Picture Pages: Whither Safeties Comment Count

Brian December 6th, 2011 at 2:01 PM

First: a confession. I really wanted to have the UFR's raring to go early this week. You must believe me. I wanted to play Fallout 3, which I'd saved as an end of the year treat, slightly more. So… yeah. I am through the main bit of that and am now plowing through the OSU game at all speed. I apologize for lackadaisical behavior and certainly hope Michigan is taking their film breakdowns more seriously than I am.

Second: a confusion. If you're like me, Michigan's inexplicable lack of a free safety was a surprising and disconcerting feature of the Akron State Golden Bobcats game. Before, Michigan had safeties. During… not so much. The reason for this was twofold. One:



Michigan spent a lot of time in formations like this with Kovacs rolled up to the line of scrimmage. This leaves just one deep safety.



The guy on the far right in this still coming over the top of a tight end that's pretty dang covered is Troy Woolfolk. Result:


Not quite an eighty yard touchdown. This was the very next drive after Woolfolk did the same thing on incredibly easy Braxton Miller touchdown one.

And then… I mean… WTF. It's third and twenty seven for OSU on their own three yard line, and despite having a mistake-prone Braxton Miller and third and a billion from the three, Ohio State throws.

The setup:


OSU's in an I, Michigan is in its usual under, albeit a nickel. You can see Kovacs rolled up to the line at the top of the screen; Floyd and Woolfolk are your two deep safeties.

OSU goes straight dropback. Michigan rushes three. You can see Ryan dropping off in the frame below; He'll set up to contain scrambles. Martin and RVB are doubled and get nowhere, but Roh got a speed rush on Mike Adams:


Adams tackles Roh and picks up the holding call that will give Michigan a safety. Huge play from Roh against a first round pick. But that's another Picture Pages. (It's not, actually.)


Given time, Miller sets up and chucks it. Where is Woolfolk?


On the 25, covering the slot receiver. Oh, balls.






54-yard TD on which Woolfolk and Countess jump the underneath route:

Near 80 yard touchdown:

Third and twenty-seven:

Items of Interest

WTF was this? The consistency with which Woolfolk was jumping the underneath route suggests it was part of Mattison's gameplan. Watch Woolfolk on the video just above: he is sitting on the slot receiver. But if Woolfolk is supposed to come up in a robber, why the hell is Countess playing outside of Posey on both of the latter two throws?

On the first one Spielman starts chattering about how Countess can't give up in the inside, and my immediate thought was "dude that is not on him, that is on the free safety losing his mind." Then the second one happens and… if it's third and twenty seven and your free safety vacates the deep middle for the third time in seven minutes(!) can it really be Woolfolk blowing an assignment? Probably not. I have not yet run across the sideline reporter screaming "OH MY GOD GREG MATTISON IS LITERALLY EATING TROY WOOLFOLK'S INTERNAL ORGANS FOR BUSTING SPECTACULARLY THREE TIMES IN SEVEN MINUTES AAAAAAAAAH THEY TOLD ME THIS WOULDN'T BE LIKE COVERING BRIAN KELLY NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN." If Woolfolk had not been doing what he was supposed to, this would have happened.

So. We think Michigan is playing a three deep coverage on which the middle safety is intentionally sucking up on intermediate routes and the corner is playing outside. That does not make sense. That throw in the middle of the field is easy relative to deep fly routes down the sideline—that's why there's always a deep safety—and Michigan is giving it to OSU all day. Even on third and twenty-seven.

I don't get it, man. Even if you assume Countess is a freshman and thus screwing up, you're still putting him one on one with Posey all game with no help at all over the top. That doesn't seem like a good strategy.

On the other hand. Maybe you can't blame Woolfolk for these plays because he was executing his assignment. I find it hard to believe he is not at fault on the 54-yard WTF on OSU's first drive and the half-ending corner route on which he reacted very late. If Michigan lost that game that was going to be the kid's legacy, sorry to say. OSU's gameplan was based around attacking 1) Morgan and 2) Woolfolk with a side of Floyd and Countess.

