Picture Pages: The Total Lack Of Backside DE Pursuit

Submitted by Brian on October 12th, 2010 at 3:44 PM

What happened on the 60-yard touchdown? The opposite of the thing that MSU did to prevent a 60-yard touchdown. This is a zone stretch. Michigan State has just run a stretch that creased the line because of a poor pursuit angle from Obi Ezeh. They tacked on a 15-yard facemask and got the ball out from deep in their own territory.

On the next play they run the same play to the other side of the line. Setup: msu-zone-td-1

Michigan is a 4-4 front with the linebackers playing even. Kovacs is rolled up to the weak side. MSU was in a balanced ace twins formation but pulled the backside TE to be an H-back on an overloaded line. The snap:msu-zone-td-3

It's a zone stretch. By this point something bad and unusual has happened: MSU has successfully scooped Mike Martin. See Mouton right in front of the umpire? He's got the MSU C coming out on him. The backside guard has his helmet across martin and will get a cutback gap for his running back.

Note Kovacs above flowing down the line. He has to check on Cousins first, then flow down after the ballcarrier in case he tries to cut it all the way back. A moment later the handoff has yet to be made but we're at a critical point:msu-zone-td-4

Ezeh is headed to the front side of the play. Many people have criticized him on this play for not being around but this is his assignment. MSU has overloaded one side of the field and he is the outside force defender. This is hypothetically a great adjustment. The guard releasing downfield has no chance to block him and Gordon is hitting it up to absorb the TEs block. If Baker has to bounce Ezeh will be there unblocked.

Note two things: Martin is totally sealed now and this frame is just like a frame we saw on the last Picture Pages where the backside DE is about to disengage from his blocker and flow down the line for cutbacks. Here:backside-flow-3

Back to this play, on the next frame we see… wait, where the hell is Banks?msu-zone-td-5

Banks?

msu-zone-td-7

BANKS!?!?!?

Right now Banks should be directly between the two State linemen blocking no one downfield. Maybe he won't make a tackle. Maybe Martin getting sealed here makes this cutback a dangerous proposition either way. Maybe an excellent back like Baker breaks a tackle. But a the very least, 280 pounds of defensive end in a not-very-big hole slows Baker down significantly.

Instead of a 280 pound defensive end there is air:msu-zone-td-8

Note that poor Mouton has no chance here since he took a shove from the center who  got the scoop on Martin. Then the tackle who had no one to block because Michigan was shooting Ezeh outside decides he may as well block the one guy still in the area. Linebacker double team downfield and back running in to area equals death.

Cam Gordon comes up hard but is too far to the inside…msu-zone-td-9

…(and Banks is still at the LOS)…

msu-zone-td-10

…seeya, let's burn something.

[Video still en route.]

Object lessons:

  • NOT Ezeh's fault. He had an assignment. Would he have executed it? Eh… maybe. But he can't be blamed for following his assignment on a cutback run he had a frontside gap on.
  • Not Mouton's fault much, if at all. Martin made it hard on him by allowing the C something close to a free release and then the clever scheme Michigan ran got Michigan a free hitter to the frontside… and a doubled linebacker to the backside.
  • IME, this is 90% on Banks and Martin. Yes, Gordon came up too shallow and robbed himself of an angle but Baker's hard cutback wasn't impeded in the slightest and when someone shoots into the secondary like that to the backside of a play it's not surprising that the safety was caught off guard. If Gordon is more experienced here maybe he gets an angle and cuts this down to a 40 yard gain or something.

    But giving up that gap is on Martin, and not closing it down, or slowing it down, is on Banks. Banks's error is greater since he's not dealing with a double team and all he has to do is run away from his blocker into the gap. He doesn't have to beat anything. He just has to get in the way. Instead he falls on his butt because he does not get away from the LOS and gets caught up in the wash of Martin getting playside of his blocker.

  • The rest of it is Gordon. He's not that fast and took a poor angle. He was not going to be able to hold this down much but there's a big difference between 40 and 60 yards.
  • This is actually a clever scheme that takes advantage of Michigan's strengths and beats the blocking scheme. The shame of the play here is that its weak point so ruthlessly exploited is Mike Martin's gap. Mike Martin is Michigan's best defensive player and can almost always be relied upon to not do what we saw here. If Martin does what he usually does, Ezeh has a shot at a TFL on Baker as he tries to bounce it outside Roh. If fifth-year-senior Banks does not get caught up in the wash from Martin's attempt to rectify his error, Baker gets a decent run that probably comes up short of first down yardage. Neither of these things happened and Cam Gordon was subjected to tremendous pressure he did not roll double sixes on.
  • Man it would have been nice to be in two-high here. Kovacs coming downhill at this holds it down, too.

