Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grilled salmon with a side of MOEAKI!!!

As I mentioned in my way-too-long breakdown of Michigan's defensive schemes against Penn State, the team ran a 4-4 alignment with a lot of zone for most of the game. In the second quarter, Penn State finally reacted to the coverage and was able to slip a tight end, Andrew Quarless, into the secondary for a long, uncontested touchdown. Much of the blame on this play goes on Jordan Kovacs who was playing deep and whose only responsibily is basically to stop this play from happening. Pictures:

This is the presnap alignment. Penn State is in a three-wide set with a running back in the backfield and a tight end to the strongside of the field. Michigan is in the alignment they played for most of the day: A 4-4 front with the a linebacker shaded inside the slot man, Donovan Warren 10 yards off the line, and Troy Woolfolk over the other outside receiver (with over the top help from Kovacs). Mike Williams is moved up near the line of scrimmage as is playing a zone, bracket technique with Warren. Andrew Quarless, the Penn State tight end on the receiving end of the touchdown is lined up on the top of the screen. Obi Ezeh will end up covering him.

At the snap, you can see the four defensive linemen rush. Stevie Brown is dropping into coverage on the slot man. Williams is watching the run near the line of scrimmage while also covering the shallow zone on the backside receiver. Kovacs has help over the top and Warren is covering the deep zone. Ezeh and Mouton are the middle linebackers.

It's difficult to see here, but Quarless is releasing straight into the secondary on a skinny post route. There's been a lot of players taking blame for this play (everyone except Kovacs who I haven't heard any public "I dun screwed up" from). Brandon Herron is lined up on the line of scrimmage over Quarless presnap and has said that he didn't press Quarless at all, giving him the free release. This is all well and good, but this play is not his fault. I believe Ezeh has also said it was his fault in coverage, but no one expects him to be able to cover anyone.

Here, you can clearly see Quarless out in the middle of the field and Ezeh turning to give chase. Stevie Brown, who would be better suited to cover Quarless was pulled over to cover the slot man who is running a stop route. Williams is runing to cover the receiver on the backside that he and Warren were bracketing. The other outside receiver that Woolfolk is covering (on the top of the screen) is also running a stop route, like you can see here.

This is where Kovacs screws up. Once both of those receivers run their stop routes, Kovacs absolutely has to get over and help on Quarless. Kovacs was given that third of the field and was just keyed in on the wide receivers. Better safeties can make this play on the fly. Even better ones will know what to do before the snap. Kovacs is a glorified run stuffer and looks lost out there.

For whatever reason, Kovacs still has not broken toward Quarless, even though the other two receivers he's in charge of looking after have both run stop routes. The defensive line hasn't gotten any pressure, and Mouton was dropped into a short zone in the middle of the field, likely to spy Clark in case he tucked the ball to run.

The ball is in the air and Ezeh is unable to keep up with Quarless, allowing him over a yard of separation. You can see Kovacs (circled in red due to blurryness) is starting to break to the ball. By this time, it's way too late, and he doesn't have the athleticism to catch up to the pass or tight end. It looks like Kovacs just has a really difficult time diagnosing plays. Rodriguez always talks about where players' eyes are, and that typically causes these blunders. I think Kovacs was just staring down the receivers and had no idea that Quarless had released into the secondary.

Diarist Steve Sharik at MGoBlog took a look at the play as well and has this to say:

The long TD to the TE was Kovacs responsibility.  We were in Cover 2.  The completion wasn't on him, but the fact that it turned into a TD was on him.  There were three breakdowns on the play.  First, Brandon Herron lines up too far outside the TE, allowing him a free release.  There's no reason for him to be out that far given there's Stevie Brown apexed b/w the slot and the TE, plus a hard corner in cover 2.  Second, Obi doesn't collision the TE, mostly b/c of his unmolested release, but Obi still has to at least get his hands on the TE and widen him toward the half safety.  Third, and most importantly, Kovacs has the deep half of the field.  The two WRs both ran hitches, which should have refocused Kovac's eyes inside to #3.  He didn't get depth, and then looked less than speedy attempting to chase down the TE.

I don't totally agree with the analysis. It's tough to see on the tape, but I don't think Warren dropped into a cover 2 any more than he had on the previous plays; he put a diagram of the play up, but unless he can see something I can't, I'm sticking with my evaluation that Warren was running a bracket on the outside receiver like we had been doing all game. He's right that both Herron and Ezeh should've put a hand on Quarless, but regardless, the fact that this play resulted in a touchdown is solely on Kovacs.

More than anything, however, this was a really good play call from Paterno or whoever is calling the plays over there. We had run this alignment for much of the game and mostly defended pass plays the same way, especially when a third receiver was brought into the slot. Hypothetically, if Herron gets a good press on Quarless and Ezeh bumps his out toward Kovacs a bit more, this still has a pretty good chance of resulting in a completion. The play call was basically perfect against this defensive look and was designed to put Ezeh into man coverage (yikes) and see if Kovacs knew what he was doing. All of the things that could've gone right for Penn State did on this play.


agaerig said...

Your peppiness about our defense makes me think you're confusing your ability to correctly diagnose what went wrong with our ability to ever fix it.

Chris Gaerig said...

Maybe so. Kovacs will always be a walk-on with limited capabilities. Depth at corner is still terrifying. Etc. But Greg Robinson has a proven track record and it's clear that he's starting to shift stuff around in an attempt to fix the problems at hand. We're not going to be great, but noticeable improvement by year's end, brought on largely by the schemes of our defensive coordinator, is just about best case scenario at this point.

DJB said...

The word peppiness is awesome to use when describing Chris. That just made my day. Anyway, PSU did have a lot of shit go their way. That sucks. At least your not a Spartan.

I like your play-by-play analyses, that's impressive and better than most people would do.

I hate you though. So, whatever.

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