Calling Space Coyote and other coaches: please help me understand three things

Submitted by trueblueintexas on November 11th, 2013 at 9:02 PM
During the game there were two plays I did not understand the blocking design of at all. I'm hoping someone who understands the nuances of the game can help. Additionally, there is a general question I have. 1) against a four man rush, the entire offensive line zone blocked three defenders to the left and left Fitz one-on-one on the back side with a DE (Greggory, he of the three sacks). Obviously Fitz got abused and a sack ensued. Is there a blocking scheme which purposely says five O-lineman will block three players and leave a RB to go one on one in space? Why would Schofield not help Fitz and let the other four lineman handle three defensive lineman? 2) on a max protect Gardner sprinted to the right. Again zone blocking. The C, RG, RT, TE, and RB all zone blocked to the right. Lewan and Bosch zone blocked going left. That seems bad enough, what happened next is what I really don't get. Lewan barely touched the DE as if he was passing him off to Bosch, Bosch did the same thing, except everyone else who could block was all moving to the right. The DE rushed in for the sack because both routes were covered. Why would two players zone block to the opposite direction of a sprint roll out pass and then both pass off the one guy they are responsible for? I double checked, they were not setting up for a screen because Fitz was fully engaged in zone blocking to the right. 3) this is not play specific. Everyone is well aware of Hoke's feelings regarding Nebraska's claim of knowing what would be run based on tendencies. Forget the specific play call and packages, has anyone seen any evidence that Michigan is somehow tipping its plays? Is there something the O-line is doing which let's the defense know it will be a run to a specific gap before the ball is even snapped? I get guessing run vs. pass but it seemed as though Nebraska's whole defense knew exactly where to run to as well. I appreciate anyone with football intelligence to chime in.

Comments

aplatypus

November 11th, 2013 at 9:10 PM ^

I didn't get to watch (thankfully..) Saturday because of a wedding, but the same thing happened a few times against MSU where the entire line blocked hard to the right and left Fitz alone with a DE... who easily won every time. I know a couple of those appeared to be Gardner checks but even then it was questionable and happened enough it appeared to be schematic so I'd also like to know if coaches like SpaceCoyote think that was intentional or another messed up assignment. My gut is that it was intended and they just have the expectation that the RB can get over and stuff the DE long enough for Gardner to roll right and get a pass off.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:15 PM ^

Both of those are slide protections. Michigan doesn't want to run slide protections (because of the match up problem you discussed in the first play), but was forced to because the man-blocking schemes were proving too difficult for the OL yet again.

Slide protections are gap schemes. Rather than being assigned a first level defender with your eyes on a 2nd level (or a DB if he's moving up), you are responsible for your gap.

So on the first play, everyone slide left to take the gap to their left. The player that runs through that gap should be picked up. If not, you have to keep you're eyes on that gap but you can help out. What this means though is that if someone goes through, say, Schofield's gap and the slide protection is left, it means Fitz is alone on the backside to pick up at DE possibly.

Against MSU, there was an example of Lewan not leaving his gap early enough to help Fitz on a DE. It's a tough assignment, and he probably doesn't get there fast enough anyway, but the idea is that he slides, hinges, and works back, keeping his eyes on his gap as you don't know if someone is looping or delaying their blitz.

So, with that in mind:

Question 1: the defender came right at Schofield and Schofield had no one else in his gap. That was Schofield's man. Fitz thought the same, as he took and angle where he would only chip and then likely release. But Schofield looked at him then proceeded to do nothing, leaving him to an unprepared (rightfully so) Fitz, who couldn't get in position (understandably) to make the block. 

Question 2: The defender stunted inside, or more accurately tried to scrape across the formation as the play was rolling away. Again, both players have the gap to the side they are sliding, this time to the right. If the player crosses in front of your face, he's likely going to the guy a gap over (or in the direction the slide is going). In this case, the guy crossed Lewan's face and Lewan popped him but realized he wasn't going in that gap, so he then hinged back to try to take anyone coming further from the back side. The defender was then crossing Bosch's face and it was Bosch's man. Whether Bosch though there was someone inside of him or not, I can't say, but Bosch never moved his feet well enough to get in position to pick up the man he was supposed to get.

