Picture Pages: Wheels of doom (updated)

Submitted by dnak438 on November 11th, 2010 at 10:34 AM

Updated to include both wheel route plays.

WHEEL OF DOOM #1 (1st play of 4th quarter):

Sharik has broken down the mistake on the first wheel route, but I thought that it might be worth picture paging.  I used the video so generously provided by Boyz in da Pahokee.  Here is what it looks like pre-snap; the Michigan defenders are settling in after some initial confusion about where they should be aligned:

Wheel of doom 1 - 1

You can see that Michigan is in a 3-deep look, with four players rushing the passer and four underneath zone defenders -- that is, a standard 3 deep zone.  Brian in the UFR calls Michigan's formation 4-3 light.  Illinois' formation is Shotgun 2-back twins.

Here we are, immediately post-snap.  There is a run fake to the RB on the far side of the field, Troy Pollard (I think).  The Illinois LG is pulling to the right to provide protection to Sheelhaase when he rolls to the right.  Both receivers get a clean release and will run post routes, clearing out the near side of the field for the wheel route.  LeShoure will run the wheel route, Pollard will go into the flat to keep the short defender honest.

We have to use ESPN's cameras, so it is hard to see what has happened, but the three deep has totally broken down.  Rogers and Vinopal (the latter is barely visible at the top of the photo above), have both followed the slot receiver to the far side of the field, presumably because Sheelhaase has rolled to that side.  

Avery, meanwhile, has taken the outside receiver into the center of the field.  T. Gordon doesn't stay with LeShoure, presumably because he sees Pollard in the flat.  The result is that LeShoure is wide open.

In the UFR, Brian writes:

Who's responsibility is this? I'm not sure anyone's except GERG. T. Gordon does not know to carry the running back vertical. If he does the other running back will be vastly open in the flat because Demens is bugging out for the deep middle. Avery's going with the post, as is Vinopal, and Rogers is covering no one on the far side of the field. So... who and what can Michigan do to make no obvious touchdowns on this play? Don't know. T. Gordon -2, Cover -3, RPS -3.

My football knowledge is minimal, but I think that Avery needs to stay in his deep third on the near side of the field, Vinopal needs to take the outside receiver into the center and Rogers the slot receiver to the far side of the field.  Rogers plays this well, so I conclude that the fault lies with the true freshmen, Vinopal and Avery, for not maintaining their responsibilities.

Sharik concludes that this is on T. Gordon for not picking up LeShoure, but if he does this, then Pollard is wide open.  If Avery maintains his position, however, every receiver will be covered.

WHEEL OF DOOM #2 (1st play of 2nd overtime):

Sharik says the following about this play:

On the 2nd one (in the 2nd OT), we were bringing 6 with 3-deep, 2-under behind it.  When you bring 6 and play zone behind it, you can't zone the flat, let alone a wheel route.  When you bring 6, whether it be man or zone behind it, the contain rusher must either hug up a releasing back or peel and cover him.  Therefore, it was the blitzing safety's responsibility.

Here is the setup:

So, Illinois is in the same formation, two backs and two receivers on the same size of the field.  Michigan is again in a 3-deep look, again with four down linemen.

Immediately after the snap.  This play is very similar to Wheel of Doom #1.  There is run action to Jason Ford (#21), who was lined up to Sheelhaase's right.  The inside receiver is running a post, the outside receiver is running a 15-yard in.  Leshoure is running a wheel route, and Ford is drifting into the flat.  You can see the Michigan CBs and FS going into a 3-deep look.  We are actually only bringing 5 (not 6): Kovacs is blitzing off the short side of the field.

Same mistake as Wheel of Doom #1: Avery (red arrow) is following the inside receiver who is running a post, leaving vast amounts of green behind him.  Mouton is on the 13 yard line, stopping the in route of the outside receiver.

The result is a very grainy TD.

So Sharik may be right about the blitzing safety needing to pick up the RB, but it doesn't look like Kovacs is aware of this at all.  Even if that is so, I don't think that Avery can follow the post route here, since that's Vinopal's responsibility.  So the cause and the result of Wheel of doom #2 is substantially the same as #1.



