Picture Pages: How To Press Michael Floyd And Live

Submitted by Brian on September 16th, 2011 at 12:07 PM


A few rows in front of me at the Western game was one of those guys who exasperatedly yells out a piece of football wisdom he's picked up over the years whenever he is affronted by its lack. His wisdom was "turn around for the ball," which he yelled at Herron a couple times and the cornerbacks a couple times.

I was with him, but then a funny thing happened: no one could complete a fly route on these mediocre corners. Here's everything I've got marked fly/go/fade (which I am totally inconsistent about) from the first two weeks:

Opp Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Rush Play Player Yards
WMU M25 2 12 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel press 6 Fly Floyd Inc
Demens's delayed blitz gets him in free(pressure +1, RPS +1) but I wonder if he didn't time it quite right. Another step and Carder is seriously harried. As it is he gets off an accurate deep ball on Floyd's guy, who's got a step. Floyd runs his ass off, starts tugging jersey early, and... I'll be damned. He strips the ball loose(+2, cover +1). That was textbook. Gibson -1.
WMU M19 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel Eff It 7 Fly Avery Inc
Sends: house. Obviously something gets through(pressure +1); Carder chucks it deep to a fly route Avery(+2, cover +1) has step for step. He's right in the WR's chest as he goes up for the ball. WR leaps, then reaches out and low in an attempt to stab the ball. Avery rakes it out. Gibson -2. Demens(+1) leveled Carder, BTW.
Opp Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Rush Play Player Yards
ND O36 2 10 Shotgun 4-wide Nickel even 5 Fade Woolfolk Inc
Hawthorne as a standup DE-ish thing and Ryan as an MLB. Blitz telegraphed? I don't remember this play. Survey says... yes. Ryan blitzes, Hawthorne drops into coverage, ND picks it up. Rees wants Floyd on a fade covered by Woolfolk. Woolfolk(+2) is step for step and uses his club to knock the ball away as it arrives. Robinson(+0.5) was there to whack him, too. (Cover +1)
ND O44 1 10 Shotgun trips Nickel even 4 Fade Avery Inc (Pen 15)
No question about this. Avery shoves Floyd OOB on a very catchable fade (-2, cover -1).
ND O43 2 26 Shotgun 3-wide Okie 5 Fade Floyd 26
Floyd on Floyd action. Floyd(+1, cover +1) has excellent, blanketing coverage on Floyd but the back shoulder throw is perfect and his hand is a half-second late. Floyd stabs a foot down and Floyd can't do much other than ride him out of bounds. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. This is one of those times. That is hard. That is why Floyd (not our Floyd) is going to be rich in about nine months.
ND M21 2 10 Shotgun 4-wide Okie 5 Fade Van Bergen Inc
They back out the MLBs this time and send the DL plus the OLBs. RVB(+1, pressure +2, RPS +2) is instantly past the G assigned to him because of a poor pickup; Rees chucks a ball off his back foot that's not catchable. Eifert gives it a go, though.
ND M16 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel even 5 Fade Floyd Inc
Floyd(+2, cover +1) in press here and stays step-for-step with Floyd on the fade, breaking it up as it arrives. Fade is not well thrown, which helps.
ND M22 2 2 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel even 5 Fade Avery Inc (Pen 15)
Kovacs rolls up; check. They take advantage of the man to man to take a shot at the endzone. Avery(+1, cover +1) is right in the WR's face as the ball comes in; it's low and to the outside and Avery can't do anything about the futile one-handed stab the WR makes, but it's a futile one-handed stab. Avery is hit with a terrible PI flag (refs -1)
ND O39 1 10 Shotgun empty Nickel even 5 Fade Floyd Inc (Pen 15)
Hawthorne(+1, pressure +1) gets a free run at Rees so he chucks it to Floyd, Floyd(-2, cover -2) is beaten instantly and starts yanking the jersey in a desperate bid to not be an instant goat.
ND M29 2 5 Shotgun 4-wide Okie 6 Fade -- Inc
Miscommunication between QB and receiver means pass is nowhere near anyone. Blitz was just getting home.

Your score excluding the miscommunication: two legit pass interference penalties, one horsecrap call, one 26-yard completion to Michael Floyd, five incompletions. What's more, in each case save one pressure-forced incompletion and the two legit PI calls the corners are 1) there and 2) making a play on the ball.

That's seven out of nine legitimately good plays from the DBs on accurate deep balls. On all but one—the legit Avery PI—the corners were on an island as Mattison sent at least five. No bracket here. The Avery PI was a zone, the rest of it was man coverage, much of it press.