Those two plays were the most angry I've been at the OL this year, FWIW. So that explains how bad both missed assignments were. Michigan's staff is simplifying the pass protectin scheme to a high school level and the players still aren't executing. That screams coaching issue at the position level to me, because you can't dumb down the pass pro anymore.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:28 PM ^

I'm going to start by saying that I'm 100% sure Funk knows the scheme and techniques and much, much more. Funk knows all the necessary things and more for the position. All the coaches at this level do.

So then what does it come down to? Well, part of it is youth. Part of it is that this stuff clicks at different times for different players, and if there wasn't this youth, those that weren't ready wouldn't be put in this position. But all of them? To me that says that however he's coaching is failing to get across to the players. Something is flawed with his coaching and teaching.

Now, this might not be the case all the time (with regards to how does he get to this spot). He may have had kids at one time that took to the recruiting. Maybe there were some seniors that understood it and helped spread that knowledge and that system continued. Maybe there is something else in a similar regard. It's hard to say. Sometimes things just don't fit. It's why you see guys fail miserably in one spot and succeed in another. There is luck involved, skill involved, and everything inbetween. But to me, something seems wrong with the transfer of knowledge between the OL coaches and the players, particularly the young players. And that's the biggest problem in my opinion, but also explains how he's gotten to this level

BILG

November 11th, 2013 at 10:03 PM ^

but is unable to get the players to execute basic blocks which you say are HS level.  So either we have a bunch of young guys completely overwhelmed by the moment, a coach completely unable to tranfer any knowledge to the point where they are confused to the extent of regression and blowing HS level protections, or a bunch of meathead O-linement....or of course, some combination of all of these. 

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 10:07 PM ^

It's part of the reason OL is a tough position to scout/recruit and why recruiting rankings particularly don't mean as much for OL. It's a really tough position. There are so many question marks/changes/knowledge thrown at these kids, some just don't handle it.

I think for some it's just confusion. I think some are pressing and making it worse (pure assumption, but this is what I personally believe is happening to Kalis), and some of it is the transfer of knowledge.

So yeah, I agree with you on all accounts.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 10:33 PM ^

And it's very valid with blocking at this level. If you are unsure of what you're supposed to do, or in other terms, not confident you can do your assignment or what your assignment is, you're going to hesitate, your fundamentals will break down, and bad things will happen.

No doubt that confidence plays a significant role.

dragonchild

November 12th, 2013 at 9:31 AM ^

Not sure if you'll see this but I have a theory. . .

It's possible there's some bizarre phenomenon taking place due to lack of middleclassmen.  People keep talking about Lewan and Schofield as leaders of the O-line, but they're fifth-year seniors with sights on the NFL leading a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds.  Imagine if you mistakenly sat through a quantum physics lecture on your first day of class instead of Physics 101.  You don't have a chance.

It's possible the coaches tried to do way too much, way too soon.  Now we've got several partial blocking schemes in their head and no middleclassmen to serve as liaisons for the rest of the O-line.  Lewan and Schofield are passing off assignments like pros to kids who can barely handle basic schemes at college speed.  When frustration sets in everyone tries to do too much when they'd be better off on a playing level they can all execute.  But this involves Lewan and Schofield falling back to high school level, and that's GOTTA be aggravating for them -- not to mention completely neutralizing all the benefits of their experience.

I can't go too far into blocking concepts so sticking to what I know (soccer), I think I can still relate.  I'm firmly an amateur but I do have some competitive playing experience, and when I play soccer with a beginner there's some frustration.  For example, after defending a play I'll kick a pass in front of a winger to start the counterattack, and the guy just stands there watching it go out-of-bounds and stares at me like I kicked it nowhere.  You're supposed to trap the ball in stride you nitwit; if I pass to where you're standing the forward will pick it off or at the very least you'll have a mark in your face as soon as the ball arrives.  Can you count to potato while you're at it?