Comments

North Star

October 12th, 2010 at 4:47 PM ^

- how much more evidence do we need to conclude we hae a big defensive coaching issue?  Compare the first DE pursuit picture pages - MSU Defense executed and M did not - MSU arguably had 3 defenders in a position to make a play - Greg Jones (who whiffed), the backside DE (who did not) and the filling safety who may also have been in a position to hold it down to a 10 or 15 yard gain vs. TD - and that is with dilithium running the ball and a resulting very narrow window to make a play.  I understand this is an ongoing debate that people are tired of and both experience and coaching are contributing here, but this will not get fixed w/o better defensive coaching. 

snowcrash

October 12th, 2010 at 5:20 PM ^

Execution is the responsibility of the players. This wasn't a case of the players not knowing what to do, it was a case of the players knowing what to do but being unable to do it. The coaches can drill them to do all the right things in practice and use a scheme that puts them in position to succeed, but they can't make the plays on the field.

Blaming the coaches for the players' poor execution is just as much of a cop-out as blaming the teacher every time a student does poorly on a test. 

mejunglechop

October 12th, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

...except that the teacher teaches at one of the best schools in the country, has state of the art resources at his disposal and is allowed to recruit his students. (this last part obviously doesn't apply to Banks, but it does for others.)

North Star

October 12th, 2010 at 6:56 PM ^

and I might agree if the lack of execution was intermittent  - but we've had consistent lack of execution - well coached teams execute well and poorly coached teams do not.  The harder question is what do you do about it?  Replacing GERG probably doesn't fix the problem and I can't see Rodriguez cutting loose the defensive coaches he brought over from WV.  I think he'd rather have the continuity at this stage (including in recruiting) than make that kind of change, at least while he feels he needs to solidify his own job standing. 

MrVociferous

October 12th, 2010 at 10:04 PM ^

I'm sure its Rich Rod and all of the offensve coaches fault when the players don't execute and do things like catch the ball.  Because, you know, anytime a player does something wrong its because the coach didn't teach him how to do it right.

caup

October 13th, 2010 at 10:32 AM ^

Proper tackling, which was one of the biggest problems versus MSU, is to a large extend coaching.

The coaches need to have Cam Gordon do full pad tackling drills against the scout team EVERY DAY this week.  His technique is pathetic.

Erik_in_Dayton

October 12th, 2010 at 4:13 PM ^

So is he being too aggressive here? He shoots into the backfield when, with the benefit of hindsight, he would have tried to meet the back a yard or two past the line of scrimmage...I don't know if it's fair to hold him to the standard of using hindsight here or not.  I do know that my totally non-expert dislike of the 3-3-5 is based on plays like this, where the Spur (Bandit?) seems to be out of the play on inside runs from the get-go. 

readyourguard

October 13th, 2010 at 7:15 AM ^

While I watched the video yesterday, I felt Ezeh flew way too far over the top (despite having outside contain) and Martin simply didn't come down the line hard enough (I thought he was held a little, but whatever).  I still feel that way about Ezeh....at some point he has to know when the play ISN'T going exactly as the diagram in the scouting report says the play's supposed to go.  This is where football/linebacker intuition comes into play.

My problem with this play is Kovacs.   I realize he has contain responsibilities in the event of PAP/Cousin roll out but to run upfield 3 yards simply takes himself out of any other potential play.  I NEVER, EVER coach my outside linebacker to flow up field that far.  Knowing MSU runs a zone stretch and the formation leans more to run than pass, I'd have him lined up 2 yards off the line, ready fire up field in the event of a roll out but ALSO be in position for the cut-back that States has shown all year long.

