and coordination than any that we have seen the past three years. combine this with the kovacs/herron blitz twist move on the sackfumbletd (i am sure there is a real name for this, or perhaps its just called competence) and i am going from 6 to 9:30ish about this defense.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:08 PM ^

That's awesome.  That blitz gave me hope for the D this year too. 

Another thing to keep in mind on the zone blitzes this week is that we aren't going up against a returning starting qb.  I think ND's timing will be worse than Western's last week (I can't believe I just wrote that), which will help our zone blitzing schemes.  Plus we'll have that "non-raucous" home field advantage.  Go Blue.


September 9th, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

I love these picture pages - here, at BWS and also TTB. For somebody who grew up in football is round world, I have learnt more about football from these posts than everything else combined (including Football for Dummies, one of the first books I read after landing in this country :-)

I do share the optimism regarding the D-coaches. It also helps that we returned much of the defense from last year - so they are no longer bumbling, underdeveloped true Fr. I am sure there will be defensive lapses in ND game tomorrow but the defense will also contribute by killing drives and/or creating turnovers - both of which were so sorely missing last three years.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:11 PM ^

Appreciate you breaking down plays.I'm sure our current staff of coaches does the same,but enjoy your well documented facts,of the on field play.It is all very telling and I hope as the season progresses,you can also show our improvement,made adjustments.Thanks


September 9th, 2011 at 1:12 PM ^

I saw the 1st Herron debacle as it was happening and thinking WTF?   I assumed Herron lined up wrong.   That does not appear to be the case.

I understand trying to cover things up and hiding your defense but this seems unsound and overly complicated with not much benefit.  I'll list my points, I'd like anyone with compelling reasons why or expertise on this particular defense to explain the benefits  making this risk worthwhile.   I'd love to hear them.   The only thing I can think of is it confuses the qb's read progression.

I love all the comments praising the adjustments.  Both were easy pitch and catch 1st downs.  I'm not sure how much more Herron can do in these situations other than get his head around.  A QB with a quicker release would chew this up. If this was Gerg the tone would be completely different.


1.  You are lined up in an overload to the right, why not just blitz Herron and drop Gordon into the zone he is standing right there.  

Benefits- No running with your head down.  Linebacker blitzing, safety covering.

Same-Still blitzing same amount of guys

Downside- Not very tricky

2. Why not have Demens shade over and blitz Herron and Gordon?

Benefits-  LB is closer to zone he needs to cover

Same-near everything

Downside-Demens might not cover as well(Maybe he shouldn't be on the field on 3rd and 4 and 7 with 4 wides on the field) 

This play reminds me of Gerg trying to defend the bubble screen with a guy hauling ass from the los.   I understand what they are trying to do, but in the end it looks like they don't understand what kind of personnel they have and are unwilling to adapt.

Maybe when Mattison had B. Scott he could pull this coverage off.    We don't have B. Scott.








September 9th, 2011 at 1:20 PM ^

It's a blitz package.  Sometimes it's going to hit home.  Sometimes not.  At some point during the season, it will probably produce an interception or a pass breakup because Herron and/or Van Bergen will go unseen by the QB.  You win some, you lose some.

Greg Robinson kept everything vanilla, and right now he's unemployed and we all hate him.  So I think we should probably just be thankful that Greg Mattison has half an idea about how to confuse an opposing quarterback.


September 9th, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

RVB might be able to make a play but Herron will most likely never make a play doing what he is doing.

Magnus can you give me 1 reason not to blitz Herron and drop Gordon in that situation?  Gordon fake blitzing and then getting back in his zone seems like the best chance of getting a pick not Herron running with his head down.



September 9th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Well, if Greg Mattison knew for a fact that the receiver would be running a curl and that the quarterback would be taking a three-step drop, then maybe he wouldn't have called that play.

There's nothing wrong with the play call.  It didn't work, but there's nothing wrong with it.  It's designed - like any zone blitz - to confuse the quarterback.  Carder is a good quarterback and found the hole in the zone.  Oh well.

You're essentially asking "Why isn't Mattison dropping guys back into the zones that it looks like they should cover based on their pre-snap alignment?"  And if you like a defense that's that easy to read, then you're begging for a return to Greg Robinson Land.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

Couple things I see.


1.  You are lined up in an overload to the right, why not just blitz Herron and drop Gordon into the zone he is standing right there.   

   A. If you show overload on one side and blitz from the other could get line confusion leaving one man unblocked to the qb.


2. Why not have Demens shade over and blitz Herron and Gordon? 

  A. Assuming i'm reading the numbers correctly Gordon has contain on the RB. He reads that the RB is staying home so he jailbreaks to the QB. Just blitzing Gordon and shading over Demens leaves 8-10 yards laterally for a dump off to the RB.


I see a blitz like this and I think Low risk High reward. Worst case scenario (assuming easy tackles are made) they only get a first down. Best case is of course a sack/pick etc. I'm excited that a guy we typically loved to pick on is being coached up and showing what he can do. Great 40 time or not. Anyway just my 2 cents.



September 9th, 2011 at 1:12 PM ^

I don't know how you can fault Herron on these plays.  It seems like any fault is his lack of the physical ability to run a sub-4.2 40.  He's running halfway across the field while the receiver runs half that distance.  This just seems like a RPS win for Western to me.