My point is that it's damn tough to establish chemistry when the gap in experience is vast.  It's certainly an odd situation and no good can come from it.

trueblueintexas

November 11th, 2013 at 10:14 PM ^

I don"t want to get this thread shut down, but keep in mind, Funk just lost his Dad and we have no idea what lead up to that. Funk may not have had his full attention on everything at Michigan. If that's part of it, I get it. It sucks for the other coaches, players, and fans, but I get it.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:39 PM ^

So something has to change with regards to how they are teaching them. How they are presenting the techniques and concepts, those types of things. Now, how is that done? Without being in practice every day with these guys I have absolutely no clue. And even then it's difficult to tell with that sort of thing. I mean, it could simply be they aren't meshing. I don't know.

The schemes and concepts are no different than most teams. The youth on the interior isn't common, so it's hard to say how common these pass pro issues are. My guess is the pass pro being this bad is not common.

Rage

November 11th, 2013 at 9:49 PM ^

Thanks for your insight, Space Coyote!  

I'm no coach but am more troubled by these issues knowing that Hoke and Mattison are D-Line coaches themselves.  I'd have guessed that with all of their experience, they'd have noticed this right away and nipped it in the bud.  I now understand why they were so excited about their defense in pre-season practice.  

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:58 PM ^

I don't think at this point, in season, it's going to click for them as a unit.

Now, you might see flashes of it clicking at times yet this year. Little things like "hey, that wasn't horrid looking", but I highly doubt it'll be with any consistency. You may see some of the improvement you're hoping for in the bowl game. It may click for 1 guy and not another. I think next year is a more realistic without being overly optimistic look at things though, unfortunately.

SysMark

November 11th, 2013 at 10:06 PM ^

Thanks, about what I expected.  Maybe with the bowl game break something happens and we get a surprise.  This is why I never bought the argument that our O-Line was going to decline next year with the loss of the tackles.  If the interior is better everything else will be better.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 10:10 PM ^

I think what you can hope to find next year is that the OL is more consistent and is capable of the mental part of the game. This is pretty much what the '12 OL was. They got to their positions, they picked up their pass protection, and they didn't really do a whole lot more.

Now, I believe these guys have a bit more upside than that, and hopefully you'll also see flashes of them developing into guys that can do more than that, but doing their job consistently is the biggest step. That's the difference between MSU's OL last year and their OL this year, and look how much of an improvement that was for their offense.

BILG

November 11th, 2013 at 10:07 PM ^

Lewan and Schofield to guard?  To at least take away the A-gap blitz that is destroying us.  Run quicker pass plays so Devin doesn't get blown up on the edge where Kalis and Magnuson will be playing tackle?  Then maybe we can grind out at least 2 yards a carry up the middle.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 10:12 PM ^

Lewan has never played OG, so I don't think you want him there. Also, OTs and OC are most responsible for communication, so that would be an issue. And I'm not really sure you want two new edge guys.

Some people have brought up the possibility of moving Schofield inside. I don't think much is gained by putting him at RG, as I think you have a lot of the same issues and now have issues on the edge, so you're not gaining a strength from it. But moving Schofield to LG actually gives you a strong side to run to and maybe get some run game production. You may sacrafice a little more in pure pass pro, but if you can run a little bit then hopefully teams are teeing off as much.

May be too late in the season for that move, but I do think that argument has validity.

Space Coyote

November 12th, 2013 at 10:46 AM ^

People often forget that Michigan OLs were relatively terrible in the Jake Long era. Really, it was zone left behind long and the second best OL at LG.

I personally think Tackle Over isn't bad, there isn't anything inherently wrong with it, it's just that the interior OL still makes enough mistakes to make it ineffective.

In essence, moving Schofield to LG would push that ineffective backside further back. It also, in theory, still at least puts OL on the weakside when you do the change up and run right.

It certainly isn't the answer to all the problems, far from it. But it may be something worth trying to at least force the defense to respect something. Right now they essentially don't really respect any run because they know they can beat the blocks of the interior guys.

reshp1

November 12th, 2013 at 9:19 AM ^

I think the time to change things up have long sense passed. In hindsight, the shuffling that's been done was probably ill advised. These guys just need time playing and practicing together. I agree with SC that the earliest we can expect noticeable improvement is probably the bowl game, and more likely the spring game. It's going to be a wild ride until then.

