Discussion: Offense Going 4-Wide?

Submitted by stephenrjking on August 11th, 2017 at 3:50 PM

So, we've gnawed around the edges of this, but football is approaching and we all want to talk about this kind of thing.

There was talk in the early off-season of going to more 3 and 4-wide sets. In the last week umbig11 (at TTB) casually mentioned that they are working this in 7-on-7 drills and that it had been worked all summer.

The question is: Are we going to see a shift in formation and scheme distribution this fall? Not necessarily throwing out the old playbook, but changing how frequently certain formations and plays care called?

I believe the answer is yes. There are a some really good reasons for this:
1. A lot of rumors from different sources that the team is going this direction
2. A large quantity of ultra-talented receivers that we believe can be productive on the field, but none that are so dominant that they demand double coverage yet
3. Importantly, serious questions about the offensive line.

It's #3 that seems like the most important factor in the switch, to me. This is a good article discussing the Patriots ultra-powerful short passing game. Very prominent in this article is a discussion of "time to release" for Tom Brady. Spoiler: He gets his passes out quickly. 

This is going to be key for a Michigan team with questions all over the OL. It's a great way to use the WR and slot talent in ways that exploit their strengths. It plays to the strengths our two top RBs have in space and (in Evans case) as pass-catchers.

I believe Michigan is making a concerted change in focus here. It won't be the Pats, but it will look a lot more like them.

But I might crazy. What do others think about this?



August 11th, 2017 at 5:04 PM ^

How about let's go with what gives us the most efficient offense and gives us the best chance to win games?

Spreading the field with 4 and 5 receiver sets and utilizing a short passing game would mitigate any OL issues we have and would open up the middle of the field for a shifty back (like Evans) to operate without the opponent stacking 8 in the box.

If that game plan is what the coaches feel gives us the best chance to win, great. If it's just a wrinkle and the coaches are comfortable continuing the big packages, great.

We have the personnel to run both.


August 11th, 2017 at 3:57 PM ^

Speight isn't good with the deep ball either. Spreading teams out and going with a short and intermediate passing game makes more sense for his strengths. 


August 11th, 2017 at 4:34 PM ^

True.  Folks saying he CAN'T make a deep pass are exaggerating.  The issue isn't CAN he, it's can he do it RELIABLY or often enough to force defenses really scheme for it.

If it's just 1-2 per game, teams can stack the box without much worry.  If the volume goes up to some threshold, that's where we get the "stretch the field" type of strategic advantage.


August 11th, 2017 at 5:12 PM ^

If you only connect on a few deep passes all year, you pretty much can't complete a deep pass. You can argue semantics if you want, but he hasn't shown an ability to get the ball within reach of a receiver over 25+ yards without the receiver having to seriously adjust his running pattern. Anybody can just throw the ball up a dozen times to a wide open WR and have the receiver adjust to make a catch a few times. If he could have hit a WR in stride a few times, it would do a LOT in terms of confidence in that area for fans.

Tyrone Biggums

August 11th, 2017 at 5:33 PM ^

This. We didn't throw deep often but it wasn't like the coaches never called for the deep ball. If the coaches didn't think he could complete the deep ball they wouldn't call the play. They tried it enough to show they had confidence in him. It was Speight's first year. I thought he performed above average for a first year starter, even when banged up. His numbers validate my assertion. He should be improved this season. If he's not we all know what will happen.

I expect to see a lot more multiple sets with Pep in the fold. We have so many receiving threats that man ball will take a back seat this season. I think we'll see 3,4,5 wides with not just multiple receivers but a bunch of the big fast TEs we have. We're still gonna run a lot but I'd assume that Speight will get to check down to a run from a bunch of these spread formations.

We'll see. So much talent in the skill positions they're gonna have to be multiple to keep everyone engaged and ready for the playoff run.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:26 PM ^

That's an interesting question. We all remember the great pass against Wisconsin... and if we think about it we can remember some deep passes that completely missed open receivers.

Granted, the receivers weren't great at adjusting to the ball, either. 

It would be interesting to see an actual study of Speight passes that, say, travelled further than 25 yard in the air. 

Mr Miggle

August 11th, 2017 at 4:28 PM ^

is that Speight is going to be better this year. Hopefully at everything he struggled with last season. I don't see why not. Of course, you still want the offense to be geared towards his strengths.

