Picture Pages: MLB Is About Mitigation

Submitted by Brian on 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.



September 3rd, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

The discussion I had about this was last season, which makes it even more insane. The guy's basic line of thought was that Morgan was OK but was never going to be a difference maker (because "difference" is only measured by tackles or recruiting stars), so Bolden, who got good reviews out of camp last year, too, should start. People haven't been hostile towards Morgan, but they do share Brian's opinion of his limited cieling, and so have been really quick to want to displace him from the lineup. They don't want him out of there at any cost, but they have no problem believing that someone can beat him out. But why? He's good.

I agree that most people weren't going crazy about Bolden this year, but that is because they saw him last season and weren't impressed. It goes back to the idea that the backup QB is always the best because we havent seen him play poorly. The new recruit is better than the current player because we havent seen him play poorly yet.

Regarding hype of freshmen: people always go crazy, but in my experience, when coaches talk about freshmen, they usually do so in the context of them being freshmen. They will say, "Man, Freddy Canteen can play," but what they omit is, "for a guy his age." We hear the good things and imagine they are ready to be good, full-time, reliable players, but that is so rarely the case.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

Considering that on the 2nd play with Ryan, Beyer juuuust missed getting his hands on the RB as he blew by him. Can't help but contrast his just-miss with what might have happened if Charlton had been in there with his monstrous wing span.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:53 PM ^

That's assuming that Charlton plays it properly and is in position to make a play with that monstrous wingspan. We're not sure yet how consistently Charlton gets his responsibilities right. He could play the read poorly, he could run himself upfield and out of the play. Beyer is a pretty good player, hes played a ton of snaps over the years.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:21 PM ^

Brian, I really enjoy these features - always learn something.  While I'm at it, thanks Space Coyote and ReadYourGuard, you both do a great job of explaining concepts without too much indecipherable jargon; I appreciate that.

I've come to really appreciate Morgan; his presence is as comforting as a warm blanket on a cold day. You know he's gonna be in position, and his grunt work makes everyone around him better.

That said, I feel our new defensive scheme and attacking philosophy is finally suited to effectively combat spread offenses - hooray! I hope Mattison finds ways to unleash JMFR, but even if he's less impactful, it's still a positive and necessary change.



September 3rd, 2014 at 12:49 PM ^

Who is the SAM on these plays and where is he?  

I suppose we are in nickle and there is another DB we can't see. 

If Jake were playing SAM...  would he have been off the field anyway on this play?  

You are trying to stop a run play with 6, when the other team has all 6 guys accounted for...  either someone makes an excellent play or the back hits the crease and takes his yards.  We won't often do this on D, I would assume. 



Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 1:11 PM ^

An inside zone is much like what Michigan is running as a base, just from shotgun. It's designed to be run to the B-gap away from the RB alignment. The Belly, as known by spread-folk, is designed more to attack the A gap toward the RB alignment. The blocking looks like inside zone, but in reality it's more a gap, down-blocking method from the OL.


September 3rd, 2014 at 12:55 PM ^

My takeaway from this is that the defense was playing completely honest and when you play vanilla base defense, the offense is going to get a few yards barring an outstanding play by someone. Morgan managed to minimize (mitigate) the yards by driving his blocker back while Ryan didn't.

Realistically, we're not going to be this passive most of the time when the game is on the line. I think Ryan's advantage over Morgan tends to show more in that situation as he will be asked to blitz and do more athletic things rather than just staying home and being fundamentally sound. I think there will be some growing pains and argh moments, but overall I still trust Mattison to know his personnel well enough to put Ryan in situations that cater to his unique strengths.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:23 PM ^

1. You should switch back t to your old avatar cause it was awesome and easier to recognize you. (ok not a question)

2. Is this a situation where the DC may be testing his core defense for sound play because the defense is in a losing sitiation? And by losing I mean 6 defensive players against 5 blockers with the 6th optioned off. What would be a typical defensive call to mitigate this? A blitz that forces the option hand off, or simply bringing the SS down into the box?


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

1) I figured we could use some catharsis from last season, so I changed my avatar prior to the start of this season. Plus Daleks would make good offensive linemen.

