Defensive Autopsy - The Wolverine, Chait

Submitted by StephenRKass on November 23rd, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Jonathon Chait writes a great defensive autopsy article at Rivals. This is not premium content, so the link should work.

His analysis has 3 main points:
1) The thin D-Line created problems, with guys too small being forced to play a hybrid nickel, and getting man-handled by bigger O-lines.
2) The linebacking corps was atrocious, and this was NOT caused by a lack of 4-stars on the roster.
3) The thin secondary caused many problems. Perhaps the worst was the emergency move of Woolfolk from safety to corner. When Woolfolk was moved back (for OSU,) the defense actually did reasonably well.

Nice to read a reasoned analysis, with some hope for the future. On this last, Chait is going to follow up with a 2nd column.



November 23rd, 2009 at 12:15 PM ^

I disagree with point #1. I don't think the defensive line was a liability at all. I mean, sure, if they were all 300 pounders, then they might have held up better against teams like Notre Dame and Wisconsin...but they wouldn't have produced as much QB pressure or been able to chase down plays from behind. And if they linebackers were decent, nobody would have even noticed that our defensive line was undersized.

The defensive line did a great job this year. There were mistakes like any position group on any team, but I didn't spend much time worrying about them at all once I figured out that Ryan Van Bergen was holding up pretty well at DT.


November 23rd, 2009 at 12:28 PM ^

I think what Chait is saying is that they could get pushed off the ball by the bigger teams. Even Rodriguez has admitted that Michigan has to get bigger on defense, and this is the unit he is talking about.

Obviously, in relative terms, the defensive line wasn't the reason why Michigan lost 7 games. But if Michigan wants to be a championship team (which it clearly does), it needs to get more physical in the trenches.

It is truly frightening how good Brandon Graham was, when offenses had the luxury of double-teaming him on almost every play.


November 23rd, 2009 at 12:33 PM ^

I'm actually very encouraged by our D-line's play this season, and I think RVB was a pleasant surprise. If Will Campbell makes strides, we'll be alright.

Overall, the D should improve next year about as much as our offense did this year, and the rising tide will lift our boat that much more -- not to a B10 championship, but to a bowl game.

This is a rebuilding process, and I'm fully prepared for it. I say no to any coaching carousel fiasco.

Wolverine In Exile

November 23rd, 2009 at 12:24 PM ^

I think there's some point to #1, but with most teams moving toward a spread like attack, I'm not sure throwing out Grady Jackson-esque linemen consistantly is a good solution except for Wisconsin, maybe Michigan St. Notre Dame was big, but there identity is throwing the ball, so you better get pass rush from a front four / five to allow enough coverage guys. I think it was more of a depth issue as when you saw on Sat Graham sittig out, Patterson/Heninger getting smoked on power off tackle football. You get even a Ninef Agakhar (nice ref!) stand up against the run in there and OSU gets 4-5 yds instead of the 15 yd carries.

I take exception more with #2. Stevie Brown was not a 4-star LB and only Mouton was highly rated LB. Fitzgerald wasn't a consensus 4-star LB nad LEach was a walk-on. Ezeh... just fail. I don't think the talent was there to make up for sub-average coaching which is what I think we all can agree on was also present. I'll just call it "perfect storm"... not great talent, but not great coaching either. Add in inexperience in the system and you have recipe for disaster.

#3 is I think right on, and damn if we didn't switch to this sooner. A more competant safety in Woolfolk might have allowed us to let Warren play more aggressive. I know Floyd got burned bad twice, but Pryor missed the WR's both times and those were LONG throws-- a 50/50 proposition for any QB not named Tom Brady.

willis j

November 23rd, 2009 at 12:25 PM ^

is a give/take with regard to lineman size. Anyways some games you see the huge guys win. Some games you see the smaller quick and agile line win.

I think the better players are better for a reason and will win their battles more often than not.


November 23rd, 2009 at 1:43 PM ^

Roh and Fitzgerald are currently tweener players who could add 15-20 lbs. of muscle and move up a spot. Roh to DE to replace Graham would make sense just because he's a pass rusher. At the hybrid position, he would be responsible for outside option runs and he didn't do a good job of that this year. Granted, he's a true freshman, but he's naturally more of a north/south guy and would be a fine pass rushing true DE.

Ezeh and Leach are done. They must be replaced. I think the solution is to get Fitzgerald to add muscle that will allow him to move to MLB. He has a pretty tall frame and I think he could make the move. It would also be nice to introduce some competition at the MLB spot from new recruits since it was such a disaster this year.

los barcos

November 23rd, 2009 at 1:57 PM ^

holy hell. i dont know if you could pin ALL of the shortcomings of those games on the woolfo(r)k move, but that is some telling stats. i wonder where this defense could have been with a halfway competent second DB?

if warren comes back, this should give some faint glimmer of hope for that defense next year.

woolfolk as a good-to-great underrated safety?


November 23rd, 2009 at 3:11 PM ^

This year defense was bad but I believe that it had some bright spots too. They provide the offense the stops they needed when they need them. Let's look back a little.
Notre Dame - our first comeback victory was only possible because of the defensive stops at the end of the game.
Indiana - same thing here.
Michigan State - we comeback and tied the game and the defense had a major part in that. The OT interception lost the game for us.
Iowa - same thing here. The offense got the ball back but another interception lost the game for us.
Purdue - the defense got us two 3 and out. One time we went for 4 and 10 and miss, second time we fail the 2 points conversion.
Ohio State - our offense threw 2 INT in the last two possession. The defense hold them to 14 points.
All these stops were at the end of the games when the time was a big problem and they delivered.
Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin the defense was bad but was able to hang on for at least a half.
Is it the lack of talent and depth on the defensive side, the youth of it, the inexperience, the new scheme, the coaching of the positional units, the new DC? What is it? Maybe, just maybe these entire combine formed a perfect storm that got us in this situation. That is why I will give them at least one more year. About the size of our defense yes, they are small now but they are also young so they can add some weight to their frame in a year or two and still be fast.
Now we all see what another year and a better QB can do for the offense so let's wait and see what it can do for the defense before we start blaming somebody.