Michigan's press-ish coverage success in fly routes in 2011 including a game against Michael Floyd: 88%. The exception was virtually unstoppable and still drew a plus from the ol' softie who does these things. That's miraculous in last year's context. Hell, it's miraculous in a lot of contexts. How has this happened?

Michigan Press Coverage As Explained By Underpants Gnomes

STEP 1: Line up a yard off the LOS with inside leverage.


STEP 2: When receiver releases outside, turn hips and run with him real fast.






STEP 5: When receiver reaches up for ball, punch him in the face.

OPTIONAL: grab his jersey a bit and get away with it


STEP 6: Profit: arm-waving motions indicating that the pass was incomplete.

OPTIONAL: shake head to indicate "no."
OPTIONAL: pick up horsecrap pass interference call.



Floyd on Floyd action:

Avery on Jones action:

Interesting Items

Why it works. That whole find-the-ball thing is hard. Todd Howard was coached to do it but always did it late, whipping his head around just in time to see the ball zing by. When you do that you've given yourself an even tougher job than the WR, who's been tracking the thing since it left the QB's hand. Lots can go wrong there. He can slow up and you bowl him over. He can slow up on a deliberately underthrown ball. He can slow, then extend a la Manningham. Or you can just not find the ball quickly enough.

In contrast, the shoryuken technique seems pretty easy. Focus on the WR's chest. When his arms go up, get your arms/head/body in between those arms. Faceguard the guy for bonus points. Net result: incompletion or spectacular Prothro-style catch. Mostly the former.

It's hard to get lost because you're following the WR's chest everywhere, and the only bomb you can't defend is the one that's just past your outstretched arms. That's hard to throw and hard to catch.

Gibson –8. Two games in I am a believer in Tony Gibson Was The Worst. These are the same guys as last year making these plays. Notre Dame clearly identified these fades as a weakness to exploit, especially in press coverage, but got little out of them. If you discount the Avery PI, on the eight fade attempts against press coverage opponents got 41 yards, just over five yards per attempt. Even if you count the Avery PI that hops up to 6.9 YPA—still worse than the NCAA average of 7.2 YPA.

Compare that to last year, when even doing something right meant you did something wrong:

Small sample size disclaimers apply, but Tony Gibson? The worst.

Downsides and low upsides. So this style of coverage seems pretty effective, obviously. There are two major downsides to my eyes:

  1. Low upside. Since you are never looking for the ball you are highly unlikely to intercept it.
  2. A tendency to pick up PI calls. Refs give you more leeway when you are looking for the ball. Bumping a guy with your back to the ball is always going to be an issue, but you can get away with "look and lean," as Spielman calls it.

I'm a little concerned about our corners' speed when asked to run real fast. Against Western Floyd gave up a yard or two of separation to a MAC receiver on his successful fly defense; in the second clip above it kind of feels like on a longer route Jones will pull away from Avery. Those are hypotheticals, though, and whatever limitations of Floyd and Avery have do not currently include a tendency to get burned deep.

This allows cool stuff. Michigan can press with one high safety because of this, which opens up the blitz possibilities that produce big plays. While the coverage style precludes big plays from the cornerbacks it allows them from other parts of the defense, and those big plays are bigger. What would you rather have, an interception 30 yards downfield or the quarterback fumbling the ball?

Tony Gibson. The worst!


Yinka Double Dare

September 16th, 2011 at 12:54 PM ^

It's not illegal in the NFL, the college and NFL rules are basically the same on this.  If you make contact without looking for the ball you are more likely to get a PI flag thrown in both college and the NFL than if you are "playing the ball," but face guarding per se is not pass interference at either level.


September 16th, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

Darrelle Revis does both. I went to find evidence of what the "Best" CB in the NFL does, and it's a mix, and I believe it has to do with what Magnus said. If they can keep up with the WR, they should turn their head when they see the anticipation, but if they don't feel like they can keep with them, then just keep your back turned.

See highlight video:


Revis vs Ochocinco (Johnson), he keeps his backed turned most of the time, but in other highlights in this same video, he turns his head.

I'm sure it has to do with confidence vs WR and since our CBs got torched last year, I imagine their confidence isn't very high.


September 16th, 2011 at 2:53 PM ^

is that the penalty for pass interference is much worse in the NFL.  You are much more likely in NCAA to adopt a strategy that will result in more PI calls if it will also result in more passes broken up.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:18 PM ^

Makes sense to me. You turn your head if you have the speed to stay with the receiver and can afford the split second head turn. If you are hanging on for dear life to not give away two steps of separation and hence the TD, then you forget about the ball and stick to WR's chest and raise your hands when he does.