2) I'm sure SC can comment a lot more intelligently than I can, but one of the popular ways to defend the read option is run a scrape exchange where the optioned player obviously forces the read one way and an LB would make towards the opposite path from the get go. In this case, Beyer would crash down on the RB and Ryan/Morgan would run out and contain the QB on the edge.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:06 PM ^

A scrape exchange is probably the standard way of handling this. You can also do something by alignment (have your 2i shoot straight up field, align your LB shaded to the RB, ect) or can run other twists, slants, stunts, or even bring blitz from the NB or safety spot. So lot's of ways to mitigate it, lots of ways to do it schematically and through alignment.

FWIW, you are rarely going to get more than 6 in the box against 10 personnel. That's a defender responsible for every gap, so everything should be accounted for. Bringing 7 into the box means you are in cover 0 basically, you are giving no support to your DBs. Basically, you have to be able to hold your ground and fight off blocks and make plays. 


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:23 PM ^

Even as a DE, JMFR was not shy at all about popping through TE's and OT's and taking on blockers, shedding the shit out of them, and making huge plays in space.  There were times when the OL guy was tackled along WITH the opposing RB by JMFR.  I mean, in beast mode, this guy, goddamn.....

I know that DE and MLB are fundamentally different defensive positions with different responsibilities, behaviors and key reads, but wouldn't some of the same, aggressive but "stay put/reading-is-fundamental" type behaviors of a DE still come in mighty damn handy at MLB? 

I think JMFR is better suited to play OLB/DE, but I'm still not understanding well why the positives displayed at DE are now potential (and likely) negatives at MLB.

Great write up Brian. Thank you.

Great comments by Space Coyote and others too.


September 3rd, 2014 at 1:36 PM ^

I'm just making sure: the responsibility of the 2 DTs is to get across the G's face and they aren't just doing it because there is a stunt called correct?

Because I feel if they would slant towards the back here, it would make the tackle's assignment much harder getting on the backer. 

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:12 PM ^

The DTs definately were trying to get their helmet's in front of their man.

The problem and reason teams rarely slant the opposite direction here is because more often than not that takes your first level out of the play. Typically, the RB will cross the QB's body, so slanting away takes the first level defense a gap away from the play, making it easier for the playside OL to get to the second level and seal the play inside. Basically, your doing the "reaching" portion of the blocking for the OL. You can still do it some if your DL is aware that they need to get vertical immediately after they slant a gap over and see flow away from them and if your LBs are positioned correctly, but it does cause some difficulty

micheal honcho

September 3rd, 2014 at 1:53 PM ^

Why in cases such as this, does the D-Tackle not drop his trailing leg and "sit down" in the hole like we were taught(and Bo taught) back in the day? If you cannot fight back across the O linemans face you have to drop where you stand before giving that ground.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:09 PM ^

I remember being taught that back when (drop to a knee, cause a pile up of bodies), but it's a bit outdated now. The reason it's a bit outdated now is because it essentially gives a free release to the 2nd level. Back in the day, with blocking schemes and how compact offenses were, it basically caused a mass of bodies to form, but with how spread out the offenses are now and the zone blocking and lots of more liberal use of combo blocking at the first level, it doesn't do as much as it used to.

So defenders are taught to anchor and fight with their hands and get skinny up top so that the blocker doesn't have area to drive him with.

steve sharik

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:14 PM ^

  1. I agree that this is on Mattison in that he is playing man-free, so there is no free hitter since the QB is a potential ball carrier.  With the "free" being a center fielder and not involved in option responsibility, the defense is outmanned.  I think Mattison felt like he could get by with base in this game, especially in the 2nd half.  Normal operating procedure would be to play some form of zone coverage, or man with zone behind it, so that there are always OLBs or safeties in an "overhang" position; i.e., 2nd level perimeter, a few yards outside the box.
  2. In both of these cases, the 3-tech. sparks inside to A gap, leaving the MIKE as the B gap player and the DE as the C gap player.  The only time I think a DL should "sit down" is when he is double teamed, and even then I don't like the technique.  Also, Henry was fine there b/c a) he saw the RB had the ball and b) he saw the ball declaring in a different gap past the LOS.  It's actually great play for him to get back across and fight to pursue the ball carrier.
  3. With the DE assigned to not get flanked by the QB until he knows for sure it's a handoff, and with the OG and OT blocking down inside, the C gap is now huge.  As Brian said, the best you can hope for is the MIKE to take that block on close to the LOS to limit the damage.
  4. Ideally we'd have an overhang to that side to allow for scrape exchange or other spread tactics.  Then Beyer can crash down hard and the QB pulls for an unblocked OLB, safety, or scraping MIKE.


