Picture Pages: MLB Is About Mitigation Comment Count

Brian September 3rd, 2014 at 11:39 AM


Ryan under the microscope [Eric Upchurch]

Hello. As per usual, a game against a tomato can causes me to dig up something negative because I figure that the bad things that happen against weak teams are more likely to recur than the good ones. I'm not being negative, I'm being useful!

After this opening paragraph it may not surprise you that I didn't think Ryan had a particularly good game as Michigan's MLB. There were a couple of opportunities to contrast him with Desmond Morgan on similar plays that didn't come out well for Ryan. To the stillmobile!

Taking on blockers

App State had one drive of any consequence before Michigan started throwing third stringers on the field. That was a 75-yard march on which they ran an old Rodriguez staple, the "belly," repeatedly for good yardage.

Belly is designed to attack the soft underbelly of the backside of a defense facing inside zone. The end gets optioned off and then the goal of the defense is to use the backside DT's natural desire to shoot the gap to the playside against him. This usually sees the backside tackle get a free release on a linebacker on a quick-hitting play. (A quick google search indicates that this is Rodriguez-exclusive terminology, so your local guru's verbiage will vary.)

This was tough for Michigan to defend as aligned because the backside DT saw zone action and went GRRAAAH at it, driving himself way out of the play because he's Willie Henry and he is 1) strong and 2) not yet super disciplined. This put linebackers in bad spots, facing free OL while trying to shut down a ton of space.

Here's Morgan in that situation:


It feels like Michigan is a little misaligned here, with the linebacker shaded to one side against a formation that has no TE.

On the snap Beyer is let go and must respect the keep, so he flows upfield. Henry will get his own momentum used against him and get way out of the play, which I have designated by putting a frown at the end of his line. Morgan has an OT coming at him and a problem.


Beyer plays the mesh point well, inducing a give but forming up near the LOS so he can respond to a handoff. Henry is about to leave.


Here is the the key thing for Morgan on this play: he takes the contact. He in fact initiates the contact despite not having much forward momentum (which it is hard to get on a quick hitting play like belly). He impacts the OL and rocks him back:


Note that the guy next to him is Henry, who is trying to fight back to the play by giving ground. Also note that if Henry was anywhere near where the line would like him to be, Beyer is tackling as people wall up.

The back actually bounces off the OL…


And then a bunch of guys tackle him after six yards.


This is not a good result and I think Morgan's original alignment had something to do with that. He ends up taking the block to the inside instead of square and that gives the back room to the outside when otherwise this could have been a third down coming up. But: tough job in a lot of space. I gave him a half point for slowing down what could otherwise have been bad.


[After the JUMP: Jake Ryan tries his hand.]

Jake Ryan saw the same play a few downs later, and things did not go as well. The good bit:


That alignment seems better to me.

Wormley will play the Henry role on this play, attacking "inside zone" hard and running himself out of things. Ryan takes on the block like a SAM linebacker trying to make a play after being the force guy. IE: not taking it on.


At the mesh point, same situation: Beyer forming up, backside DT creating a problem, Ryan gets the backside tackle by himself. But when the time comes, he tries to dodge the guy:


Nobody gets more than Joe Bolden's desperate hand on him until the safety.



I didn't slow these down because the real time is the best for feeling Morgan's impact and there's no technical stuff here. It's take on a danged block yo.

Things and stuff

This is how an edge player plays MLB. When you have an opportunity to make a play as an edge defender it is usually because you have already forced the guy inside of you and now you can attack hard after the back commits. Only in extremely rare circumstances are you ever going to have to truly play both sides of a block.

That is not the case at MLB. Here Morgan mitigates damage not by avoiding the block but by moving it. He knows that all he can do is put an inert roadblock in a position, and if he does so by hitting the guy so he rocks back a yard that is helpful. Then he can try to shed the block to the correct side when the RB commits and make a tackle.

Ryan is trying to MAKE PLAYS and as a result becomes a nonfactor. His block is not in a position to do anything to the running back.