November 11th, 2010 at 11:03 AM ^

All it takes is one guy making the wrong read or making a wrong decision or simply being too slow in getting down his decision-tree to leave a gaping hole for an opposing offense to exploit.

I remain unsure how much of this is coaching, and how much is still the inexperience bug.  I'm sure Avery has been drilled a million times on what his responsibilities are, but games aren't practice and everyone has a tendency to get real dumb under pressure.  Regardless of how much training the coaches give him, the players still have to execute what they're taught - and doing it with sureness, speed, and confidence only comes with time.

When a defense has a single freshman DB, opposing offenses invariably pick on him all day long and the upperclassmen can adapt to fill in for his mistakes.  When you'lve got 6 freshmen on the field, you get Michigan's defense.

So maybe Robinson's weakness is not so much in scheming but in teaching.  Perhaps he has trouble breaking down assignments into bite-sized nuggets that players can pick up a little at a time.  I get the impression that they have had the whole thing dumped on them  at once and most are just way too slow and inaccurate in making their reads and figuring out their assignments, because they're overwhelmed by the sheer volume of processing they have to do.

What I want to take away (as in what I want to be true) from the last couple games is that these decision-trees are starting to drop into place and becoming intuitive.  If that is so, the defensive performance can pick up in a hurry as the players gain speed and confidence, and the holes in coverage start to disappear.  If this is what's actually going on, I expect to see a good outing against Purdue.  If it really is that Robinson is clueless, we might go back to being stumblebums.

So I'm going to want to see a couple more games before I make my judgment about GERG.

Or maybe I'm completely full of it and GERG really is a terrible coach.  I'll be the first to confess that I don't know.


November 11th, 2010 at 11:45 AM ^

The other thing I'm not sure about is the adjustments.

When we saw the same play open the same way in the second overtime it was horribly disheartening.  I guess there's at least the possibility that the same guy read the same cue the same wrong way and reacted accordingly.  I guess that's a teachable moment.

When they ran a similar play to the TE in the third OT, Fitzgerald at least gets there late (as Brian points out in the UFR).

On the one hand, as soon as it happened the first time, the players involved should have been coached as to what to change so that it didn't happen again.  On the other hand, further confusing them when they're obviously already confused might not have helped.  I'm not sure which is a better path.  I do know that it sucked to watch...


November 11th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

If they guys are already maxed out in trying to learn their basic assignments, adding more complexity on top of it is pointless.  Greg may be giving them adjustments to do that they don't understand, or he may be backing off on adjustments until they can get the basics right.

So I have two completely contradictory models that seem to fit the data:  1) the players are doing exactly what Robinson is teaching them to do and it's garbage, or 2) Robinson is a defensive genius but the players are overwhelmed with too much data and can't execute his brilliant plans.  What I see on the field could result from either condition, and possibly several others. 

I feel rather frustrated, as do most Michigan fans.


November 11th, 2010 at 2:23 PM ^

and I conclude (and again, I have to admit my ignorance of football matters) that the wheel route was open because Avery followed the receiver running a post into the center of the field.

Illinois was definitely attacking Avery.  These plays seem designed to confuse him.

Blue in Seattle

November 11th, 2010 at 3:32 PM ^

I don't know the details of running a zone, but it seems like the Avery mistake specifically and the LB mistakes in general are on the tendency to execute man to man coverage instead of viewing the big picture and running a zone.

It seems like it would be pretty fundamental to a zone to NOT follow a post running WR ever if you are the corner, once the WR is in the middle 3rd the Free Safety should be picking that up.

But since this play sends two running backs into the area of the field abandoned by the WR and the Slot, that the player with the Flat/Curl zone also needs to let his guy flow to the middle to be picked up by someone else while maintaining zone coverage to the offensive Left and short (bottom of the screen).  Someone in the LB/hybrid level needs to maintain their position.  I understand that Steve Sharik is saying the blitz to the offensive left (is this strong side?) should somehow recognize this and switch into coverage mode, but that seems to be completely against the assignment of a blitzer to get the passing QB before he throws.  Do you really expect a blitzer is suddenly stop blitzing?  Or does someone not blitzing know to cover the area abandoned by the blitzer?

