Defensive Strategy

Submitted by AC1997 on October 6th, 2008 at 1:57 PM

We can bitch about the offensive ineptitude all season - but most of us have prepared ourselves for that.  We're also prepared to lose some football games.  Heck, we're even coming to realize and prepare for freshman mistakes like bad routes, lack of blocking by skill players, and fumbles.  But what I am NOT prepared for is a veteran defense giving up 500 yards and 45 points.  They can't blame that on the offense this week.  Only the late Odoms fumble was an example of the D being put in a bad spot.  Otherwise the offense got them a lead and Zoltan pinned Illinois deep on most occassions.  This loss was ALL on the defense. 

Let me preface this entry by saying that I don't have a lot of football knowledge when it comes to specific formations, plays, or strategies.  There are no doubt plenty of readers who can comment on those details and we'll get some more insight in the UFR.  I was at the game and sitting in the fourth row, so my perspective may also be skewed with regard to what was actually happening.

That being said, I was frustrated by what I perceived to be a "prevent" defense being implemented consistently against Illinois in obvious passing downs.  My definition of "prevent" is when you rush only three guys and drop 8 into a soft zone.  I don't care if those three guys are Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Derrick Thomas - when you have 5 offensive lineman blocking three rushers you're going to fail more often than you succeed.  Against Illinois there were too many replays where I saw one of their offensive lineman looking around for someone to block and not finding anyone. 

The fact is, Juice Williams is not a great passing QB.  I'm sure ILL fans will point to his stats against Michigan to argue that point.  But the guy completed only 50% of his passes.  The fact that 13 completions went for 300+ yards is on the defense.  Whenever he was pressured, he fired as inaccurately as Threet does on most occassions.  But when he had all day to sit around looking for a receiver, he picked us apart.  Like the DL analogy above, I'm convinced that a good pass rush will create an All-Pro corner out of a mediocre one.  I don't care if you have Woodson, Law, and Jackson as your DBs - if they have to cover for a long time and the QB has a chance to read the defense, they'll lose most of the time.  And that's what you saw on Saturday (in my opinion).

The 3-man rush, which I associate with "prevent" looked to be a failure on Saturday.  I was told that Shafer loves to blitz.....but where was it?  I know you take a risk when you blitz against a 5-wide formation with a running QB.  But was that risk greater than letting Juice F-ing Williams pick you apart from an easy chair inside the pocket?  I think we all realize that the defense has to create a turnover or two to compete against tough teams.  How do you expect to get a turnover if you're rushing three and sitting in a soft zone? 

That's my gripe - the defense blew the game and I thought they failed both in strategy and execution.  Even a Henne-Hart-Manningham offense is going to struggle to overcome 45 points and 500 yards of offense.  I thought Michigan should/could have scored 31 points - counting the 4 points that Lopata missed and the wide open miss of Odoms running down the middle of the field.  Scoring 31 points with this young offense is pretty good....and we would have still lost by two touchdowns thanks to the defense. 

Comments

Michael

October 6th, 2008 at 2:41 PM ^

You have some good points, and I agree that this one is on the defense. You cannot  give up that many yards and that many points and still expect to win, unless you are Mizzou.

 

With that said, I saw a little different of a story with our defensive strategy. I, like you, do not profess to have a lot of knowledge of X's and O's. What I saw happening early in the game was that we were blitzing our guys out of position to make plays - the Dufrene screen reception for a TD is a primary example. The problem I see with Shafer so far is that he might be a little too "blitz happy." It is no surprise when we blitz, so we lose some deception because we are a blitz happy defense.
However, I can see how it might be necessary to blitz because we are trying to protect our secondary. Think back to the 2006 season - our secondary was really bad, as it would turn out, but it was disguised by the fact that we had Woodley and Branch on the D-line getting pressure.
I think that we stopped blitzing and went into a coverage scheme once Shafer realized that we were getting burned by screens and quick throws - Juice did just enough to keep us off-balance.

 

Anyhow, I think that what this all ultimately comes down to is a lack of talent on defense in key areas, particularly at Safety and Linebacker. We have mental errors which lead to huge gaps in coverage, poor tackling angles, and blown assignments (cough, Stevie Brown) I think the fact that our D-Line and CBs are legit has largely kept these weaknesses from being exposed, but Illinois went right after us time and time again using screens, and quick, short passes over the middle.
And, I think we should all credit Illinois for having a great gameplan and even better execution. Williams, Benn, and even Dufrene are talented players who have experience. A breakout game like this was invitable for this Illinois team - I was just hoping it wouldn't have been against us!

 

Oh, and Gsimmons, please feel free to step in here and drop some knowledge on all of us aspiring/NCAA football defensive coordinators!