If he hasn't improved, he's not going to win the starting job. Even if he's still a little better than the other QBs. That's a circumstance where Harbaugh will go with someone with a higher ceiling.


August 11th, 2017 at 6:17 PM ^

His play during the spring game looked like regression. Granted that's just the spring game but its enough to concern me how much he'll improve this season. Also, he plateaued last season against Maryland. His pre-injury Iowa play was ugly and he stuggled against top competition after. How much of that was a result of injury vs nearing his ceiling is the real question.

Mr Miggle

August 11th, 2017 at 7:11 PM ^

we'd be hearing different kinds of reports from observers. He also wouldn't win the starting job.

The spring game is just one weird kind of practice. You're scrimmaging with a different selection of teammates than you're going to play with. Not just the OL, but also the receivers. The defense generally knows what's coming and the big offensive plays typically come against scout team players. It's a showcase for athletic ability, not so much for the rest of the game.

Juicing with Milk

August 11th, 2017 at 10:28 PM ^

I agree. During the season there are formal gameplans, film sessions to review defensive schemes, and the QB develops a feel for which receivers get open on particular plays (right?). The spring game, what with it's semi-random draft, probably plays a lot closer to backyard football.

It's not hard to imagine that a QB who prepares well and understands the offense gains an advantage for the regular season, while during the spring game it just comes down to who can flat out throw.

I'll be surprised if Speight doesn't start and shine this season. But good to hear that JO'K and Peters are keeping it a competition!


August 12th, 2017 at 9:33 AM ^

"Also, he plateaued last season against Maryland."

Just thought that was kind of a funny thing to say.  Speight went 13-16 for 292 yards and 3 TD in the first half of that game.  Harbaugh called it the best half of football he's ever seen a M quarterback play, which seems like an exaggeration but still.  Speight finished with a career high 362 yards and M won 59-3.

If Speight had plateued at that level he'd be a preseason Heisman candidate.  He wasn't able to sustain it.  He didn't "plateau," rather, he kind of tumbled down the mountain.  But if that Maryland performance represents Speight's ceiling, well, that's a pretty damn high ceiling.  He doesn't need to play better than that for M to win the big games.  He just needs to play at or near that level more consistently.  Experienced players achieve consistency at established levels of performance all the time, so I don't know why Speight shouldn't be expected to do the same thing.



August 11th, 2017 at 5:09 PM ^

You ever think that maybe he only had 15-20 all year because he isn't very good at it so the coaches were reluctant to call it? Michigan definitely had the speed and size advantage for those deep passes to be effective, if only Speight was able to be at least adequate in that area. Similar to Penn State's offensive passing game..

Let's not forget Michigan had two NFL WRs on the outside and a NFL TE on the inside. Now look at our schedule. Who really had the defensive backs able to matchup with that? OSU and.... I got nothing. I'd Speight were at least adequate with the deep ball, he connects on at least one of his misses against Iowa and we win that game.

It is definitely his weakness and at minimum could have changed the result of one of our losses.


August 11th, 2017 at 6:33 PM ^

or the WR could catch the ball instead of letting the Iowa DB grab it out of his hands. Or maybe Hill could not fumble the kickoff to start the second half, or maybe an O-lineman could identify that Jaleel Johnson needed to be blocked. My point is, it's a team game.


August 12th, 2017 at 5:05 AM ^

I didn't say Speight was the only reason we lost. There's lots of things the team could have done that would have mitigated his weakness and came out on top. My only point is that if Speight cashes in on one of his three overthrown passes to wide open receivers, that's a win. His inability to connect on the deep ball was a critical issue. One that played a hand in the outcome of that game.

Again, it isn't the ONLY reason, but it is a reason.


August 12th, 2017 at 1:23 AM ^

The only question I'd have is if Speight's release is quick enough. His short to intermediate passes are right on the money when he has time to step up into the pocket and into his throws. 

Going back and rewatching the games without the passionate cheering of watching live, it became clearer that Speight's biggest weaknesses (besides the deep ball obviously) are on the short passes to the outside (the "flares" and "shoots") which are potetially fixable with practice and repetition.