Losing Morgan is a blow. I'll get to this in a later post but the two times Appalachian State gained any yards at all in the first half were both plays on which Frank Clark played "MLB" but ran at the line just before the snap; this created frontside chaos and backside creases as Ryan and Bolden did not understand that the defense Michigan was running was designed to put player Y in gap X to the backside and that you should be there to tackle with bells on. Michigan yanked Ryan after both of these plays, and Bolden after the second, in favor of Ross and Morgan.

Morgan's not a thrilling high upside player. He is Kovacs at MLB. That was enough for him to be Michigan's best linebacker by some distance in this game. MLB is about being boring, like safety.

"Belly" is foremost a DT thing unless you're going to game it. This was not going to go well without an awesome play on either of these once the DTs got blown out.

On any of these plays M could have shot Beyer down and flared the LB to the edge to nerf the play but at this point they seemed much more interested in trying to get it right with base D up 42-0 in the third quarter. They met with little success on this drive, giving up 25 yards on four attempts. It was Ondre Pipkins who actually played it best on the last one:

That is a situation in which three yards is a win from the back, and that's how you beat that play when you play it straight up: the backside DT winning his block in such a way as that gap is not there.


Indiana Blue

September 3rd, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

Brian appears to be spot on with this.  I personally thought JMFR was better suited anywhere but MLB.  I'm certain the coaches will turn these "lemon plays" into lemonade for nd.

Go Blue!


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

Don't think so, I'd guess the plays where Clark was lined up as MLB were the ones he was thinking of. Either way, he said they got it corrected, so it's likely much earlier than these diagramed plays. And also, these plays, the defense was running plain old base nickel, so there's not a lot to really adjust other than people playing their assignments more soundly.

UM in NC

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:00 PM ^

I don't know much about these things, but it seems odd to me that a physically overmatched ASU team can run a play where:

DT and MLB play poorly = 11 yd gain

DT poor and MLB good = 6yd gain

DT and MLB good = 3 yd gain

Is it just because we were in vanilla D with no adjustments as Brian mentions or is it normal for a team to have plays where 3 yd gain is the expected worst case?

Monocle Smile

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:05 PM ^

1) The 3-yard gain was due to the back getting walloped from behind. He was hit after 1 and the 3 yards was a bit lucky.

2) Mattison seems to be intentionally tasking the D to stop a play from a base defense without adjusting anything. This is pretty hard. In a real game, the defense would adjust and perhaps cheat a bit upon seeing the alignment and action.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:06 PM ^

Is that Michigan is actually in an Over front instead of an even front. This allows Pipkins to shoot straight forward rather than have to beat the OG across his helmet, making it a little easier for him to anchor. 

FWIW, I think they were aligning the Over to field in every scenario with the NT playing a 2i technique, but having that 2i technique is easier to anchor with than the 3 tech or even 4i technique seen in the first two videos.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:01 PM ^

Just a few sidebar points:

1. If you go by what the original intent was of the play, this is more of a veer than a belly. Belly you'll see the blockers go toward the option man in and inside zone fashion, with the end man by passing the read defender and moving to the second level; whereas veer will down block away from it. But that's just if you're looking back at the original intent of the original version of the play, lots of terminology gets mixed in and what not between then and now. Like Brian said, Rich Rod called this a belly.

2. Often times, even with an Even front (which Michigan is running), the LBs will shade away from the RB. That's because typically the RB is going in that direction in any run play. Part of the difference in alignment is because: a) the second play is a called double A-gap blitz that Ryan breaks off when he sees backfield flow, then overreacts on jumping back; b) the ball is on the hash in the second video, so they don't need to shade to the boundary as much.

3. In an even front, it's likely the DTs are two-gapping a bit based on OL flow. This issue here isn't the initial movement by the DT, it's that they never anchor against force. It's a feel thing, and one of the reasons young guys struggle at DT, but you have to work against where the OL is driving you, which obviously they are struggling with right now. Shoot head across OL and anchor in position so the cutback can be squeezed.


Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:26 PM ^

[mostly for inviscible app trolls] I wasn't disagreeing with Brian's terminology, and, in fact, said he was correct.