Braxton Miller problems. Putting Kovacs in the box on every play restricts what you can run in coverage and exposes the middle of the field; that spot Woolfolk keeps running into is the same one Stoneburner will exploit for a huge gain on OSU's disconcerting 82-second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On that play the safety (now Gordon) stayed deep and there was no one to tackle once Stoneburner found the soft spot in the zone.

[Update: you can see Gordon turn and run for the post, leaving no one behind Demens.]

So your choice is between opening that up and opening up the deep stuff; obviously neither of those is a great choice.

Hurray Roh. Roh has not developed into the devastating pass rusher Michigan fans were hoping for this summer. He's got four sacks, which is amongst the team lead but far short of the numbers an impact player would put up. Here, though, he beats a very good tackle and gets paid for his effort. Thumbs up.


Blue in Seattle

December 6th, 2011 at 3:39 PM ^

That was the second game that Braxton Miller had Posey as a target.  I didn't go back to make a tally of all the incompletions, but Miller had plenty of overthrown balls to receivers.  This game seemed like the ND game, but with the roles reversed, and Denard only losing one fumble (as opposed to ND's two unforced errors added to the various forced ones).  I think the film shows that Braxton does whatever he wants, and has the running ability to make it work when it shouldn't.  Then an option to throw it to the tight end on the bootleg scramble when they are in the redzone.  Which, if I remember correctly from someone's picture pages had the description of "RPS-d Bitch" on it.

On the Countess PBU, Braxton underthrew the ball, maybe because Countess had fallen behind and then nearly pulled out a Woodsenesque speed burst to nearly intercept the pass, but also maybe because Braxton Miller is a freshman 1 and a half threat QB.  Not saying it isn't prudent to have a safety over the top, just saying that the film from all games without Posey gave an accurate representation of the throwing threat of Braxton Miller.  The first TD was an arm punt that the receiver stopped to catch.  Even if the design was man to man, that was a Worst Waldo coverage gaff.

Now if the UFR indicates that Mattison did not adjust things toward the 4th quarter, especially on the last OSU drive, then I'll add questionable coaching tactics on top of Posey X-factored game plan.  Overall I think that what we saw was that we do not have an elite secondary.  We have a well techniqued secondary based on improvement season to season, but that secondary is 75% grit to 25% glimmer.  And Kovacs coachiness came through immediately in the press conference.  He called it an ugly performance twice, but good enough to win.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

I was incredibly confused about the defensive gameplan. But I think what hampered GMat was Miller's running ability. The fact is it's really difficult to defend an athlete like him while locking down a future NFLer deep. It's very hard to do both. So I think GMat was trying to limit the rush lanes for Miller while relying on his inaccuracy throwing deep. It didn't work that well but I think that was the mindset. On the last drive, however, I though GMat was crazy using the okie zone blitz formation. Almost gave me a heart attack.


December 7th, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

Osu never threw the ball down field once all year. Game plan was simple. Bring safety up and stop the run. Puerto played well and burned us but secondary played exactly how they game planned. Osu caught us off guard but our coaches stategy worked. We will stop your run and miller won't beat us in the air. He didn't....we won


December 6th, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

The players said that on the first long TD pass the CBs were playing one coverage and the safeties another. Obviously, there was a screw up but they suggested it was a communication issue. It looked to me like the safety on that side, Gordon?, biffed it.

Someone, I think Kovacs, said that they blew two coverages on the last OSU TD also. So yeah, they certainly weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing. Consequently, once you've factored in that huge knowledge gap (not knowing what was called or who is executing the proper call), I am unsure what you can learn from just scrubbing the tape.

Some of the guys out there are doing and expecting other guys to be doing things that Mattison never intended for them to do. Others are doing what Mattison expected but not what their teammates expected.

I found Fallout 3 to be disappointing. I liked the diversity in skill choices and plot path but really didn't like the combat system. Something more FPS would have been more to my liking and I know you could play it like an FPS (avoiding that paused combat screen) but that was not every satisfying either. Combat had become boring by the end.


December 6th, 2011 at 4:27 PM ^

I never shook the feeling this season that Woolfolk was being given more of a chance than his play merited because he was a senior and because his father is Michigan royalty. This analysis only reinforces it.

I look forward to next year's secondary when there are no reasons for "WTF is that guy playing?" moments.