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 2:38 PM ^

"Let me preface this entry by saying that I don't have a lot of football knowledge when it comes to specific formations, plays, or strategies. There are no doubt plenty of readers who can comment on those details and we'll get some more insight in the UFR. I was at the game and sitting in the fourth row, so my perspective may also be skewed with regard to what was actually happening."

At what point did it make sense to continue writing after this?

Michael

October 6th, 2008 at 2:46 PM ^

This is America, yes? People can express their opinions freely. He was merely offering a disclaimer, and since I offered a similar one in my response, I feel it's necessary to respond to what you said.

I think it's good to see people writing like this because it generates discussion and is an opportunity for all of us to become more educated. Posts like yours only stifles legitimate discussion and knowledge-seeking. At what point do you draw the line between legit posting and dumb conversation? Are you saying that only experts should be posting about X's and O's? Why would you even write that? It would have been less time-consuming for you to hit the "back" button on your browser and go on with your life.

Blue Lurker

October 6th, 2008 at 2:47 PM ^

More people might post if we didn't have people like you bitching about every post that they don't like.   If you don't like what someone posts, stop reading it.   Consturctive critisism is fine but post like the above are unnecessary.

Consider this.  If more people feel okay to post = more traffic to the site = more money for Brian = an even better blog.  If you personally want to make up the difference in lost money I am sure that Brian will accept your check.

PattyMax64

October 6th, 2008 at 4:14 PM ^

Shock...how many times a day do you think you get that.  Im not trying to start anything, but at some point, none of us are experts (aside from gsimmons) and going after someone for their disclaimer is low.  Try to stay positive, none of us here are Buckeyes or anything like that.  We are all on the same side

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 4:23 PM ^

My problem isn't the disclaimer, it's that after he established he wasn't an expert, instead of asking questions to validate his thoughts, he posted he thoughts for all of us to read.  If you reviewed my posts, you'd see I'm very accomodating to questions (other than "Why doesn't Minor get more carries" after the 100th time).  What I'm not ok with is people thinking they can express terrible opinions just because it's the internet.  Once people hear bullshit enough, they take it as fact.  Just think about the idiots you've had sitting by you at sporting events.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 2:56 PM ^

The Rivals board gets boatloads of posts, and it's one step above a lobotomy on the intelligence scale. I don't buy the argument.

Michael

October 6th, 2008 at 3:15 PM ^

Aren't you a lawyer? Shouldn't there be some semblance of logic in what you say?

1. The Rivals community is composed of different people, perhaps THAT is the reason why their content is "one step above labotomy." 

2. There is nothing unintelligent about this post. It is well-written and is obviously the opinion of a person who has a genuine interest in having a discussion. 

3. Your post is an irony. If your argument is "more irellevent posts = Rivals boards," then you compound this problem with your irellevent one-liners which contribute NOTHING. Maybe this is your way of generating traffic to your website; I assure you, it's having the opposite effect.

There is NO REASON for hostility like this when someone takes the time to create a well-written and well-intentioned diary entry. There are not refereneces to genitalia, and there wasn't even an LOL in there.

At least, at the end of the day, I get the impression that most of the people who post on these boards hold little regard for anything you say.This just furthers the point.  It seems that the only thing you contribute to mgoblog is the creation of animosity - are you comfortable with this? We are all Michigan fans and it would be nice to see the disappearance of people who make these boards and diaries at times unbearable.

 

wolvrine32

October 6th, 2008 at 3:26 PM ^

All I can say is while you may or may not agree with the content of the gentleman's diary, it wasn't poorly written or in any way deserving of a lobotomy.  The disclaimer was his way (and lots of people do it) of saying "my perspective comes as a casual fan of the game."  Nothing wrong with that. 

 If you want expert analysis everytime, may I suggest you limit yourselves to posts authored by "brian" or "gsimmons".

bsb2002

October 6th, 2008 at 3:42 PM ^

i thought we blitzed too much and got burned for it. illinois wasnt picking us apart, they were waiting for us to get out of position and hitting big plays. that was basically a nightmare scenario for the shafer school of defense

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 4:20 PM ^

I'll explain why I ripped this post then.  First, he disclaims that he knows nothing about defensive strategy and had a bad perspective.  Ok, I can tolerate that if he's just asking questions.  But then he says "That's my gripe - the defense blew the game and I thought they failed both in strategy and execution.".  If you've already established you don't know the strategy and had a terrible perspective, why are you opining that they failed and blew the game?  It wasn't the fumbles, it wasn't the 3 and outs or 6 points after scoring 14 in 10 minutes, it was the defense completely?