Gentleman Squirrels

August 11th, 2017 at 3:58 PM ^

It seems our transition to a more spread formation team is largely to minimize concerns with the o-line. I'm not well versed on the differences but from reading this blog, it seems that frey was brought in to run a system that makes it easier on young o-lines to be succesfull. The short passing game is probably for that and for Speight to get his reads out quickly. It can also open up the occasional deep ball. With some seriously fast new WR that will be very valuable.

Blue in Paradise

August 11th, 2017 at 4:53 PM ^

You nailed it - not only are they fitting the scheme around the WR talent, this is also to mitigate OL concerns.

They know that we are going to struggle against edge rushers this year so the way to mitigate that risk is to spread the field and get the ball out of the QBs hands quicker.

This alignment will also allow UM to maximize Chris Evans' skill set.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:01 PM ^

I think you need to add reason #4

#4. Less talent in the TE group, so less TEs on the field and more WRs. We just lost our all american TE, and the stud freshman who was going to take his place transferred. So essentially we lost our top 2 TEs from last year and did not bring in any new TEs in recruiting. 

When I first heard about us going to more 3 and 4 WR sets, my first thought was that was Harbaughs way of adapting the playstyle to the roster. We lose our 2 most talented TEs, and gain a bunch of talent at WR, ok lets switch up the offensive sets to compensate.


August 11th, 2017 at 5:17 PM ^

With no new incoming TEs, it's a tough argument that there's not a clear talent dropoff at the position losing Butt and Asiasi.  Even after taking into account the expected growth/development of Bunting, Wheatly et al, the wise approach would be to expect and prepare for less production from the TEs in the passing game.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:01 PM ^

Jim Harbaughs record in San Fransisco got worse as the number of passing plays compared to run plays increased.

Did passing more make his already eroding roster even worse? Or did it make what would have been a disaster just a mediocre season? That's the question.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:34 PM ^

I thought I read it on this blog, but I cannot find it. But the OP of that article (I really think it was Brian) seemed to phrase it like Jim saw the writing on the wall and made a concerted effort to get the most out of the team by switching to a pass reliant offense. Like Harbaughs last team in SF wasn't an 8-8 team and his coaching got them that far.

We can all agree that Jim Harbaugh loves to run the ball, and thinks running is the key to winning a game. In San Fransisco he looked at his team, decided they couldn't be successful enough on the ground and shifted toward a heavier passing offense. His past coaching decisions point to this shift as a reaction to the talent along the OL. 

Is that what he is doing here by going to 4 wide more often? If so, that portends bad things for this season, wouldn't you agree? 


August 11th, 2017 at 5:27 PM ^

Do more 3/4 wide set necessarily imply a significant shift in the run/pass ratio?  I don't think that HAS to be the case and I doubt those sets become a staple in the offense without complementary constraint plays that don't allow teams to ignore the threat of the run from those personnel groupings and formations.  As a slight aside, I think this is where guys like McKeon, Eubanks & Gentry become really interesting and allow for a ton of pre-snap formation adjustments. 


August 11th, 2017 at 4:03 PM ^

I fully expect the offense to put up more points this year beause of this adjustment.

Not only that, but I feel teams should always spread the field when they can.  Space is to the advantage of the offense.  Constriction is to the advantage of the defense.

I'm just glad Michigan's delt hand this year (with loaded WR talent) is sort of forcing their hand to go this route.  They should've been doing this for years IMO.  Particuarly with the sketchy O-lines over the past X seasons.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:07 PM ^

I'm just glad our coach seems smart enough to adjust his scheme to fit his roster.  There are so many talented wideouts so we are going to use them.  I don't think we will ever get vanilla.  I still remember watching SF destroy Green Bay in the playoffs with the zone read.  It was savage.  I think Coach Harbaugh always tries to stay ahead of the curve and adjust to maximize his talent.  I would love to see what he would do with a true dual-threat QB.


August 11th, 2017 at 4:23 PM ^

I agree 100%. Well, maybe 95%. I think we were all mildly frustrated with some play calling last year. 

No matter how you slice it, we didn't use Peppers correctly last year on offense. 

Whenever Shane Morris came into the game...

And whenever we tried running a sweep with Deveon Smith.

Sometime Harbaugh is a genius with his play calling. Other times, it's like huh?