Leonhall

November 12th, 2013 at 7:51 AM ^

i agree with SC, it probably isn't going to just "click" sometime this season. I think a lot of it is mental and the coaches need to re-evaluate how they are teaching things. I personally do not think there will be coaching changes made unless Dave Brandon forces it. That being said, I think this oline needs two things....time! and another year of strength and conditioning....

Michigan248

November 12th, 2013 at 8:54 AM ^

The thing I wouldn't mind happening would be for Hoke to hire a d-line coach, let Mattison rome around more on defense and it would free up Hoke to work with the offense too, particularly the oline

Space Coyote

November 12th, 2013 at 8:57 AM ^

While Hoke certainly knows the basics of OL technique and what they need to do, he's never taught the position. He's always been on the opposing side of it. While some benefit can come from that, Michigan already has a dedicated OL coach and an offensive GA that is essentially an assistant OL coach. More cooks in the kitchen I don't think is the answer to the problem.

trueblueintexas

November 11th, 2013 at 9:31 PM ^

Thanks, here is what I don't get on the Lewan/Bosch thing, I typically see other teams leave the backside defenders free on a sprint roll out. I.e. The sprint away from them takes them out of the play. So why would Lewan & Bosch both be hanging out to the left when everyone else is sprinting to the right? Why not just one of them? Why would they also not move right to ensure no one could get through? If it's a second look to play off the "Vincent Smith throw back screen" (yes, I have ceremoniously dubbed it that), I get it. Somehow, I don't think that is the case because they had the RB running to the right instead of hanging back to pick up the backside defender which would be a better setup for that play.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:43 PM ^

There are slide protections that you slide everyone. They might have tried to split the difference a bit because of alignment. Does Fitz act as a lead blocker on the roll? Sometimes they'll have the RB be front side C pass pro to backside A, depending on the defensive formation. If there are only two threats backside, they may do something like this and have the backside OT hinge to prevent a free rush from the backend completely. Whereas the backside OG will play straight up to inside (don't let him cross your face). This may explain why Bosch released his guy, he didn't completely understand the slide protection. Or, there may have simply been a miscommunication and only Lewan was supposed to essentially hinge.

My guess though, they were sliding together based on defensive alignment to make it so there were no clear rush lanes for the defense to run through. That forces (or should) the defense to go across Bosch's face or behind Lewan to get in the backfield, in which case they should be picked up.

A lot of this stuff can only be guessed at, as it's hard to say what the communication was at the line or the actual pass pro call. But it was clear both were slide protections.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:46 PM ^

Most self-improvement will come in the first 5 practices or so of bowl practice (when you get back to focusing on fundamentals and other technique/mental related issues before addressing the opponent), spring practice (where you're only focused on yourself) and the first week or so of Fall camp. So hopefully by then, the mental issues of the young players will be fixed enough to have 5 guys that understand how to work together on the field. Experience will help that, and an offseason after that experience should really help as well. Emphasis on should.

B-Nut-GoBlue

November 11th, 2013 at 9:17 PM ^

I'm not who you're looking for and I'm not an Oline blocking expert but I think much of what line bring up is why there's a mass questioning about the offensive line philosophy and here's that word...Scheme. Are they being taught schemes and techniques that aren't making sense for college players? I.e. the calling for Funk to be gone.

Just an observation more than an opinion on the nature of what's occurring with this young, dreadful offensive line.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:23 PM ^

And the interior is struggling to pick it up (that's why all the interior pressure got home for MSU). That 2-on-2 blocking scheme is better for match up reasons, it puts OL on DL and on the biggest threat LBs (like Bullough) and leaves the smaller players to Fitz, or it's supposed to. But the OL struggled to get in position, pass off players, etc.

That's why they have gone to more of a gap scheme (they didn't do so until the 2nd half of the MSU game I believe, they went to it I believe the 2nd or 3rd drive against Nebraska) which is simpler, but less optimal with match-ups and easier to get the match ups the defense wants.