Then, this statement: "The 3-man rush, which I associate with "prevent" looked to be a failure on Saturday.  I was told that Shafer loves to blitz.....but where was it?  I know you take a risk when you blitz against a 5-wide formation with a running QB.  But was that risk greater than letting Juice F-ing Williams pick you apart from an easy chair inside the pocket?  I think we all realize that the defense has to create a turnover or two to compete against tough teams.  How do you expect to get a turnover if you're rushing three and sitting in a soft zone? "

First, prevent is deep, deep safeties, probably a deep cover 3 where you keep everything in front of you.  NCAA 2009 101 right there.  Second, he blitzed hard at the start, Illinois figured it out and then turned around to take a 17-14 lead so Schafer adjusted and held them down until a couple big plays busted out.  Third, you actually take a bigger risk blitzing against a 5 wide formation against a passing QB because someone HAS to be open by simple math.  Fourth, Juice Williams is not a very good passing QB overall, a few busted coverages do not mean he's OMG awesome passer.

Fifth, don't include me in "I think we all realize" because I don't agree.  The defense doesn't need turnovers to compete against tough teams, it needs to stop giving up plays of > 40 yards at a rate of 5 a game.  In order to do this, they need to tackle and cover, not overly complicated and would be an issue regardless of whatever scheme you think they should be running to generate turnovers.  Sixth and final point, rushing 3 and sitting in a soft zone forces the QB to either A)Scramble into the spy, B)Sack from coverage, C) Throwaway, D)Interception or E)Complete the pass but hopefully get immediately tackled.  I think it's much more likely to force a TO from Juice by making him pass than somehow hoping that blitzing 2 linebackers will actually get near him this time because dammit we're Michigan and our linebackers should be able to tackle that peon.

Look, you established your lack of knowledge then presented your (admittedly ignorant) opinion as fact, criticized the coaching staff with the same limitations as the last point, and prefaced everything with "I perceive, I think, I thought, my opinion, etc".  All I'm saying is that just because this is the internet and it's anonymous doesn't mean you have the right to say whatever the hell you want.  And if you think that's the case, then I have the right to point out what a illogical mess your post is.  

TL;DR - Thesis, Facts, Analysis, Conclusion.  The Scientific Method, use it.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 4:22 PM ^

I think you guys missed the point. I didn't mean to imply the original post was one step above a lobotomy. I was taking issue with "Blue Lurker's" assertion that more posts = better site. I used Rivals as an example - if the uptic in posts are comrpised of idiocy (which, in my mind, Rivals board largely is), then no, the site is not better.

Blue Lurker

October 6th, 2008 at 5:46 PM ^

So you are saying that ShockFX telling AC1997 to STFU is OK?  In that case I guess this place is already the same as Rivals.

Or you can see that MGoBlog is nowhere near the Rivals chaos, having people post is a good thing, and this can only help this site be even better than it already is.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 4:25 PM ^

Well he does have the right to say anything he wants. Just as anyone has a right to take excpetion with it. That's what most don't seem to understand.

AC1997

October 6th, 2008 at 4:59 PM ^

Wow....I guess I can never post again. Apparently you have to be qualified to coach college football or analyze film for an NFL team in order to post on this website. Let me apologize to all of you for wasting your time.

My disclaimer was meant as a preface to my comment - What I was saying is that I might be totally wrong, but that's what I saw. I threw it out there for the audience to discuss. I thought I saw waaaaay too much 3-man rush in the second half and that resulted in Juice standing around picking apart the secondary. You're free to debate my perspective and tell me I'm wrong.

I guess these are only reserved for posting your own preview of Big Ten games, posting alternate logos, posting thoughts on our CB depth for 2010. Next time I post I'll try to make guys like ShockFX happy by posting as if I know everything there is to know about football and preaching about my take on it. Then you'll be happy, right?

Listen - I watch a lot of football. I've been to a majority of Michigan games for the past 15 years, and I know the ins and outs of the game. But while sitting in my seats that happen to be in the fourth row I don't feel confident in my interpretation of the defense. That's why I added the disclaimer. For the record, I still think that our defense has to carry this team in most games. That means putting the offense in a position to succeed. The best way to do that is through turnovers. I agree that you can win without them, but it would take a VERY good performance by the defense to win without a turnover. If before the game you had to tell the offense that they needed to score 38 points to win, how many people would have felt good about that?

But anyway, sorry to waste all of your time. I'll avoid ever posting again and wait for readers like ShockFX to enlighten us with their immense knowledge of the game.

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 5:38 PM ^

Alternatively you could just stop presenting your opinion as fact (regardless of the disclaimer your tone and presentation are what matter) and not criticize coaches that have been with this team for less than a year.