Terminology is different all over the place in football, it's one of the things that I think has made teaching and learning football more difficult, because it's different everywhere, and often times it isn't consistent (people will call belly several different things, go to a football blog and ask "what does belly mean" and you'll get four different answers). All I was doing was bringing up the original intent of the play as a way to distinguish it. If you look at the old Woody Hayes belly play, which OSU kind of runs now from a shotgunny-pistol type look, you'll note the blocking direction is in the direction of the read.

But that's what happens when you start bringing multiple aspects of various offenses together. They often used the same words but meant slightly or even very different things and it becomes confusing when it's brought together.

Shop Smart Sho…

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:43 PM ^

You go out of your way, in almost all of your posts, to find something wrong with what Brian said.  Of course, you generally couch it in the most non-offensive terms you possibly can, but your intent is obvious.

Your entire 1st point was written to give the impression that you know more about what Brian  is writing about than Brian himself does.  And your point had little to nothing to do with the entire post, because there is absolutely no way you know the intent of the play from either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

This is something I was going to add before I couldn't my post any longer:

FWIW,  the reason Rich Rod and some other spread folk call it a belly play (despite the blocking) is because they took it from the old T/Wishbone belly series, which is actually a series of plays based on the same look. They adapted it to make it look like the traditional zone scheme they were running, and likely meant to implement more of the belly series into their schemes, including the traps and counters (some teams have implemented those things, for reference). The veer also has it's own playbook and is based out of the split back formation. 

For what it's worth, most modern day veer playbooks now utilize zone blocking as well, making the original intent of the veer/belly not always applicable by today's standards. Again, this is the confusion that comes from updating offenses and combining aspects of different offenses. The reason Rich Rod calls this a Belly and Chip Kelly a veer is because Rich Rod adapted it from the Belly series and Chip Kelly from the split back series. And thus, that is why you'll hear it called different things today.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:02 PM ^

I really appreciated the point about Ryan's instinct to avoid blocks being a strength on the edge but liability at Mike.  It is not something I noticed while watching the game, but makes complete sense once broken down like this.  Thanks.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:27 PM ^

I don't think that's what he's saying.  Morgan takes on the block because the DT's movement opened up the backside gap with a free hitter (the weakside OT); there's nothing an MLB can do there except get in the way by taking on the block, "Michigan Drill" style.  Morgan had played a lot of MLB so he mitigated correctly.  Ryan responded to the broken play by going back to his SLB instincts.  It's a liability like your compact spare tire isn't ideal for cross-country trips -- technically true and you don't want to see it happen, but if you actually lose sleep over it you're probably not cut out for long drives.

I expect to see Ryan blitz more against ND but this was a lesson on how an experienced MLB like Morgan can mitigate a play due to experience.  If this is what's Picture Paged, I'm not too concerned.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:14 PM ^

It almost seems to me on the Henry and Wormley plays like the dline is slanting.  The other dline players seem to be moving in the same direction as Henry and Wormley at the snap.

Hugh White

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:09 PM ^

No doubt the MLB must attack that block, then preferably shed it and get in on a share of the take-down.  This is what the Michigan Drill is all about (the two-point stance version).


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:12 PM ^

The DTs were slanting (Henry to A, Glasgow to B) so Morgan was responsible for playside B gap and Ross backside A. I don't have a problem with Morgan's alignment as much as his initial step to the A gap, which isn't his responsibility. By the time the OTackle arrives, Morgan was damn near over the nose of the ball. Also, in my schemes, Henry should have spun back against pressure. Ryan is in a little better alignment but he too jumps way inside on his initial step. This doesn't make sense to me based on the tackle slants, and I'm guessing it correlates to the post-game comments that the ILBs "tried to do too much." Sometimes you have to slow your roll as an ILB and not get too anxious to make every play.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:14 PM ^

Though I think they are slanting toward flow, or pretty much two-gapping the scheme. Morgan is supposed to correct them.

On the Ryan play I'm almost certain it's a twist blitz where Ryan is intented to shoot A gap and Bolden twist in front of him. Ryan breaks off his blitz and overreacts to try to jump back outside (to get back to having outside arm free and force the play back to help). But his reaction is a bit unconventional and he gets too high, so when he hops out (rather than attacking the blocker) he gets displaced backwards.

carlos spicywiener

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:12 PM ^

Who is the starting MLB in 2015? I expect Ryan to rapidly improve - the schedule isn't too daunting until later. So am I crazy for thinking M should take this opportunity to redshirt Morgan and have him on the field / coaching up Michael Ferns in 2015?