SDCran

October 12th, 2010 at 5:43 PM ^

Kovacs in the UMass game makes that tackle.  Unfortunately, he learned to follow his assignment and stay with the QB. (which actually helped in a number of plays Saturday.  UM kept pressure on the QB every time they tried a bootleg)

thesauce2424

October 12th, 2010 at 4:24 PM ^

This may sound like sour grapes but, does it appear to anyone else that martin still should have been able to make that tackle-if not for being held? In frame six it looks like he is coming off that block and is free and then in frame seven it looks like he is being held from behind. Also, If Kovacks isn't so deep in the backfield( ie flat, like you're supposed to be) he has a shot to come down the line and make that tackle or atleast make baker think twice about cutting back.  Maybe I'm just seeing things.

Number 7

October 12th, 2010 at 5:14 PM ^

The more questionable blocks are

1) whatever the MSU tackle did to make Banks go to the ground (it could have been nothing -- Banks realizes he's overplaying and loses his balance -- it could have been a legal push to the shoulder from the side, or it could have been an illegal push from behind.

2) the engagement with Mouton downfield. 

Can't be sure from still images that either are illegal, but both blocks are instrumental in springing the play.

me

October 12th, 2010 at 4:34 PM ^

and not Thomas Gordon?

 

Gordon engages an already engaged TE (by Roh) and then gets swallowed up by the FB.  That seems odd, but I know very little

ESNY

October 12th, 2010 at 5:53 PM ^

Does seem like Ezeh should've been inside and not Gordon.   I think thats exactly what happened on the 40 yd TD run to the far side of the field too.  Ezeh went too far outside (top of the screen) and left an enormous gap that Bell went through untouched on the way to the end zone.

noahtahl

October 12th, 2010 at 4:35 PM ^

5th yr senior , 6 game starter =(   Banks

walk on  ,  14 game starter= (       Kovacs

superstar, 18 game starter=)       Martin

all 3 of them on the same bad page=(   Touchdown State and another year of in state abuse and ridicule

imafreak1

October 12th, 2010 at 4:45 PM ^

I have to put the blame here on Martin*. With 3 down lineman the nosetackle's job is to eat blocks and keep the LBers clean. He is lined up over the center and appears to give him nearly a free release. Mouton has a perfect angle to shut the play down--if the center isn't immediately on him.

*assuming he's not slanting or something. It's pretty hard to even understand how he gets so thoroughly sealed by a guy that starts so far non-playside of him.

Buzz

October 12th, 2010 at 4:54 PM ^

...that the D is getting a bit better week by week.  Then I'll feel a bit better. I don't think anyone here would be crazy enough to think that they're going to pitch a shutout or anything, but they need us to toss me a bone.  They need to hold teams on third and long consistently.  They need to stop giving up huge plays.  Something.  Anything.  Pretty please?

zlionsfan

October 12th, 2010 at 8:08 PM ^

you can probably have a skeleton, most likely that of Gary Nord.

But in both cases, yes, Michigan's defense should be making some tasty bone soup. Both teams have serious issues at QB; anything that prevents the secondary from flailing at downfield passes is a good thing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule shows teams with pretty good offenses. Hopefully those execution issues will start to fade away over the next few weeks.

bronxblue

October 12th, 2010 at 7:33 PM ^

To be fair, the defense shut out MSU on its first three drives, giving up about 70 yards total.  If the offense had netted 10-14 points instead of the 3 they wound up with, the outcome might be different.  MSU would probably start throwing the ball more, the crowd would be more into it (which would help this young defense), and then who knows what happens.  Yes, the defense played badly in spots, but Saturday was a decent effort for stretches, and the offense left too many points out there.

Bielfeldt's Calves

October 12th, 2010 at 5:21 PM ^

A lot of what defense is about is desire. The want to stop and destroy. This D needs  toughness, especially to make up for it's deficiencies.

I don't know, maybe I'm over simplifying things, but we hear a lot about being "all in for Michigan" from the offensive side of the ball and I can't recall hearing that from the defensive side.

Is it fair to cal them out? I don't know. But at some point pride has to take over, doesn't it?

bronxblue

October 12th, 2010 at 7:26 PM ^

How about some old-fashion grit?

I seriously doubt that the defensive players are not "all in for Michigan."  They certainly look like they are trying out there; they are just limited athletically and have players out there who, in a different situation, would be on the bench or, at the very least, not expected to produce at a B10 level as first-year players.  This offense looked horrible that first year because there was little talent on that side of the ball, and then two years later (with recruiting and experience), they look explosive.  It takes time, and challenging a player's passion for the game because he has disappointed on the field is silly.  Hate the result and the execution if you want, but don't question kids who are by all accounts doing the best they can.

contra mundum

October 12th, 2010 at 5:27 PM ^

I gotta disagree about Ezeh. He's not threatened with any outside movement by the RB..T.Gordon has the lead blocker.