B-Nut-GoBlue

November 11th, 2013 at 9:52 PM ^

I've more or less assumed and gathered they've gone to a more simplistic approach to blocking; as you say, they've pretty much installed high school level assignment blocking (i.e. the gap blocking scheme). 

It's still failing.  And as you've already answered in this thread, that must mean there's a fundamental flaw in the teaching that is occuring; maybe all of these kids never pan out to be great players but even if they were below average, in my humble opinion, they should be getting SOME of these concepts.  Instead, it seems every damn play something is amiss from at least one person and as we've all unfortunately learned these past few months, if one of the 5 Olinmen errs the whole play is often nuked. 

OR, would you say (likely early, i.e. not watched film yet) that they were doing a decent job against Nebraska, as a unit, but the approach/scheme they went to was too basic and easy for the defense to defeat?  To guess and preface a response you may give, when they're (Nebraska) throwing the book at you with so much blitzing/pressure and there's been very little to back them off, it was pretty much a lose-lose situation no matter the Oline "scheme"...??

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 9:20 PM ^

You'll get a lot of different responses with that one. My personal opinion is that it's being over stated. It is true that Michigan has tendencies. Some of those tendencies are a little more clear because they are limited at the TE position due to youth and forced to play one of their TEs at WR. In other formations, there are tendencies once again. Williams will typically mean run play, but not only (same with Paskortz, but to a lesser degree). Funchess as a TE usually means pass, but not always. Butt is a mixed bag.

Likewise, stack formations are more often pass plays because it's a bit more difficult to get into blocks from them, but this is far from always true. Motion from the WR is often a tip to see what the defensive coverage is, so more often than not it's probably a pass. TE motion I think is pretty well mixed between run/pass.

So, I do think there are plays Michigan runs more often than others (there base plays). I do think they have tendencies, both for personnel and formation. But I think all teams have those. Michigan may lean a bit to tendency more because of youth at TE (they aren't yet diverse players that can run routes and block) and a simplified playbook after they looked confused earlier in the season. But it is far from a significant difference from other teams, and I do believe what Hoke said to be true in that regard.

Space Coyote

November 11th, 2013 at 10:21 PM ^

Not that I've been looking for it either. Usually you won't find a lot in the OL splits to tip plays outside of some "and short" situations like Stanford. Look for the TE alignment more often to tip plays (which way are they facing, how close to the OT, especially if they are off the LOS, are they behind the OT or not). I've seen a few teams this year (I think ND) somewhat tip some of their plays where they kick out the DE by setting up the OT a bit further from the OG. These are usually spread teams that don't have a TE so they are trying to give the kick blocker a bit more room. They'll kind of do it for a lead puller as well. But, then they'll also pass out of it a bit so it's not a clean "tip" and use the fact that the widen out the DE to their advantage.

There may be some 2-point vs 3-point stance things that hint at certain plays. I know with Wisconsin you can often look at one side in 3-point and the other in 2-point. Well, usually the 2-point is in pass pro (especially as backside PA guys) while the 3-point is run side (to get leverage). But they can run to the 3-point side regardless of the 2-point side. They can also do other things so it isn't a complete tip.

But as far as weight distribution out of a stance, I doubt it much. They might do it a little, but that's mostly being restless out of a stance. They are pretty well coached in starting from the same weight distribution to utlize all their blocks.

LSAClassOf2000

November 11th, 2013 at 10:38 PM ^

This sort of speaks to something I have noticed (and I could be off here), and it might tie into the quotes about predictability that have come about in the last couple days. It does seem that the diversity of play called has lessened, that the playbook has gotten quite simple for this line. It seems sometimes as if we might be tipping plays because we don't run a very diverse set of them in some respects and that "predictable" may stem from that. 

Sac Fly

November 11th, 2013 at 9:23 PM ^

This one was on the players. When you slide the entire line the tackle opposite the play side isn't supposed to go charging to that side. He is supposed to move, but slow enough that he could still block the DE.

Schofield went too quick and left Gregory, and I don't think he blocked anyone.