I think one of the NON blitzing LB's needs to be watching the running backs and cover them.

I wonder if this play is also setup by other roll-outs to the right where the QB looked to pass then ran it.  Because all the run blocking is going to the right side where there is a TE and a pulling guard.  And that would seem to be something that an over aggressive D would be looking for.

I think this is just a strong play call for an offense with a running threat QB that needs good play to keep it under 10 yards and outstanding play to blow it up completely.

In a certain way it attacks all the Michigan D weaknesses simultaneously, and makes me very confident we see OSU running plays like this a lot.

steve sharik

November 11th, 2010 at 4:39 PM ^

  1. If you are the contain rusher (blitzer off edge or DE climbing for contain), any back releasing to your side is your man.
  2. Therefore, you rush to the back.
  3. If the back is aligned on your side, you blitz at his nose. 
  4. If he stays in to block you, split the man, keeping your outside arm free.
  5. If he tries to release, hug him up or peel and release with him.
  6. If he blocks to the opposite side, you can now adjust and go to the QB.

If it were a man-pressure, then the ILBs are responsible for the RBs and they flow with RBs on run and sprint to coverage on pass.  However, on wheel #2, we were playing 3-deep, 2-under zone, so the ILBs in the 2-under must protect the seams, and there's no way the can take a releasing back, unless you want to give up a TE or slot straight down the field with momentum toward the end zone.


November 11th, 2010 at 11:04 AM ^

Or more specifically, confusion over alignment.  Seems like every game the defense has a few times when it's confused on the alignment, and is shuffling around just before the snap.  I used to think this was intentional (to hide coverage and blitzes), but it's appearing to be more of a confusion thing.  In any event, RichRod should be more liberal with the use of time outs on the defensive side of the ball.  It's normally anathema for a coach to use a TO early in a half, but frankly, our offense's 2 minute drill (or 45 second drill) is the strongest part of this team.  No reasons to have TOs in our pocket heading into the half or the EOG when multiple times per game, our D looks straight up confused.


November 11th, 2010 at 12:43 PM ^

This is on Avery and Vinopal. Tough to learn for a young DB to maintain their zone when they don't think anyone else is going to be in the area. Gotta have your head on a swivel. Helps to see the play on film prior to actually facing it in game situation.

I'm not gonna harp on the kids for making this mistake... twice in the same game. Avery and the other freshman have been guilty of vacating their zones a number of times. I believe they'll get it with time. Hopefully it'll come before Michigan plays their final two games, but it might not be until the bowl or next season.


steve sharik

November 11th, 2010 at 4:45 PM ^

This is on Avery and Vinopal.

If it's 3-deep and there are twins where #1 runs a skinny post and #2 runs a post that splits the middle of the field, who covers them?  Avery has to take the skinny and Vin has to take the middle post. 

If there is a curl/flat zone defender, he must carry the 2nd receiver (in this case, the RB) through the zone and, therefore, take the wheel.  If there isn't a curl/flat defender and it's a zone pressure, the outside rusher must hug up or peel on the RB.  If it's man coverage, the ILBs are assigned to RBs.

If Avery let's a skinny by #1 go, it's a TD by design.  Yes, we gave up a TD, but that was a MA (Missed Assignment for those that don't know).


November 11th, 2010 at 6:01 PM ^

Steve, let me preface this by deferring to your knowledge and experience.  This is an honest question from ignorance.  I'm not sure why Avery can't pass his man off to Vinopal, and likewise Vinopal off to Rogers (on Wheel of Doom #1).  If you look, the WR running skinny post is on the hashes on the near side of the field, and the WR running the middle post is on the hashes on the far side of the field.  Vinopal and Avery are both defending the skinny post, Rogers is defending the middle post.  Doesn't this defeat the purpose of three-deep zone coverage?  Chris from Smart Football says that you attack cover three by flooding the zones, which would seem to imply that the deep zone men aren't supposed carry defenders outside of their area.