September 3rd, 2014 at 2:39 PM ^

what about a guy like Brian Urlacher (the Bears version).  He seemed like a Jake Ryan type who was instinctive and made plays all over the field.  Was that because the Bears played a different style of defense or because Urlacher was just a freak, or both?

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

Urlacher was certainly a freak, like, a freak beyond some of the best in the NFL. So that's a part of it. They also played a Tampa 2 defense which had some safety support and some cloud support as well. So different aspects with regards to zone coverage.

And again, he was just a beast that would crush blockers when needed. And he also had some good DTs and LBs next to him. Here:



September 3rd, 2014 at 3:07 PM ^

Brian, don't think you're being negative.

Here's some ammo that, granted, you may already have.

Citing physicist David Deutsch, from his incredible book: The Beginning of Infinity. The context is a fictional dialogue between Socrates and Hermes. Socrates inquires about how we get to objective truth:

“Could it be that the moral imperative not to destroy the means of correcting mistakes is the only moral imperative? That all other moral truths follow from it?”  (His italics)

We need your astute and artfully-rendered observations. Even if they're occasionally wrong, they move us on the path.


September 3rd, 2014 at 3:37 PM ^

This Veer (Belly) was our base run in high school (played OT & LB).  It's basic option football. 

As Space Coyote said, against 10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR), you rarely see more than 6 defenders in the box (5 in coverage).

If you can use the QB as a run threat, then you are playing 7 Off in the box (5 OL, 1RB, 1QB) vs 6 Def in the box.

If the QB is Denard-like (run threat first), consider a 6.5 or 7th man in the box, make him beat you with his arm (but with 4/4.5 coverage defenders, be prepared to play man w/ no deep safety or zone and get bubble screen'ed) .  

If the QB is Navarre-like (no run threat) you would rather have him keep it (run threat is less athletic, less vertical, and you can make him pay for repeated "correct" QB keep reads).

If the QB is Cam Newton (can run & throw) you're screwed.

Angles work better for the OL when you run this toward a DT in the A gap. While we lined up with a DT (play one: in the B gap, play two: head up on the guard), he looked to be slanting A gap by playcall both times.

App St. likely called this play as a "constraint" to it's base Inside Zone, in order to punish the DT for slanting A gap.  It worked so they kept it up.  Michigan call a gap exchange probably because it was not App St.'s "base" run play.

A gap exhange (Beyer/DE crash down, close B gap, force QB keep) will also work for the D to an extent, as long as your LB is quick enough to get outside the RT's block. But if he gets a hat on him, you still don't have the #s so you're waiting for a safety/nickel to come make a play.

Ryan running himself out of the play makes the 6 d vs 7 o sitiuation even worse, since the OT doesn't need to block him and keep on trucking toward the safeties.


September 3rd, 2014 at 3:50 PM ^

slightly off. However, they are all in their gaps to begin with. It looks like the DTs may have a Slant Right call on which could have taken them out of position. Pre snap alignments look right as Henry in the 3 has the B gap with Morgan in an 11 technique in the A gap. Vice versa for Glasgow? and Ryan in the 1 and 31 techs. Mattison said in his presser that he takes the blame for those plays because he made some poor calls, which leads me to believe the slant call was on for the DTs. Which would be fine if the LBs shifted over on the snap which most of the times should happen for gap integrity, which would have them fill in the vacated gaps. This would also put morgan on the correct side of the lineman to keep the play contained. My guess is that Mattison will play more straight up against ND and definitely have this corrected.