Picture Pages: Slanting Against Power Comment Count

Brian October 25th, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Picture Pages on a bye week? Sure. I generally take more snapshots than I can reasonably cram into one week of posting what with all the other whatnot that goes on in this space, so this is a perfect spot for some reheated leftovers.

Yesterday I tagged Whoever at WLB as one of the main trouble spots on the defense; last week I criticized the linebackers for a particular Edwin Baker run that popped big despite Michigan seemingly having it covered. I caught some criticism myself for not being harsh enough with Mike Martin on that particular play that I'm still not sure about.

In any case, I pick the individual plays after the game (or season) has developed enough for me to identify a trend, and I grabbed that specifically because of the WTF behavior of the linebackers. Here's a play from earlier in the season that got in my thought processes and may have compelled me to pull that baby out of the bathwater. Metaphors not guaranteed.


It's late against Eastern. The starters are still mostly in; the Eagles have been driving a bit. It's first and ten. They'll run a power play to the strong side of their formation*. Michigan is in their usual under.

*[People have told me this is a "Down G", not a Power O, because the guard blocks down—I see what you did there—and it's actually a frontside tackle pulling, along with the center.]


Ryan to bottom of screen, Frank Clark to top.

The key guy to watch is Hawthorne, who is the topmost of the MLBs.

On the snap everything happens!


By this I mean three things.

  1. the center pulls
  2. the frontside tackle pulls
  3. Michigan slants away from the play

You can see the entire line headed inside away from the playside. Brink, Ryan, Martin: all are oblivious to the idea of containment. This is fine.


wsg Slanty, the football-playing, jean-vested gecko who is inexplicably the first hit in Google images for "line slant football."

Why do it? To get a free hitter. Your slant should make life difficult for anything run to its side. The downblocks are key in the power. They're the easy bit for the offense. If one gets beat your play is going to not work very well. In all likelihood your pullers are going to take defensive linemen in the backfield, leaving linebackers free to run up and smash face.

If the opponent runs away from your slant it should be okay because the linebackers know there's a slant on and can chase playside as soon as the offense gives any indication there is a playside. This gets the backside tackle/guard/whoever—the guy assigned to the WLB—blocking air. The WLB gets to scrape down the line to tackle.

This gets the backside tackle… guard… whoever…


…blocking air…


…awww, come on, Hawthorne.


In the wider view you can see huge numbers of players on the backside:


Cutback == doom. Hawthorne has no responsibility but to get down the line to the POA. Note the difference in the disposition of the linebackers. Demens is hauling for the frontside; Hawthorne is in full block-catching mode.

Now, Michigan's D can bottle this up without needing a WLB if Ryan gets a two for one on these pullers. He's the guy currently inside of #68. The other puller is running right by him. He's already given up the bounce because of the slant; if he gets into the other blocker Demens has a free run.

Ryan doesn't. He gets knocked to the inside and pancaked, which erases backside help. The other puller gets out on Demens:


Demens has maintained outside leverage, forcing it back to his help, which is three yards downfield and getting farther away.


First down on a basic power run.



Hesitation is a killer here and it does not seem explicable. Hawthorne does not quite know what he's doing yet, especially earlier in the season. The hesitation gets a little more explicable when you look at the previous play, when one Brandin Hawthorne got burned on a counter:

Even so, with the line slanting in front of him he should know to take off playside at any hint of a pull or any hint of a guy releasing to block him. Slanting should make LB decision processes easy.

This play is one of the archetypical examples of why the WLB is hard to block and can get away with being a slight fast guy… so don't get blocked.

This is especially bad for a player like Hawthorne. Hawthorne looks like Leo Messi out there. He has a hard time getting off blocks and has basically no chance if he's not thundering at whoever is coming out to block him. At least in that situation his momentum can pop the guy back and he can come off to tackle. He's done if he pulls the [REDACTED] Memorial Block Catching Dance.

Ryan missed an opportunity to MAKE PLAYS. The other thing a slant like this can do is take the playside DE/LB and make two guys block him. You see Ryan dive inside the first puller. This means the RB is going to bounce, which means Ryan's basically done. Also done is Ryan's blocker.

Ryan has one way to impact the play left: try to pick off that other puller, leaving Demens unimpeded on the edge. Here he takes the block and appears to try to fight back outside, which ends with him in a heap. This isn't the worst thing in the world but great defenses that swarm these kinds of plays with two guys get both the 2-for-1 and the WLB in the hole.

This is one of the reasons I'm looking owlishly at the WLB whenever something goes wrong. Picture Pages are attempts to thematically summarize trends I see as I'm UFRing, so when I pull a play to illustrate something it is a complaint/credit I've seen quite a bit of. That may mean I focus on the linebackers on a particular play that may or may not be Mike Martin's fault for not shedding his guy and tackling for loss.

Google images can be weird sometimes.



October 25th, 2011 at 12:50 PM ^

When I watch video of the plays Brian has picture paged it almost seems unrealistic for the LBs to keep up.  No knock on Brian (keep it coming) but look at a rough timeline:

7:46 - Ball Snapped

7:47 - Blocker in Hawthorne's face, ball handed off

7:48 - Ryan out of play, runner cutting outside

7:49 - Demens out of play, runner cutting upfield

7:50 - Hawthorne released from block

7:51 - Kovacs tackle

I suppose it goes without saying that linebackers are under the most pressure, time-wise, in terms of play assessment but it looks like Hawthorne needs to react before the RB even has the ball.