I should add that everything I've read suggests that when two receivers enter a CB's area, he should position himself between the two players so that he can make a play on either ball, and that the FS's zone extends horizontally 2 yards beyond each hash mark.

steve sharik

November 11th, 2010 at 10:55 PM ^

...when a corner or safety apexes himself b/w 2 receivers in his zone, that's for 2 immediate vertical threats, such as 4 verticals.  The corner will apex b/w #1 and #2 if they're both in his zone.  If #1 goes to the post, the corner closes the post unless #2 runs a wheel (this is sometimes called a switch route b/c #1 and #2 switch vertical paths).

It's pretty hard for a corner to close a post and also help on a wheel; one or both will be open, especially if the free safety is occupied by another deep threat.

I'm sorry I confused you b/c I was referring to a hypothetical #1 skinny/#2 post/RB wheel, while I think Illinois ran #1 dig/#2 post/RB wheel. 

On a #1 dig/#2 post/RB wheel, both a curl/flat defender and the corner should be on the wheel, so not only should the D have this covered, but also double covered.

As for flooding the zones, the typical flood route is #1 go/#2 quick out/#3 deep out.  This puts two receivers (deep out and quick out) in the curl (deep out) and flat (quick out) zones, where there is one defender, creating a 2-on-1 mismatch.


November 12th, 2010 at 12:16 AM ^

So we can conclude that on Wheel of Doom #1 T. Gordon should have gone vertical with Leshoure (as you argued and Brian suggested in the UFR) and Troy Pollard should have been wide open, but on Wheel of Doom #2 Avery should have stayed in his deep 1/3 and Kovacs should have pulled out of his blitz and have been running to keep up with LeShoure as he ran down the sideline (with Avery over the top).

El Jeffe

November 11th, 2010 at 1:22 PM ^

I also know little about defensive football, except how to say UNACCEPTABLE and FIRE GERG and OMIGODWESUUUUUUCK. So, with that as a disclaimer...

I think this has to be on Avery, assuming he is the one in the 3-deep that is closest to the camera. In cover three I just don't see how he can vacate his zone like that. Gordon has o cover the flat, Demens has to fill up the middle, and then the playside guys have to do what they're doing.

I don't love the pre-snap alignment of Demens (why is he standing literally 2 feet from Cam (it's Cam, right?)), but given his assignment I don't think he would have been much help. I think Avery has to stay in his deep third and Thomas has to stay in the flat. I recall an earlier picture pages when Avery vacated his zone to disastrous effect. Maybe Illinois's OC saw that and targeted that tendency of Avery. It's almost as if Avery is a true freshman who played mostly quarterback last year and only played press man when he was a CB...

Still, ATTN: GERG: Please give Avery something that he is very fond of every time he stays in his zone correctly. That's Skinner, bitches.


November 11th, 2010 at 7:13 PM ^

He needs to stay in his zone if it is 3-deep; so does Vinopal.  The "outside receiver runs a deep inside route (e.g. dig or post) and the RB runs a wheel" is actually a pretty basic pass play that is used even in JV high school football.  Obviously Avery and Vinopal are young so they are going to mess up. 

Ideally on Wheel #1, Vinopal passes the receiver running post #1 to Rogers and picks up the outside receiver running post #2 which allows Avery to cover the wheel since it is being run in his zone.

RR said in his press conference that a different person was responsible for each of those two plays.  Maybe Kovacs needed to break off his blitz and cover the RB? 

Also on Wheel #2, why are there all those defenders to the wide side of the field when there are no receivers there?  Don't these guys have their heads on a swivel?  They should be drifting towards the short side of the field where all the receivers are.  The outside edge guy on the side closest to the camera needs to break off his zone drop and start rushing the QB as soon as he sees that BOTH the TE and RB to his side have stayed in to protect.