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:41 PM ^

If you don't want Morgan versus MSU, OSU, and a potential air raid from Maryland - sure why not.  Hoke is not thinking like that.  He is thinking he needs wins.

Also a medical redshirt only applies if a season ending injury occurs.  Hard to make a case for a 12 week broken forearm.

Also Gedeon is going to be a junior next year - he is not going to be a wide eyed RS FR.  Ferns will be a backup barring any amazing growth year over year.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:15 PM ^

While reading this it just seems like this entire post was written to say: "Ya, I lost the lemon bet but to prove you all wrong im going to show you Morgan should have started."

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:35 PM ^

If he compared Morgan to Bolden. But he compared Morgan to Ryan, which is a bit different. I think people in general want to know how Ryan is doing in the middle, which is reason enough to do this post.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

Huh? Brian said that Morgan should have started over Bolden, not Ryan. So it doesn't make sense for him to point out that Morgan is better than Ryan at stopping this particular play if his agenda is to place Morgan above Bolden. 

Voltron Blue

September 3rd, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

I've been expecting this issue to be called out since I saw it on Saturday (or, before Lemongate).  I thought it might come in UFR, but instead it comes here.  And regardless, why does it even matter?


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:15 PM ^

Gives me the frowny face.

I think/hope Jake will soon come to understand he's not being asked to make every play in the middle. Until Mattison unleashes him on a blitz.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

I know what Mattison said was the reason for moving Ryan to middle linebacker, but my fear from the very beginning was that we just were going to ruin our best defensive player for no good reason.

And thus far, while ruined is wildly overstating it, it didn't look good on Saturday against a cupcake.

Morgan is/was a better middle backer than Ryan. Period.  He's disciplined and he knows the position. Ryan is a savage.  He's just wasted as a middle linebacker and a clear liability.

I know this is coming across more strongly than I intend it to.  But, we have one of the most dynamic edge players in the big ten.  Who cares if they run away from him?  Its where he's best.

At this point, I'm on board with hoping JMFR learns to just be JR and plug the holes.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 12:32 PM ^

I would like to see the staff put Ryan at rush DE a bit still. I think that causes some issues for defenses, as Michigan could run a 3-3-5 out of the look, they could go straight pass rush from a 4-down alignment, and they could still send Ryan from the Mike position (both Bolden and Morgan could play more coverage oriented looks). Hell, they could even effectively drop Ryan from his DE position.

I think that gets some of your better players on the field (in a 3-3-5 Clark can move inside and the other two guys can be penetrating DTs) and causes some offensive confusion.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:30 PM ^

Problem is that Ryan's ideal position in the 4-3 is slowly being phased out of the modern college game. How much did we see RJS or Ross at the SAM position? I think the coaches are trying to get one of the best playmakers into the field even if it's not his ideal position. We'll just have to wait and see if it works.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:43 PM ^

First, let's go back to why Mattison made the move.  We all enjoyed seeing Ryan on the edge, but as Mattison said:

"We tried to play our base people against spread offenses just to keep Jake out there (emphasis added). That’s not fair to a guy like Jake. He’s a 240-pound linebacker playing out on a wide receiver. Your next thing is to put a nickel in, and where do you put Jake? Well, Jake now becomes a defensive end. He’s a 240-pound defensive end when you want to be bigger there."

I think this goes back mostly to the Ohio State game.  They schemed around it to great success, and there's no doubt everyone this year would've done the same thing if Mattison didn't make a move.

As for the new defense, Michigan has Ryan playing MLB in front of a secondary playing press man so he won't be dropping back into coverage nearly as often as our ILBs did last year.  Despite that he was kind of invisible this game because why the hell not?  Our D-line was making plays and once we were up 42-0 this became a glorified practice.  This was a good way for JMFR to learn, but Mattison didn't move Ryan to MLB to become Morgan 2.0.  This was done to keep him in the game.  I expect him to blitz more against tougher competition.  Under tries to force the offense "inside out" and teams like ND or MSU coached their linebackers to be crazy aggressive, so I don't think this is representative of what Mattison plans to do later in the season.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:51 PM ^

It's not ruining our best defensive player for no good reason, it is to make the whole defense better.  Ryan is a great player but in the alignment the entire defense other than ryan seems to be in a better spot, that is a net positive even if its sad that it hurts ryans abiltiy as a playmaker.

