Death of the Deathbacker

Submitted by iawolve on December 27th, 2010 at 5:02 PM

Two years ago, I really liked the idea of a Deathbacker. The name was obviously a winner, but also I liked the versatility. A pocket collapsing speed rusher that would sometimes drop into coverage (not too often) with a TE to show a different defensive look. We had Roh with an apparent beast-in-waiting with Wilkins stepping in behind him and an undersized Davion Rogers included in the class as well. Michigan would eschew the traditional "two big guys" at end, adding what I thought could be a promising wrinkle. Illinois, by necessity or by design, utilized a big run stopping end and a faster, lanky, speed rusher. 

So what happened? The move to a three man front essentially got rid of a seemingly good wrinkle and position that was recruited. Besides the obvious "well RR just wanted a three man front", does anyone know why this was abandoned? Did anyone ready any post-season analysis regarding the experiment with the Deathbacker and if it was considered a failure? With an undersized Roh last year, I don't even know if we say the true potential there. Looking for input on this one.



December 27th, 2010 at 5:19 PM ^

I think the real driving force in the three-man rush this year was the lack of competency in the secondary after Woolfolk's injury (and especially after Floyd's injury). With no confidence in our painfully inexperienced secondary, the coaches felt obligated to drop eight into coverage and hope that our three down lineman could create enough pressure on their own.

This obviously didn't work very well -- partially because Roh is far better as a pass rusher than a coverage linebacker, partially because Ezeh has no idea how to drop into a zone, and partially because our defensive ends didn't provide enough of a rush to supplement Mike Martin.

But I'm not sure that we necessarily saw the death of the deathbacker. I think we saw a scheme that was severely limited by inexperience and, as a byproduct, players who were forced out of their ideal roles (such as Roh).


December 27th, 2010 at 5:23 PM ^

See, I would think that if you don't have confidence in your secondary, you would want to bring more pressure. That way the secondary doesn't have to cover as well or for as long. It seems to me that you would only consistently rush 3 if you did have confidence in your secondary. It's almost like daring the other team to try and sit back in the pocket and throw.


December 27th, 2010 at 5:38 PM ^

This would be my line of thinking as well, but it didn't seem to match up with GERG's. It seemed like we were dead-set on a bend-but-don't-break defense, except ours actually did break.

There were a lot of odd things on defense this year -- I just didn't want to spin this particular topic into a CC (or DC?) thread, although maybe it's impossible to avoid. Regardless of who our DC is next year, I hope to see some major differences.


December 27th, 2010 at 5:42 PM ^

I'm surprised they didn't at least attempt to be pressure-oriented for a game, see what happens. Funny, one of the biggest plays of the year on defense, the final play of the Illinois game, they went with an all-out blitz.

Zone Left

December 27th, 2010 at 5:53 PM ^

They did try in snippets throughout the year.  When it worked, the defense was okay, but there were an awful lot of long touchdowns when the blitz was picked up.  If Brandon Graham was still there, blitz packages would probably have been much more effective, but without a solid pass rusher up front, offenses didn't have to work very hard to pick up a 5th rusher.

The defense sucks either way, and there really isn't any way to sugarcoat it.  Good defenses get pressure with four players, and Michigan is a long ways from there.


December 27th, 2010 at 6:04 PM ^

The defense was more aggressive in the MSU game, and we got torched a bunch of times. It had been much more conservative the week before against Indiana, and we got dinked and dunked to death. Basically we don't have the combination of talent and experience to run any scheme effectively. Better days should be ahead...

OSUMC Wolverine

December 27th, 2010 at 11:58 PM ^

The defense as a whole didnt get torched...Ezeh got torched by due to over pursuit twice in the second quarter that resulted in touchdowns because we were in man coverage in the secondary.  If Demens started that game I think the score at halftime would have been far different.


December 27th, 2010 at 6:04 PM ^

In my experience playing defense, that's not how it works.  You rush more guys (or blitz) when you have confidence in your DB's.  Remember, the offense has at least 5 guys blocking, maybe 6 if they keep a TE or a RB in to block.  So if you rush 4 or 5 and you don't get much pressure (which will happen half the time) and your DBs can't handle it, you could get bombed for big yardage.  If you have DBs who can blanket their man, you can bring the farm and not worry about it as much.  We also played a number or teams with veteran QBs and veteran WRs who would have been more likely to take advantage of the pressure. 

