[ED: Bump so hard. ]
FF 210 - Screen Package
FF400 - Drag and Follow
So this is what I had intended to do with the series when I started it: breaking down plays/concepts that Michigan runs and why they work, how to defend/attack them, etc. Today I’m going to break down a pass play that Michigan ran twice for first downs in the first half. This is a great play that isn’t necessarily innovative anymore, but it is still very prevalent both the college and pro game. It’s called the drag (jerk) and follow pattern.
What I will be doing today is going over this play and how and why it was successful twice against Illinois. I will also discuss how defenses scheme against it in order to stop it, plays to counter those defensive adjustments, and why Michigan went away from it when it was successful early.
The Play – Drag and Follow
This is a great play because it does two things. It gives both the QB and WR easy reads and it always makes the defense wrong, essentially putting them out of position.*
Note, I have done a fairly simple defensive alignment that isn't really that technically sound to face the run. It is an even front with the SS back. This isn't bad against the pass but against the run it would probably suffer. There are many different variations of D, and I some what change the D alignment to help prove my point. It is important to realize that the keys are still there though, I'm just attempting to teach as simply as possible, so the defense isn't always the same.
Notice the label for each receiver and the Zip presnap motion (into the formation) by the Z receiver. On defense, N is the Nickelback (don't hate me, hate the Lions) subbed in for the SAM.
The Read – Backside LB
The QB will read the backside LB (WLB).
If the he follows the drag route, it will leave the delayed follow route open in the space that that LB previous occupied. You see this the first time Michigan ran this play against Illinois.
The LB attacks downhill at the drag pattern leaving an opening where he previously was.
If the LB learns from this or is coached to counter this play by staying home, the initial drag route will be open.
Why this works
This works because it is extremely difficult for the defense to be right. If the defense is in zone, the drag combined with the follow will force the LBs to commit to one of the WR. Typically the follow will settle down in an opening and will be open, often between where the WLB vacated and the MLB is playing his zone.
If the defense is in man they essentially have two issues. The first is covering a drag route, one of the most difficult routes for a corner to cover. It is made more difficult by the fact that the WR running the route starts in short motion towards the formation (often called a “Zip” motion because it is the Z receiver). This means the defender is essentially on his back shoulder. The CB must stay on his back shoulder because he doesn’t know for sure if it is actually a drag route, or a crack block, or something else. Given time, the QB will surely find this man open.
After the drag is over, the follow occurs. Essentially you are asking probably a LB (though maybe a safety or corner) to cover the flat, the middle, and everywhere in between with no help on one man. This is extremely difficult to do.
So one of these two WRs will most likely be open regardless of zone or man.
This also works extremely well against blitzing teams. The drag route is essentially a built in hot route, the only fear is having a very good DB jump in front of the route, but that “bite” by the DB could easily come back to haunt him (more on this later).
This play essentially works against any blitz. Against a LB blitz, whether from the outside or A-gap blitzes, or from blitzes from the DBs. If the blitz comes from the LBs, the drag is essentially hitting the void they have left. If it comes from the trips DB, the follow route stays in long enough to at least chip the blitzing DB, leaving the QB enough time to find the drag or to hit the follow shortly after. I don’t know for sure with Michigan, but often there will be another “hot route” that is changed for a DB blitz. If the follow receiver sees a DB blitz it will chip and then release into the flat, essentially to the void that player left open.
So how does the defense stop it?
You see that the first time Michigan runs it against Illinois that Illinois is running zone. Koger, who is actually the up man, runs multiple defenders out of their zone on essentially a 12 yard hitch (rather than the corner route). The drag route pulls away the WILL and this leaves a huge void in the defense for the delayed follow to hit after the receiver is done chipping the defender. Obviously this is not how defenses are drawn up, so step one would be to release receivers running routes into the next zone (easier said than done when given the zone keys) rather than allowing one player to be covered by three guys.
So the first thing Illinois tried to do to counter it was tell their WLB to not double down on the drag route after he followed it the first time. This isn’t necessarily bad coaching, they are telling him to let him run through the zone onto the next defender (the backside corner) who should be covering that zone in the cover 2 (it will be different for man coverage). This is difficult for the backside corner though, who is taught to get depth if no one is underneath him. And considering the drag route comes from the far side of the field it is difficult for him to see it develop and he is often caught following the X receiver. It is important that the WLB should probably still chip the drag receiver to throw off his timing however. The problem is that the backside corner was run out of his zone, leaving the drag open. The LB also didn’t disrupt his route, and Denard Robinson properly went through his reads.