You can also be a disruptor from the mlb spot.  Morgan is exactly like kovacs, he is great to have and every defense needs him but his athleticism prevents him from being a playmaker from the position. This is not a bad thing or a knock on Morgans play. But just like a ballhawking safety can change a game so can a middle linebacker, there is risk involved but when you get that specail player who knows when to take risks and when to play sound that is the best option, maybe with more experience ryan can be that guy.  As much as we all love Kovacs we would rather have had patrick peterson, the same thing can be said of morgan versus elite mlb's and maybe that is the hope for ryan.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:18 PM ^

Kovacs was not boring.  "Boring" is intended as a compliment in the sense that the player doesn't allow busts, and Kovacs was that.  But as often as not Kovacs wasn't merely mitigating plays as much as blowing them up as a bona fide playmaker.  There are few college-level safeties I would pick over Kovacs; a great many are more athletic but he provided reliability AND some playmaking ability whereas most safeties give you one or the other.

Ryan is the opposite of Kovacs -- a playmaker who needs to become more reliable, but again, the goal isn't to morph him into Morgan.  I maintain that Mattison had Ryan play vanilla because that's where Ryan needs to improve, but against tougher offenses we'll see more of an MSU-like look where the ILBs are blitzing instead of read-and-react.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

You're right in that boring is probably the wrong word but it is what brian uses so I figured I would match terminology.

I do however disagree that Kovacs was a playmaker.  He was a sure tackler and could definetely lay the wood to an extent  (sack against western comes to mind) but he wasn't really a game changing player in a playmaking sense.  He made sure we never gave up huge plays which is awesome and exactly what you want your safety to do and makes a huge difference in how a defense can play, Kovacs was and is awesome.  But if you needed a game channging play, an interception or a huge hit for a forced fumble, or tracking a wr or rb down from across the field with speed when a play got busted away from you that wasn't Kovacs, he wasn't going to swing a game with one play.  Most defensive players don't, it takes a great one to be able to do it because you need the brains of Kovacs and amazing athleticisim but guys like peterson could.  Kovacs is a tier 2 safety, drummond or patterson is a tier 1. Same thing with Morgan, he just doesn't have the physical attributes to be truly elite but that doesn't mean he isn't great and better than 98% of other linebackers.  (Though I do think Brian over rates him a bit, Morgan is a bit of liability in the passing game, he just happens to better at it than other michigan lb'ers)


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:30 PM ^

At least now everyone knows that Morgan was our best inside linebacker. That guy gets no respect, and he consistently does the right things.

I remember saying last season that Bolden should not start and that Bolden should consider himself lucky if he ended up being as good as Morgan. I got laughed at because 4* are more than 3*.

Don't eat the lemon, Brian. Morgan was a starter.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:40 PM ^

Agreed on all counts. As I understand it, Morgan was announced as a starter. The last couple years, when Ryan was announced as a starter, it didn't matter if the first play of the game required a nickel package and therefore Ryan was on the sideline. He was still a starter.

Mostly I'm just sick of the lemon thing, so if Brian wants to eat one just to get everyone to shut up about it that seems great.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:43 PM ^

Well the difference is that someone else was playing the position that morgan plays.  His position wasn't axed by alignment on the first play, someone else was just in instead of him, so that would make that guy a starter.  Its a technicality but his bet wasn't that morgan would get more snaps, it was who would be the starter, he should just eat the lemon and move on.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:01 PM ^

I've never seen anything besides respect for Morgan here. The whole lemon thing was remarkable not because people thought Bolden was a better player, the UFRs clearly showed he wasn't. It was the prospect of Brian eating a lemon that got people excited. Even despite that, I feel like most people took the Bolden hype out of camp with a healthy grain of salt.