Picture Pages: Running Downhill

Submitted by Brian on October 16th, 2009 at 3:41 PM

I said I'd come back to this when I have video, and now I do. In last week's Iowa game, the linebackers became extremely aggressive against the run. This usually worked out pretty well. Iowa had a lot of problems running the ball, and what success they had was usually due to the NT getting blown too far back off the ball for Mouton—it was usually Mouton caught in the wash, with Ezeh flowing to a point farther outside—to flow to the ball. There were a couple instances in which the linebackers zipped into the wrong hole, but all told it was an encouraging performance, especially for Ezeh. Ezeh picked up a +4.5, his first positive outcome of the season.

Here's an excellent example of the linebacker's new aggression. It's first and ten late in the first half. Iowa's got the ball and is playing conservatively. They start in an I and motion the outside receiver in:


Here's the snap. You can see Martin already off the ball. Woolfolk has gone in motion to cover the receiver who shifted; this is man coverage:


A half-second later, Iowa is shifting the line left and running a zone stretch. It's hard to see the line from this angle but from the top to the bottom:

  1. Stevie Brown is holding the outside against an Iowa TE.
  2. Craig Roh has gotten sealed inside by his guy. I think this is because Michigan's line was slanting away from the play at the snap and then had to try to adjust. Look at Martin in the picture above: he's heading straight upfield. In the picture below, he's behind an OL and trying to come around.
  3. Ryan Van Bergen and Martin are in a big heap of bodies, with three blockers trying to take on two linemen. They don't crease and they don't allow anyone to get to the second level, so that's a win for Michigan.
  4. Brandon Graham isn't doing so hot but it doesn't matter. He may be preparing to shoot upfield in the event of a waggle.

And then you've got the linebackers, who are moving forward already, well before the handoff point. Both of them are headed outside.


At the handoff point, Roh has gotten himself a tad bit farther in the backfield. There are still no creases and no downfield blockers. Ezeh is heading outside into the crease between Brown and Roh. Mouton's waiting a bit in case there's a cutback; his designated hole is somewhere between Roh and Martin:


The handoff's made, and Mouton reads that there's nothing in the middle and heads outside. Ezeh's already in the hole, about to meet the fullback…


…who he crushes:


The key in the above frame is that Ezeh got outside the fullback, forcing the tailback behind him and into the help, which could be Roh or RVB but in this case is Mouton, who's running untouched into the path of the tailback…


…for a TFL:


Here's the video:

In real time you can hear, and feel, the crunching destruction of the pwned fullback. Michigan's been doing this for a while now. Contrast several plays against Iowa and Michigan State on which the linebackers flow downhill immediately with this, the opening play of the Notre Dame game:

Yes, they're flowing to the ball, but the hesitancy is obvious. This happened a few times.

The problem comes when opponents go to play action and two tight ends get wide open at the same time, but I don't know if that's their responsibility. With Michigan going to more man coverage since the insertion of Woolfolk at corner, Mouton and Ezeh can be responsible for the two guys in the I; the tight ends are not their problem. In an ace set, that's not the case, but at least one of them was innocent on Moeaki Disaster II.

I'm not sure if this is better play from the linebackers or Robinson removing responsibilities from them and telling them to go forth to rampage. The multiple times Iowa got guys wide open on play action waggles, and Michigan State's success with tight ends, suggest that Michigan has traded one problem for another here.


Michigan Arrogance

October 16th, 2009 at 4:01 PM ^

The key in the above frame is that Ezeh got outside the fullback, forcing the tailback behind him and into the help, which could be Roh or RVB but in this case is Mouton, who's running untouched into the path of the tailback…

BOLD" this is what LC called leveraging the football


October 16th, 2009 at 4:39 PM ^

Although I like aggressiveness, I find it hard to believe Mouton was coached to do this. Linebackers are always taught to stay on the backside hip of the running back to prevent cutbacks. Also, in clear run away they are taught that their only responsibility is cutback, since they would never be assigned a hole on the far side of the formation. If you look at the clip, Mouton is clearly ahead (farther across the field to the far sideline) of the RB.

That said, Iowa is screwing with U-M here. With the motion on this play, the offense ends up in a formation into the boundary (FIB) because of the two receiving threats to the short side (vs. the TE to the field).

Michigan may be misaligned or Mouton may know he has cutback help to the shortside (#40, who walks down to the LOS on the motion). I doubt Mouton was thinking this way.

What is scary is that there is an enormous cutback lane (pause at :06 mark) that #40 should fold into once he sees run away. The OT and WR are prepared to cut off the DE and #40, but since #40 doesn't fold they pay him no attention. That cutback would be his and it is a scary-big hole, where Mouton should also presumably be.


October 16th, 2009 at 6:36 PM ^

I had to watch that several times to convince myself that Big #60 probably takes Williams out and also Woolfolk in the process.
You are left with Kovacs to get in and hopefully tackle for small gain.
I like it better if Woolfolk is more inside with better chance for .5 tackle.
I think maybe BG pushes the TE back and makes the stop if the Guard goes for Williams and Woolfolk.


October 16th, 2009 at 6:51 PM ^

I'm talking about Williams and the DE, not Woolfolk. Woolfolk's ok and it's not his play anyway. All #60 and the WR want to do in that scenario is get those guys to rush upfield so they have no opportunity to fold back into the play. You can see #60 look, wanting those guys to go "underneath" him so they can never get into the play. When no one shows immediately he just helps the WR w/ his man.


October 16th, 2009 at 7:44 PM ^

I didn't mean that to seem like I was disagreeing with you. After watching the replay a few times, I was just trying to imagine how the play might have turned out if the back cut up the hole right away. Maybe #60 reacts by trying to take Williams out of the play and possibly impedes Woolfolk in the process.
We are talking about the same thing I thing BG/DE TE/WR.


October 16th, 2009 at 5:29 PM ^

Is also a function of the offense. For example nd=pass happy= lbs stay farther away from Los

Iowa=run happy offense=run lbs into rampage stop run mode

I think that it'll depend on what the coaches feel is the strength of the offense we will be playing:

psu=Iowa defense
purdue=nd defense
Wisconsin=Iowa defense
Ohio state=Iowa defense


October 19th, 2009 at 9:44 AM ^

Great analysis, as always Brian. One note: State's TEs have been a significant part of the passing game in pretty much every game this year. They are three or four deep with starter-level quality at that position, so they attack with them. Given what we had seen with ND et al, it was a no-brainer that they would try to exploit the presumed indecision of Ezeh and Mouton.

Nice to see the LBs attack the run with more gusto. That hit from Ezeh is why we all love football. There was a huge cutback lane there (good points AAL), and I'm thinking a non-freshman RB sees/feels that and takes it for positive yardage, if not a big gain. Looking at that play again, it looks like a fundamentally sound offensive play blown up by an (overly?) aggressive linebacking corps.

Against Penn State, who has a great RB but a terrible offensive line, the aggressiveness could work against them. You know Royster's not going to miss that cutback lane; the only question is, can his O-line create even one hole, let alone two?