Ezeh should keep enough leverage on the ball carrier that he can make either play in this case because he's totally unblocked.

He has some outside responsibility here, but his first responsibility is the ball carrier.

Martin got caught up in the combo block. Had he gotten frontside of the OG, he'd flow along the LOS and make this play. Banks does nothing more than hold  his gap and apparently fall down.

I'd prefer to see Mouton stack up the OC a little better and cut down on the cut back gap.

Ezeh should shuffle left..just outside of RVB, not all way outside the c gap.

realkato

October 12th, 2010 at 5:37 PM ^

I looked at this play extensively (http://realkato.com/blog.php?pid=1728). Who is the DL to the left of Martin? Is that Patterson? Whoever he is, I think some of the blame is on him. He lines up directly over the right tackle and that tells me he's got two-gap responsibility on that side (the B and C gaps). If that's the case, it seems like he shouldn't be turned to the side, moving down the LOS towards the playside, because that completely negates his chances of covering the B gap and closing down that cutback lane himself. Note that Baker passes within a couple feet of him, while his back is turned. That can't be right.

I agree that Ezeh is not to blame here; I'm pretty sure he's supposed to go over the top and defend the bounce-out.

Also note that the TE was covered on the play, so this was an obvious running formation. We thought that was weird a season or two ago when Michigan did that, but this play shows some of the personnel advantages this formation can give you.

contra mundum

October 12th, 2010 at 7:48 PM ^

Ezeh only needs to worry about outside of Roh, if the TE trys to seal up Roh. If not, Roh has contain and Ezeh is free to find the ball and attack. The TE never threatened Roh..he takes T.Gordon, leaving Ezeh unblocked.

If Ezeh is run blitzing, then this is different, but he's clearly not. There is no overload situation, because we have every gap on that side covered.

Ezeh overeacts to the motion TE..and runs frontside instead of reading the back and the motioning TE. the fact that the TE didn't continue to the outside, tells you that this is designed to run between the tackles.

Ezeh should stay as wide as the motioning TE..find the ball and react. He may not have had time to make this play, but he did not react approriately.

go16blue

October 12th, 2010 at 8:50 PM ^

We run a 4-4, with Kovacs on the line... It would work better if he was a two high safety... so a 4-3 is what your saying, right? I get why we went to the 3-3-5 and all that, and that mich running a 4-3 would get decimated by a passing offense at this point, but theres a reason the 4-3 works against big ten power running teams. im not sayin, im just sayin.

hail2m

October 12th, 2010 at 10:19 PM ^

Unfortunately, I still feel sick. No holding call only a touchdown call. There isn't one guy at fault, they are all playing touch football when they should be mauling the guy across from them...missed opportunities and tackles = painful disappointment.

ST3

October 13th, 2010 at 12:25 AM ^

I understand playing a 3-3-5 against a team with 3 wide receivers, but staee is going heavy with this package. The TE is covered up, so he's not a receiving threat. The LT is not a receiving threat either. So that leaves 2 WR, and the H-back. Do we really need 5 DBs (because that's what they are, I don't buy this spur and bandit crap) against 2 WRs? This is a young, inexperienced defense. I don't think anybody would mind them calling a timeout to get the right personnel on the field. 

Scheme-wise, It looks like T. Gordon and Ezeh are running some sort of stunt where Gordon crashes inside and Ezeh loops around outside for contain, but I have to seriously question the wisdom of having T. Gordon trying to take on their H-back. I think Gordon was supposed to fill the gap that should have been Ezeh's based on the initial lineup, but Gordon gets swallowed up. I don't blame him. He should be playing out in space, not in the middle of things. It's the same reason all of you laugh when people suggest putting Kovacs at MLB.

SeattleChris

October 13th, 2010 at 1:09 AM ^

We didn't have it on this play and we got burned. Last line of defense, the safety takes an improper angle - it's over. We got caught, MSU back made a great cut and burst. Will any of you actually feel better about this loss if you can claim victory in the academic argument of coaching vs. execution on a single play?