October 25th, 2011 at 1:01 PM ^

Linebackers often have to react before the RB has the ball if they want to hold the play down. But he has some info. He knows what defense his team is running and what formation the offense is in. Then, once the play starts and he sees the center and tackle head toward the overloaded left side w/two tight ends, he books it over there. Really, when you see two tight ends to one side, your presnap read should be to head there. Since the d line slanted cutbacks aren't as much of a worry. So, it should be an easy read, although you are right that he only has a second to make it. Theoretically, he should be  a lot quicker than the o lineman too, and should run lateral to escape the block, rather than slow up and try to fight it.


October 25th, 2011 at 12:55 PM ^

Admittedly, I am slow.  As such, this should come as no surprise:  How is Hawthorne like Lionel Messi, the best soccer player in the world?  I ask because I just watched Barcelona's recent UEFA match and watching Messi blew my mind.  As such, I don't really get the comparison.  Can you expound?


October 25th, 2011 at 1:10 PM ^

...but how much different is the result of the play if Ryan is not held?  He just missed a TFL and was grabbed by the LT, who was called for the infraction.  It may be splitting hairs, and Hawthorne is still slow to react and therefore blocked, but I still thought I'd bring it up. 


October 25th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

I'm no expert but if Michigan is running a 4-3 and the opponent runs inside, those 4 DL have to do more than they're doing. They have to, at least, draw doubles and keep one of the LB clean. Hawthorne has an OL releasing clean playside of him and he's supposed to defeat that block and get all the way over there to the hole? It probably makes more sense if Roh forces the double and gives Demens a clean look. To generalize; in a 4-3 the DL has to be making plays. In the 3-4, the DL just eats blocks to keep the LB clean.

On this play, Michigans DL isn't doing either of those things.


October 25th, 2011 at 3:16 PM ^

So... this is what I am saying. I have seen many powers run against slants and on almost all of them both LBs bug out playside basically on the snap. On the ones that don't things dont go well for the D. LBs move as soon as they see someone pull, and double certainly once someone relelases downfield in an effort to block him.

If Michigan is doing something different than everyone else I've seen slant against power, I would be wrong. I find this doubtful. This is not a difficult play to make if the LB understands the defense--I've seen lots of linebackers make it.

Slanting against that play means you have two opportunities to get blockers out of the picture, the two I described above. This is not on guys slanting under blocks on the backside of the play.


October 25th, 2011 at 2:45 PM ^

While I'm not sure this was completely Hawthorne's fault (Ryan was held), it does show that the LBs still have trouble identifying plays early and keeping away from blockers, a problem we've seen the past couple of years.  this is undoubtedly due in large part to the revolving door on defense, especially at the LB coach position.  It is okay to miss a play here or there, but watch a good LB (like those at MSU), and you see them flowing to the POA and keeping away from mammoth blockers whenever possible. 

These deficiencies should disappear over time (with better coaches and more talent, it is inevitable), but I can see this being a reccuring problem this year especially against run-happy teams like Nebraska and Illinois.


October 25th, 2011 at 3:18 PM ^

It is. At no point should a WLB with a line slanting to him get blocked by a guy releasing over him. This is without question a very bad play on his part. Ryan being held, which is debatable, is one part of why the play works. The other is that Hawthorne was defending against plays that cannot work against a slant like this.

One Inch Woody…

October 26th, 2011 at 12:49 AM ^

Yeah if you look at what happens just after the snap, WLB should be moving laterally playside towards the LOS, but what is Martin doing? 

Shouldn't he be picking off the guy to his left? His job is not to keep contain, like Clark (who is doing it admirably). If he does that, Hawthorne doesn't have to freeze up in the fetal position and most likely stops this for 4 or 5 yards. 

Though, If Hawthorne gets to the gap he is assigned to as quickly as Demens, this is probably a TFL by Clark and/or Hawthorne as Clark's already a couple yards away from Gillet at the hand-off and Hawthorne is free to clean up.

Also, wtf is Floyd doing? He's being manhandled. If Demens doesn't do his job and force the run back inside, this is a 40 yard run because Floyd lost outside leverage. Especially against a TE, once you've lost leverage there's no way you can get it back as a corner.


October 26th, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

immediately flow against the direction of the slant?  Basically, this play is a counter.  It is not a play that just develops and the RB cuts back.  It looks real time like a little delay counter action.  Get the D Line flowing with the OL and then counter action pits the RB against LBs who are each targeted for blocks by FBs and pulling OL.  This is the part of the game you refer to as rock paper scissors insomuch as they out executed us on the play.

It is plausible that during film study EMU saw that our LBs were slow to diagnose run direction and late to flow to the ball; some refer to this as a false step, which is all it can take sometimes to trun right into a block versus beating it to a spot.  With experience, this becomes less and less of a problem.

You're not wrong in isolating this play, but you've got to keep in mind that these 3 guys are relatively young with regards to experience and that is a major factor in this.  It is not that we've somehow recruited LBs who all cannot act like 5th senior robots or are incapable of performing like other LBs on other teams.  When I listen to Hoke and Mattison talk about the defense, they allude to a lof of these issues when they speak of consistency.  They want guys to take a read step and go, not step, think, go, stop, go, eat a block, etc. 

I think this play highlights a couple failures all around and one of poor execution.  I would like to see one DL get some penetration and disrupt that pull action or create traffic in the backfield, but it seems to me that they are content in just slanting without reacting to the OL's moves.  If I'm in the 3 tech and my guard of center pulls out, I am going upfield in a hurry.