I have no issue with debate.  I have issue with you putting up a post for debate that is not only contains a disclaimer saying you don't know anything about what you're debating, but you could have resolved yourself with like 10 minutes of research.

"I've been to a majority of Michigan games for the past 15 years, and I know the ins and outs of the game."  This does not jive with your disclaimer at all btw.

 "You're free to debate my perspective and tell me I'm wrong."  When you're already admitted your perspective is terrible, why should I bother to debate it before I tell you you're wrong?  For example, people are asking why Brandon Minor doesn't play more.  After numerous posts illustrating that A) He fumbles a lot, B) Rich Rod knows he fumbles a lot even in practice, C) McGuffie does not fumble remotely near as much, D) Rich Rod still gives him a chance to prove himself each game and then he fumbles EACH GAME,  after all this, when anyone capable of any level of critical thought would say "Yeah, I guess until he stops fumbling every 3rd carry he shouldn't do much more than block, I'm glad RR is giving him a chance each game because he has talent and can help the team" but instead they say "But Minor is an upperclassman and runs through people, McGuffie needs to have blockers to do anything and falls down if he's so much as touched."  Mind you, these are the same mouthbreathers that were the first to boo Henne and demand that Mallett play more.

But high five on your fourth row seats and 15+ years of watching football.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 6:04 PM ^

It's stating a fact. "Freedom of speech" (as Mike claimed) permits AC1997 to say anything he wants. He can post pictures of kittens. However, when you post something in a public forum, you should also accept that it could draw criticism. Shock, while strident in tone, pointed out a few actual logical and factual problems with the original post. So, in essence, by complaining about Shock, you're complaining about user-generated content you dislike - which is the exact same thing he is doing.

Blue Lurker

October 6th, 2008 at 6:17 PM ^

I agree.  Anyone should be able to post.  And anyone can reply with whatever they want.  But ShockFX didn't initally "point out a few logical and factual problems"  He said "At what point did it make sense to continue writing after this?"    That I think should be discouraged (note: I didn't say disallowed).   If his original post was like his later ones in the thread then I wouldn't have had a problem with with what he said.

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 6:32 PM ^

You're correct, I could be less harsh.  This post just happened to be a final straw after this weekend's flurry of insane posts.  This post actually invalidated itself right away!  I just couldn't understand how I could reason with the original poster at this point and sarcasm was just way too easy.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 6:21 PM ^

I think he was pointing out the inherent comedy in saying:

1. "I don't know much about strategy"
2. "I couldn't really see"

and then posting your evisceration of the coaches.

AC1997

October 6th, 2008 at 6:36 PM ^

I agree that aspects of my post could have been improved. That's what I get for venting my frustration about the game while sitting through a boring meeting at work. In the future, if I decide to post, I'll do a better job of screening my content and format before posting. For that, I apologize to the readers. I do not, however, apologize for my disclaimer. When GSimmons posts his really in depth analysis about plays he always disclaims his background as a high school coach. That's good to know before reading his posts, isn't it?

I was trying to tell everyone that I'm an informed fan, but not someone who can tell you every formation and strategy. I also don't apologize for waiting until I reviewed the game film on my DVR with a fine tooth comb before posting. If you want to criticize the content of my post, fine. And ShockFX did have some valid points. If you want to claim that these Diaries are reserved for some sort of elite group of posters, then I have a problem with it. If you don't like the Diary entry, move on to the next one and don't waste your time.

Finally, I wanted comment on some of the points raised by ShockFX about my post:

1. Prevent - I know what Prevent is, which is why I used quotes around it in my post. My point was that our defense was acting like a prevent with a lack of pressure and allowing him to sit back and find openings in the zone.

2. Blitz early - You're right, valid point.

3. Blitz risk - You always take a risk blitzing. But you mitigate that risk by trying to force the QB into a quick decision instead of getting to be selective. So I slightly disagree with you there. Also, if you put 7 guys in coverage on 5 WR you still have an advantage and get to rush 4 instead of an ineffective 3.

4. Juice QB - Never did I intend to imply that Juice was a good or even competent QB. If you read that from my post, then that was a miscommunication by one of us. I think he's a hack. My point was that even a hack QB can look good when given all the time in the world. The blown coverages you mentioned were exploited because the WR had time to victimize the D and Juice had time to find them when they did. Again, that is a function of the pass rush in my opinion.