That said, I would have like to see more blitzing thrown in strategically to keep them on their toes a bit.


December 27th, 2010 at 5:29 PM ^

I hated the name. To me it sounded like something out of a Jack Black movie. In any case I don't think there is much a distinction between a "formal" hybrid DE/LB and a conventional DE who drops into coverage on zone blitzes a lot.

Roh seemed like the archetype of a hybrid DE/LB, but as it turns out he's far better as a traditional weakside DE than dropping into coverage. I would be inclined to drop Roh into coverage on zone blitzes less often than a typical DE.  


December 27th, 2010 at 5:53 PM ^

if a team is going to run a 3 man line particurly in a 3-3-5 look, it requires agressive playcalling. I certainly understand the apprehension the coaching staff may have had in rushing more guys consistently, but the 3-3-5 or 3-4 for that matter are meant to be  attacking styles of defense, where guys are blitzing from mutiple angles on any given play. When I watched WVU a couple times this year, it was pretty striking the contrast in what they were doing and what we were doing. To be fair, WVU does have a better secondary, but the pressure they generate also helps their secondary as well. This kind of style would really benefit a guy like Roh, as well as the other d-linemen, as they would have some more one on one matchups.


The issue with Roh is that he really is more a 4-3 DE, and I think he could thrive in that role. He was really being misused for much of the year, by not only being slightly out of position as a linebacker, but being asked to drop into coverage  rather than rushing too frequently. I could also seen him to doing pretty well as a  rushing LB in a 3-4 scheme.


December 27th, 2010 at 11:02 PM ^

This is partly a function of coaching, too.  I still do not understand why Michigan hired GERG (who, to my knowledge, never coordinated a 3-3-5 defense before) to, you know, coordinate a 3-3-5 defense.  As Brian pointed out in the UFRs, the Michigan linebackers seemed to be misaligned on a regular basis.  That, combined with the secondary issues and mishandling of Roh, conspired to spell even more doom.


December 28th, 2010 at 12:18 AM ^

I didn't understand his hireing also... i remember after the Scott Shafer experiment RR saying how we were going to hire a big name coach with all kinds of credentialls ( i thought to myself Tommy Tuberville... as unrealistic as it sounds that was the kind of DC i was thinking)  and then we hired Greg Robinson and i thought who the hell is he. 

But i think he got hired because he was willing to let the rest of the D coaches stay on.  As we all know RR is very loyal to his coaches almost to a fault.  This was probably a condidtion the DC was going to have to work with.... and it does not seem to be working. 

It looks like the D staff is going over robinson's head when there is a disagreement and it seems like that was going on while SS was DC.  The D staff cried to RR we want to try the 3-3-5 in the 2008 purdue game and it was a disaster.  Then we get a new DC, try to run what Greg wanted to run... and then the Dstaff Cried to RR we want to run the 3-3-5 and the 2010 defense happened.  It just does not seem like meshing these outside the RR coaching family with guy's who have coached to RR for years is working.  Either Rich needs to promote one of the position coaches to DC and let them run the D or let the next DC hire the position coaches he is comfortable with.

wow my thoughts are rambleing on.....

Bobby Boucher

December 28th, 2010 at 9:54 AM ^

Roh is a true DE, I don't care what anybody says.  But, that doesn't mean someone else can be used as deathbacker.  Also, a good DC should be able to use multiple schemes.  7 or 8 big guys in the box against good running teams, rush 3 + deathbacker role against passing or those 3rd and longs, option on pressuring the QB. 


December 29th, 2010 at 8:13 PM ^

I think the 3-3-5 works well against teams that spread the field like Indiana and Purdue.  Against teams that pound the football on the ground, we need more size on the field in a 4-3.  We need to use multiple defenses with the varied offenses of the Big Ten.

With more experience, we'll be in a better position to run multiple defenses well.