Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Corner blitzin'

I mentioned in yesterday's game column that Michigan was content playing the same defense against UMass the entire day. They didn't really show any new blitzing schemes, defensive fronts, or adjustments to try and stop what was a pretty potent UMass attack--at least potent against the shoddy defense Michigan was throwing out there. One of the specific problems I found was this:

Never blitzing a corner on Totally Surprising Quarterback Rollouts that were gashing the defense. It took Michigan until UConn's last offensive series to blitz a cornerback on the one play that UMass ran repeatedly to astounding effect. Over and over again, UMass quarterback Kyle Havens rolled out of the pocket and hit any one of various free receivers downfield that were scampering through the Wolverines' porous zones. He completed 22 of 29 passes and produced a better performance on Saturday than he did the previous two weeks against William and Mary and Holy Cross.

It took a while but I finally found the play when Michigan blitzed Floyd: it was on the Cam Gordon interception/fumble. And while Floyd's blitz wasn't the only reason Havens threw the pick, I'd venture to say it went a long way to causing it. Let's take a look at the film.

With 10 minutes to go in a  42-24 game, if Michigan gets a stop here, they very likely put the game to bed. The final result of this play is really disappointing because if Cam Gordon had held onto the interception this game is probably not quite so terrifying, but alas. Michigan is in their regular 3-3-5 set here and is bluffing a blitz on the strongside of the field. UMass' slot receiver is about to motion across the formation and will end up on the strongside of the field. UMass, as they did much of the game, has one tight end in and a single half back.

Right before the snap, you can see JT Floyd starting in on his corner blitz. The strongside blitz that Michigan was showing pre-snap will pull off the line and drop into coverage. Now, you're probably asking: What about UMass' uncovered defender at the bottom of the screen. Well UMass had been using weakside receivers as the final option on most passing downs and having the strongside receivers typically run drag routes across the field, a few yards behind the Michigan's linebacker zones. So the receiver that Floyd was cover pre-snap would not be a hot read if UMass QB Havens gets into trouble.

At the snap, Michigan rushes three--with Floyd coming off the corner--and drops the linebackers into coverage. UMass' linemen are blocking one-on-one with the defensive ends and double teaming Mike Martin. The running back will be charged with blocking Floyd.

At this point, the left guard realizes that Michigan was bluffing the blitz and doubles Ryan Van Bergen. The rest of Michigan's linemen are tied up on their blocks. The running back sees Floyd's blitz and steps up to block him. This is a critical point for Floyd: As you can see, theres a bit of a gap between the right tackle and the running back. If Floyd takes this route, the half back can simply push him through the pocket and Havens will have a free release out of the pocket. Instead, Floyd stays disciplined and continues to rush to the outside of the pocket.

Michigan's secondary has covered well enough that Greg Banks is getting off of his block and heading into the backfield. Martin is about to do the same. One reason Michigan was able to cover so well on this play was that they blanketed the strongside of the field with defenders. Floyd is continuing around the outside of the pocket and Havens has no idea he's there.

Now Havens sees the pressure coming up the middle and tries to roll out of the pocket like he had been doing all day. But instead of just having a free wheel release, when he turns his head, Floyd is rushing around the edge. Though there is a hole, Havens is forced to cut back upfield. On film, you can actually see this bother him.

Havens has now cut through the hole and is being pursued by Michigan's linemen. You can't see in this picture, but five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Jonas Mouton is waiting for Havens and covering one of his receivers; he either has to pass it or rush for a minimal gain. Havens decides to pass the ball very late in the play and overshoots his receiver who is dragging across the play and being nominally covered by Obi Ezeh downfield.

With Havens scrambling out of the pocket and under durress, he throws up what will eventually be the Cam Gordon pick.

The point is this: When Havens was given a free release out of the pocket, which was often, he was usually able to find one of his receivers streaking through Michigan's zone. But because they sent a different look at him--Floyd coming off the edge--he had to readjust where he was able to throw the ball. Much of UMass' offense on Saturday was predicated on getting Havens to the edge and allowing him to work Michigan's zones. But with the corner blitz, he was unable to do so.

Again, if Gordon hangs onto this interception, the game is probably over in unceremonious fashion. But more importantly, this was a play where Greg Robinson dialed up something unexpected and it should've ended well for Michigan.


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