5. Forcing TO - Again, this is only my opinion, but I think ShockFX is totally wrong on his take here. I've NEVER heard anyone talk about how playing a soft zone with only three rushers is more likely to result in a turnover. That doesn't pass the common sense test for me. The longer you let the QB review the D, the more likely he'll find an opening. I agree in a sense that you don't have to blitz six guys and risk disaster in the secondary, but you have to limit the time the QB has to survey the field. A three man rush doesn't do that, and as a result I think the likelihood of a turnover in that defense is very small.

Thanks for all of the constructive critism. If I post again I'll try to keep it in mind.

ShockFX

October 6th, 2008 at 7:34 PM ^

You should post more because this :"3. Blitz risk - You always take a risk blitzing. But
you mitigate that risk by trying to force the QB into a quick decision
instead of getting to be selective. So I slightly disagree with you
there. Also, if you put 7 guys in coverage on 5 WR you still have an
advantage and get to rush 4 instead of an ineffective 3."

Is a totally valid point.  If you rush 3, the OL can double 2/3 of the rush, if you rush 4 the OL can only double 1/4 of the rush.  This is a HUGE difference and something I hadn't really considered.  If you took the points you just made here and posted those it would be much, much better.  All I'm asking is that people take a second and reread what they post, thinking, does this make sense?

 To point 5, I don't think a soft zone generates more turnovers than pressure 99% of the time, but against Juice because of how solid he is on the ground, forcing him to make a bad passing decision or scramble where he can be hit from behind/side is more likely to generate a TO.  We've actually seen a lot of TOs where Michigan is driving at the end of a game, has to force passes into that 8 drop zone and gets picked (seemingly at the goalline all the time).  This is much better debate than "prevent is terrible stupid blitz more" and then I call you a big stupid head.

Wolverine90

October 7th, 2008 at 6:21 PM ^

Lloyd’s greatest failure - defending against mobile QB’s. Young, Dixon, Smith, App State, etc.  RR has officially started his own list with the Juice.

The knock on our D in the past was they’d line up against a pro-style attack in practice making them ill prepared to defend the spread. So the idea was if with RR as coach we'd modernize not only on O, but also on D where the wisdom would trickle down; defending against mobile QBs and the spread in practice would lead to defending it better in games.  Sadly so far Shafer is 0-2 vs the spread with Juice and Juice Jr. - Utah QB Brian Johnson . Can we take comfort that our D isn't technically practicing against a mobile QB yet?  Threet?

Some but not much.  With our veteran D, this indeptness vs mobile QBs troubles me far more than the fumbles and the inexperience from a young O. How did USC – a pro style team - shut Juice down so convincingly last Rose Bowl yet we made him a superstar Satuday?  Were their LB's much more disciplined and sure-tackled?  Guess so. 

With mobile QB’s looming (PSU, OSU), I prefer the aggressive 4-3 approach  with the LB's showing increased discipline re running lanes. I'd rather pressure up front and give up a few big runs in exchange for that pressure causing mistakes vs allowing him to get comfortable against a soft cover/contain D where he pick his poison – burn us with a throw or with his feet.

Throughout the game Saturday we saw glimpses of this pressure from our D as we consistently put Illinois in long third downs, but endless mistakes bailed Illinois out…

 I’d conclude that Shafer keep up the pressure, but that he also study the USC/Illinois game for ideas as well as Saturday's Ohio State/Wisconsin game because the Badgers contained Terrel Pryor very nicely. He had a few 10 yard runs, but no huge breakers like Juice had vs us.

FIGURE IT OUT SHAFER! This is on you more than on RR, FIGURE IT OUT MAN!  You and your D are the key to Michigan's success, period.

ShockFX

October 7th, 2008 at 7:33 PM ^

I'm relatively certain that our offense in practice looks very little like Juice Williams and Illinois.  This is also 5 games into the season.

"Throughout the game Saturday we saw glimpses of this pressure from our
D as we consistently put Illinois in long third downs, but endless
mistakes bailed Illinois out…"

We never saw even glimpses from the D against the spread under LC and English. The other team bailed us out quite frequently.  Oregon put up points and only stopped out of mercy, App State put up 34, Illinois was totally inept last year and handed us the game, Florida STILL put up 35, Troy Smith, etc.

"With mobile QB’s looming (PSU, OSU), I prefer the aggressive 4-3
approach  with the LB's showing increased discipline re running lanes."

The LBs repeatedly show a lack of discipline and good decision making.  They either will get it or they won't, but I'm sure Shafer is aware of this.  I don't know though man, what you expect given our terrible LBs and Safeties.  Spread teams place LBs and Safeties into decision situations.  Ours fail at it.  It's not like the coaching staff isn't working to change this.  They don't just call 'Nickel Thunder 2LB Blitz' and hope it works.  They teach gap responsibility and stuff in practice, but the players have to execute it.