Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The New Defense (Part 3)

Ed. Read The New Defense (Part1) and The New Defense (Part 2) to see what Michigan did during this game and how this differs (albeit slightly).

As MGoBlog mentioned yesterday, Michigan showed their first situational defensive substitution in this game, bringing in the maligned Boubacar Cissoko on obvious passing downs--apparently, Robinson calls this his SWAT package. The team, however, still played a lot of zone coverage, and pretty successfully. On this particular play, they even drop the two defensive tackles (Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen) into coverage to further confuse the offense. This is basically the 4-3 under with a bit more zone coverage than we've seen all year. Also, the situational stuff is nice.

There are two deep safeties, one corner standing up on the line of scrimmage (Warren), one linebacker lined up over the slot receiver (Mouton), and two linebackers in the middle of the field. Kovacs and Williams are the deep safties. Warren (top of the screen) and Cissoko (bottom of the screen) are the corners. What's weird about this is that Cissoko is given man coverage with Woolfolk over the top, who I assume is also in charge of watching Mouton's man on the deep route. Michigan likely scouted this formation and knew Penn State never threw back across the field, meaning Cissoko was unlikely to get exploited.

Here's the snap. Warren, Brown, Ezeh, and Mouton are staying firmly planted at the first down marker (why haven't we been doing this all year?). Cissoko is just playing straight man coverage while Kovacs and Woolfolk are making sure not to give up anything deep. They are also in charge of covering any receivers that may settle into the zone between the linebackers and safeties. The defensive line is attacking, but as we'll see, the tackles end up pulling away and sitting just below the first down line.

A moment later, Van Bergen and Martin have dropped into coverage. Roh and Graham are speed rushing the edge. Brown and Warren are allowing the wide receiver to pass through them. If Clark decides to throw this ball, it's likely a pick, as either Brown or Warren cuts under it, or Clark has to loft it enough that Kovacs can get to it. Cissoko looks to have decent coverage. The first down line is completely blanketed.

Warren is now carrying his wide receiver a bit but never vacates his zone or takes his eyes off of Clark. Mouton has his slot man covered on a short stop route, allowing Woolfolk to double Cissoko's assignment--who is never really a threat on the play. The only open receiver is standing next to Mike Martin and going to run an out route into Warren's zone.

The receiver is breaking open, but Warren and Martin see it and are breaking toward the ball. It's poorly thrown, but you can see in the next screen that Martin and Warren swarmed the receiver right when he touched the ball, and short of the first down line to boot:

This is exactly what the defense was trying to force on this play and it worked to perfection.

There's a reason Michigan hasn't been lining up their linebackers and Warren on the first down line to play zone this season: They didn't have the personnel, or at least the personnel wasn't trained/good enough. Now that Cissoko is back, this allows Michigan to play to their strengths. Brown doesn't have to drop into coverage, but can watch short zones and runs. Warren can continue to be fast and awesome and aggressive in any sitauation we put him in. The linebackers can spy Clark/quarterbacks and make passes over the middle more difficult. Woolfolk can give help over the top. And Kovacs can play to negate deep threats and come up in run support.

With Cissoko's behavioral problems, Michigan was forced to put Brown, Williams, and Mouton into coverage on plays that weren't just short zones--Woolfolk, too, but he proved to be a capable corner. But now, as long as they give Cissoko some help and don't put him on an island, the linebackers, safeties, and corners can all play in ways that are less likely to cause huge disappointing MOEAKI!!! like touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what happens when teams bring 4-wide sets against Michigan in the future, as this general alignment is meant to stop those when you don't have a good nickel package, it seems. We have options now to try and force teams into zones--most intriguingly, they can play zone on Warren's side of the field (who reacts quicker and probably plays zone defense better than Cissoko) and leave man coverage with dedicated safety help on the other side, like they did above.

The takeaway: I think Robinson is doing some really good things with this defense. One of them is finally realizing that he doesn't have the personnel to play a lot of man coverage and trying to come up with schemes that play to the defense's strengths--it's just unfortunate that we decided to try these out against a team that can easily exploit missed coverage and assignments. I like this 4-3 under/4-4 hybrid system as I think masks most of the deficiencies on Michigan's defense. Penn State did find a way around it later in the game on the Ezeh-covered touchdown pass, but I'll go over that tomorrow and show just what went wrong (Kovacs. Basically.)

So as disappointing a loss as that was, there were actually a lot of improvements made on the defensive side of the ball, despite not being particularly effective in this game. This is obviously a work in progress, but Robinson might have something going with this alignment. I'm excited to see what they do against Illinois, as much of this system is designed to attack/stop a running quarterback. And if Michigan is able to mix their defensive zones, Juice Williams, a noted poor passer, might end up with a few costly picks. Time will tell.


Anonymous said...

I am assuming this was a 3rd down- M is obviously protecting the 1st Down line. Brown is turned to the outside to wall off either of the receivers from his side from any intermediate route to the inside. Warren has his back to the sideline to be able to easily turn and cover the WR deep, and to see any crossing routes coming his way.

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