CORRECTION: After actually watching what Illinois tried to do rather than going from memory, they didn't attempt what was described above. What they tried to do is bring a 5 man pressure with a blitz from the WILL. They then attempted to play man with 2 DBs and the MIKE. They are doing an inside out concept in coverage, meaning the MIKE will take the inside man, the CB should take the outside man and the N is matched up with his man. They screw up there coverage though (pretty clear miscommunication) as the outside corner doesn't know which man he has or the N doesn't. My guy is the N screwed it up (I think he was responsible for the up man and was supposed to match up on him) and the corner was supposed to take Hemingway coming across. Either way this is a blown coverage that didn't really cost them as the drag route beat the Mike, who failed to hit and slow his man as he crossed in front of his body. Therefore, easy pitch and catch. But this was pretty much going to be that regardless once Denard read the WILL blitz. Also the backside corner is in man, which is why he gets run off.
But even when everyone does their job, the backside corner keeps his assignment, and the LBs do theirs, it is still extremely difficult to stop as 2 WR are settling down in gaps with the WLB in between having to choose which one to cover rather than leaving both open. So another thing to do would be to jam the WRs to throw of the timing. This is also difficult however because the Z receiver (drag receiver) is in motion and off the LOS. The Y (on the LOS) is running a delay anyway, so jamming him plays into the play calls hands.
You can insist on the backside corner staying in his zone but that leaves a man over the top 1-on-1 with a safety either hitting the weak spot in a cover 2 or running a lethal post, leaving the safety in an awkward spot.
So the next step is to move a S down into a robber position. That is, let the LB stay in his zone and have a safety crash down on the drag, essentially setting up either a big hit or a pick six, or have the LB follow the drag and set the same thing up for the follow route. This is the best way to stop this play, but isn’t the best play if the offense catches you cheating up. (Note: Usually it will be the SS that cheats up as it will help him assist in the run game and he also is more likely to be matched up in man coverage with the trips to his side. He's responsible for help on the bubble the way the defense is aligned).
How does the offense counter this adjustment.
There are other routes that are run on this play. If the defense moves up a safety, the defense is forced to go cover 1 (or cover 3, but if that is the case either the drag or follow will be open for the same reason as above). The 2 other routes attack deep, leaving the FS to pick between WR and leaving the other in 1-on-1 coverage.
There are two other play calls that counter defensive adjustments very well out of this same set. One is a running play the other a pass.
The running play is an outside pitch. If the defense shows any blitz they have gotten themselves in a very precarious position. The zip motion WR can crack the playside DE or the first free man on the inside (if not playside DE, then MLB) while the Y (follow receiver) seals off the playside LB or the man inside of him (this depends on if the Y is lined up like a TE, as in next to the Tackle, or if there is a wider split between them). Most likely the play side G or T can then pull a kick out or seal in the first man with a different color jersey (depending on the defensive front). Potentially they could have 2 pulling linemen depending on the defensive front, leaving another to get another off-colored jersey. With blitzes giving the defenders at least poor angles if not taking them out of the play completely, if the offense hits you when you do this it should be a big gain if executed (this is a big if and I will show why later).
The second play is a pass play in which the offense will essentially flood the zones to their side. This will be done by quickly releasing the Y receiver, rubbing off the X receiver. He will run his route to about with about 10 yard depth. The H will still run his corner route, giving them two depth options on that side. The Z receiver will then double back after getting the defender to bite on the drag. If the defender is on the Z WRs front side shoulder he is already beat, as the Z double back to the flat, or the short route in the flood. The Y is the built in hot route for edge pressure that you often see teams get first downs off of on 3rd down.
So why it was successful and is impossible to stop, so why didn’t Michigan keep running it?
Well this falls on the limitations of Michigan’s QB play. Denard Robinson is short, he hasn’t learned to manipulate the pocket yet. He can’t successfully contort his passing motion to give himself different arm throwing angles, let alone consistently step into and have solid throwing mechanics with pressure in his face. He also struggles to throw deep, and even more so when it’s windy. So combine all that, he will struggle to hit the deep routes that a more typical QB for this offense would throw. He also struggles to beat the blitz, mostly because he can’t manipulate varying things to give himself passing lanes. When the defense moves up, he gets pressure and has no passing lanes and thus this play no longer works. Illinois adjustment and Denard Robinson’s limitations put an end to this play.
When Michigan gets its QB that can do these, I expect a full dose of the drag and follow and flood routes combined with an inside/outside running attack.
But you said you would get back to the execution thing?
So yes, execution, this time not by Robinson, but by Devin Gardner. This is out of a different formation but it’s the same thought process. Illinois is tipping their hand and Gardner makes the correct adjustment by calling an audible to the outside pitch. This play should be a TD, however the execution of the play is poor. Hemingway misses his block, as does the pulling Center Molk. The main missed assignment is on the WR Hemingway though sense the play was blown up as soon as he missed his assignment. These are the things that need to work in order for an offense to work. This is a counter to what Illinois was doing that should have been successful for Michigan.
I managed to find one video with one of the plays. This came later than I remembered it (late in the 2nd quarter) and the formation is a little different, but the concept is the same.
First time at 1:55
Second time at 6:47
Pitch play that should have worked at 9:04
*screen shots and video will be up after the every snap videos are posted and I can grab some images and I have time.