If you fault anyone, it's got be Gordon for not getting pressure on a free run.

A general question about these two plays: why wouldn't you have the linebacker to the side with two receivers (Demens in these cases) be the one to drop out?


September 9th, 2011 at 1:22 PM ^

I don't think Herron's really at fault, either.  But just because he didn't get there doesn't mean he's at fault.  Brian doesn't seem to be on Herron's ass as much as simply saying, "Hey, here's a scheme that didn't work, and Herron was the guy who was supposed to get there."

I don't think Brian has a personal ax to grind with Herron.  It's just a thing.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

But he gives him a -1 and -.5 in the UFR, so he does feel like it's the player.  I agree that he does a better job the second time, but as Brian notes, Carder is late on the second one.  When they run this play correctly, Herron can't physically cover it.  

I agree with you, a play like this is a scheme loss rather than a player not executing.  Just beefing with the emphasis that somehow Herron could have done something better here.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:16 PM ^

It should be noted that the linebackers are taught to turn and sprint to their zone or target on the field, rather than keep their eyes on the quarterback.  I saw some comments the day after the game saying that Herron looked lost because he wasn't keeping his eyes on the quarterback.  And while he might have looked lost (see: the first play in this post) for other reasons, it's not because he wasn't looking.  We should keep in mind that Herron was playing as a rush end in 2009 and as a Craig Roh backup in 2010, so he's not very well seasoned at this whole "zone blitz" thing.  Hopefully he and the others get better throughout the season.


September 9th, 2011 at 1:54 PM ^

I think there is also the "thinking too much" effect going on as well.  Even for someone like myself who is not adept at breaking down plays, our defense seemed to gain confidence as they game went on and it also seemed that Mattison was making changes as well.  It seems like at the moment guys are still thinking about the fundamentals like being in the right spot and running to the right place, reading the offence and then moving to the new right spot and running to the new right place that some of that last 5-10% is being lost.  From what I saw on Saturday and in the above picture pages, that a time will come that you will see players turning their heads at just the right time because they are no longer thinking about where to stand and where to run.  When the fundamental become ingrained and the game starts to slow down, we will see some of these finer points begin to creep into the game.  Right now it seems like the only one who is beyond fundamentals, where to stand, where to run and how make changes and then still do all the little things right to make plays is our walk-on turned star, Jordan Kovaks. 


September 9th, 2011 at 1:42 PM ^

To me, and admittedly I don't really know sh*t about football schematics, this seems like a schematic issue rather than a personnel (Herron) issue. There are probably only a small handful of college LB's (outside of the SEC, of course) with enough speed/athleticism to execute what Herron is being asked to do. I doubt UM has anyone on their roster right now who can handle this.


September 9th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

On the first one Herron wasn't going to get there, true. His drop was too flat in any case and he was slow out of his stance. On the second he was in position to make a play but didn't get his head around or even put his arms up, so both of those seemd warranted. Maybe they should both be halves, or maybe just the first. You'll have to bear with me for the first few games as I get a grip on the new system.

I didn't RPS -1 the first play because it got Gordon in clean. Gordon fell down without being touched or the play would likely not have worked. On the second it seemed like there was a play to be made there.

Dr. Action

September 9th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

herron looked pretty fast on the 90 yard interception scamper; based on other things i've been reading on the mgoblog, seems like his speed is one of his better assets.  maybe thats why the coaches think he can handle this play call.  i look at the pictures and see two players converging on the ball, the safety and the LB.  seems like good things could happen here.  also, the QB may be expecting the Thomas Gordon guy to drop into coverage and be confused by that blitz. 

while it did not work in these two instances, that does not make it a bad play call or poor use of personnel.  i'll trust the experienced, proven coaches on this one.

kudos to brian for identifying this and breaking it down.  for us laymen, this is awesome insight into the details of the game. 



September 9th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

If you notice in first play Herron almost runs hash to hash,not angling til late.The second completion he runs more towards the receiver,better but route was also shorter.I bet this was mentioned in film.


September 9th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

he is simple being asked to wall off number 2 to the wide side of the field... Its a boundary zone blitz.   obviously there was some tendies that the coaches felt there was a good chance that they could zone blitz the short side.. drop the end into the 2 vertical spot on the short side and maybe force a quick throw into the ends arms...

the boundary end, and the field ilb are being asked to execute the same drop,  walling number 2... one just has a lot shorter distance obviously to go,  hence why you drop an end to the short side and lb tot he wide side..

flat players are to wall off 2,  obviously get your eyes back on the qb if possible...but you have to hall ass to number 2 wall off the inside vertical, and force it to the safety...  western read the blitz perfectly, and executed a great hot throw...  


if michigan  A) gets preasure quicker and forces a wobbly throw, at least with a hands up rush from the olb...   B) has a safety that can close on the qb's arm action better, or c) just gets a little quicker at getting out of the hole,  then they have what they want...








September 9th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

Looks like Herron may have been anticipating a different route by the reciever or he may have been going to a different (incorrect) zone and realized during the play his angle was wrong.

 It is encouraging to see "in" game improvements.


One other point, this particular play looks like UM is playing man coverage with inside help from Herron to the wide side and RVB on the short side. Carder makes the only right choice. From the start he reads where the pressure is coming from and gets it to the only open receiver.

I do think Herron is at fault...some, but most of the credit should go to a good QB making a good read and throw.