ND tried to do this too (GG hardly ever looked back) - however - this is when the underthrown ball helps - its easier to stick to the WR in straight line run, much harder when the WR makes an abrupt stop for the underthrown ball. Herbie might have been right about the underthrown balls being intentional.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:46 PM ^

It can't really be blamed on the cornerbacks either. Warren and Trent kind of regressed (theory on Trent is the kind that's so hard to prove it's not worth mentioning most of the time) in '08 from '07, but Warren regressed from "Next Woodson" to "Next Marlin" -- not exactly Gibsonian defense. Safety play in '08 was terrible. OTOH.

The Gibson stuff I believe because it wasn't just Shafer who complained about him from inside the program. It was nepotism, but RR might have gotten away with one nepotism positional coach except the position group had so many transfers it needed a Caesar to fix it.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

Notre Dame playing Pitt and Tony Gibson should give us a nice glimpse if his is the worst.  If they don't get major yards, then we fall back and blame GERG. 


September 16th, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

Impressive analysis, Brian.  As a veteran reader of this blog, I've enjoyed watching your analysis grow increasingly technical and sophisticated over the last several years.  My own understanding of the intricacies of football have grown exponentially since I've been reading this blog, and posts like this are why.  Truly outstanding.  Thanks.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

I agree that Gibson was the worst.  The cornerbacks - and all defensive backs in general - have played much better under the new staff.  If we could get any pressure from the front four, they would look even better.


September 16th, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

Perhaps, but he was considered to be a pretty good recruiter.  A lot of kids mentioned him when talking about Michigan.

Maybe they just liked the fact that he chewed tobacco, which is admittedly an honorable trait.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:32 PM ^

"What would you rather have, an interception 30 yards downfield or the quarterback fumbling the ball?"

After the defense we've had the last three years, um, either?


September 16th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

Isn't the one major drawback to this method of defense that it is impossible to defend back shoulder throws or underthrown balls that the WR adjusts to?  Almost impossible not to pick up a PI call if the WR tries to adjust by coming back to an underthrown pass.  Worried MSU will kill us with this the way we killed Gray.

Naked Bootlegger

September 16th, 2011 at 1:17 PM ^

Perfectly thrown balls to the back shoulder are virtually impossible to defend, so I guess this type of defense plays the percentages and puts the onus on the QB to throw the perfect ball every time.  On deep routes, this is a fine strategy from a percentages perspective.   On end zone fades from, say, 10-20 yards out, I could see this being more of a problem.   But I think those routes are really hard to defend anyway unless you get safety help and still require a well- thrown ball. (Non-Tony Gibson defensive gurus please correct if I'm wrong!).

Underthrown balls could present a problem.   The defender has to be acutely in tune with the receiver's every twitch.   If the defender senses the WR adjusting short, the instant defender reaction has to be to look back for the ball, otherwise PI ensues automatically.  Easier said than done, I'm sure.



Blue in Seattle

September 16th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

Read the entire analysis holistically, despite it's focus on the corner backs.  The corner backs used this technique when they were one on one.  Even though it's a fly route, there is reduced time for the QB to throw the ball is the pressure comes quick enough.  That means you talent gap hasn't had that much time to widen.  Without pressure, either the gap will widen for an easy throw, or the WR will make a surprise stop/break away.  And that is the difference between Michigan throwing this and ND.  You can't really pressure Denard.  You can make him more around, but even when he moves a little he does it quickly.  AND he's shown that even if you do grab a small part of him and make him hold still that he can deliver the ball to the WR in stride.

I'm not really sure why Magnus is so down on Denard's accuracy, or why Brian thinks Borges isn't still counting on Denard's mobility.  Maybe it's because Borges is playing in a level of grey that's between the two.  Nope Denard isn't throwing 50 yard strikes that hit a 1 ft square target on the outside shoulder of the WR that only Tom Brady can hit.  And nope Denard didn't immediately run on the second to last play of the ND game.  BUT Denard did step up into the pocket, the LB committed to him (and likely both) started sprinting forward to contain the scrabmling Denard, and that just opened up the invisible Gallon even more!  Normally a prevent defense doesn't leave in two LB's to make sure the QB doesn't run for a TD.  They sure as hell don't for Tom Brady!  And that's why everyone forgot to cover Gallon.

The pass to Grady that set up the Vincent Smith TD was pretty damn accurate as well, and not a 5 yard short route.  The better Denard gets with his Tom Brady footwork, the more dangerous his feet become, because eventually you have to commit someone to cover all the receiver options.  Does it mean less stats for Denard? you bet.  Are games (or Heisman's for that matter, looking at you Peyton) won on stats alone.  Just the score.

Wouldn't it be an incredible tragedy if Michigan won all their competitive games through miraculous Prime Time plays instead of a mountain of statistical arrogance? just terrible.



September 16th, 2011 at 3:13 PM ^

I'm not sure yet but I actually think this might be better able to adjust because instead of whipping your head around and taking that second to find the ball--a second during which the WR can disconnect from you--you're totally focused on the WR. He slows, you slow.

The Floyd catch linked above is a good example of this. That is underthrown and to the outside and JT Floyd is still there to rake at the ball.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:43 PM ^

I hate when people blame position coaches.  Let's impart some logic to the discussion.

Most coaches have gone to the same clinics and read the same books.  I'm sure Gibson undertsands the different techniques a db can use.   I'm sure he went to clinics put on by Saban or Strong or Muschamp or some other highly touted coach on db technique.

Gibson has a head coach and a coordinator overseeing his coaching.   I doubt Gibson is in some room going man I thought up this db technique all by myself and I'll coach them this way and when Gerg tells me he wants the db's to play this way in the defense I will tell him no this is the best way and when he tells RR I'm not listening I will tell RR to  GTFO and listen to Groban.   His plan of incompetence is complete.

Despite the fact that at WVU we had one of the more successful defenses in the country  and he made R. Mundy some NFL sized paychecks after Michigan told him they had enough, it must have been the elite talent at WVU that must have masked his horrible coaching.

So, Gibson is a moron who has naked pictures of RR so he can stay in coaching and ruin RR's carreer even after he was unsuccessful in doing so in WV because WV got all NFL talent in the secondary to undermine his bad coaching and Mundy overcame that as well.


Gibson is just a random coach who was trying to teach freshmen and or not talented players to play db in Gerg's failed system and they looked like shit.

Did we even go press man once last year?   Hard to compare when you have Floyd 47yds off the ball vs 1yd.   And no Gibson does not have authority to tell his db's how far to stand from the ball Gerg would have told him where they should be standing.

What's easier to believe?








September 16th, 2011 at 12:54 PM ^

just heresay, but there has always been a rumor out there that when Schafer left, he promised to take responsibility publically for the defense if RR would admit Gibson was awful. Obviously, we can't prove this, but I've seen even Brian mention it before. So take that FWIW at least.


September 16th, 2011 at 1:24 PM ^

Just like that rumor, which is completely unfounded, that Craig James killed five hookers while at SMU. While Craig James has yet to deny that he killed five hookers while at SMU, I'm sure Craig James will eventually clarify that, of the hookers killed while he was at SMU, he was not involved in killing exactly five.


September 16th, 2011 at 1:11 PM ^

there is little variance among the competence of position coaches because they "all go to the same clinics and read the same books," and all have bosses? In most of life, industry knowledge is fairly well distributed, yet we still see people that are incompetent, and they usually have bosses and have been educated similarly as well. 


September 16th, 2011 at 1:37 PM ^

If we line up 100 db coaches someone has to be the worst so you are correct there, but my point is that a db coach is the equivalent of an a/p clerk in a large office.   An A/P clerk can be really horrible but for the most part they can't screw up an entire company.  

I think the difference in influence a position coach has on a particular team is pretty small.

If a team has a good defense the position coaches are assumed to be good.  If they are not then fans start calling for heads.   You see this all the time.  Coach goes from 1 team to the other and you see large variances in the teams performance.  It is about talent on the field not position coaches.

How do you explain WV's defense when he was there and Mundy's emergence as an NFL player?



Impact on teams record on a scale from 1-10




Head coach-8


Position coach- .75
















September 16th, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

Casteel may have known how to get Gibson to do what he should have been doing, or otherwise how to work around Gibson's alleged incompetence. He may have had Gibson concentrating on recruiting and had other positional coaches cover for him.


September 16th, 2011 at 1:51 PM ^

Well, Shafer has been a successful defensive coordinator at virtually every other stop, and Greg Robinson has had success elsewhere, too.

Meanwhile, the cornerbacks sucked from 2008-2010, and many were well regarded coming out of high school.

So while Rodriguez should take most of the blame, I think it's fair to say that Gibson sucked.


September 16th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

Nice article, Brian. As others have already mentioned, this is a nice level of "technical" for me. Great information, given in a readily digestible format. Not grade school, but you don't have to be Mattison to follow. 

Somewhere, Hoke points at Brian approvingly . . . 


September 16th, 2011 at 12:49 PM ^

that I was thought when I played safety. Pretty much when the ball gets to the receiver you are either in phase or out of phase. If you're step for step and pretty much have your helmet on top of the receivers helmet you are in phase if you're a couple steps behind you are out of phase.

This is important because if you're in phase you can turn and find the ball with out fear of losing the receiver if you're out of phase and turn to try to find the ball bad things are probably going to happen, so instead when his hands go up yours go down over his hands to break up the pass. This isn't exactly face guarding as long as you avoid contact before the gets there.