MGoBlog posted its weekly Upon Further Review Errata this week, much of which was about Kenny Demens' starting debut against Iowa. In it, he addressed the Iowa touchdown that we both analyzed, but which I felt Demens should've come in for more criticism for his pass coverage. Specifically, he says,
On the other hand, BWS took another look at the National Lampoon's Zone Vacation picture pages and suggested the blame was largely on Demens:This still seems like Brian making a few excuses for Demens. If Demens is relieved of the responsibility of guarding the receiver that runs directly through his zone, what exactly is his responsibility on this play? While I agree with Brian that having Demens cover a wide receiver is a bad idea, it is explicitly his job here. Except that he doesn't even have to "cover" the receiver so much as carry him through the zone that he has clearly vacated. If Demens is able to stick with this receiver even for a few yards in his zone, it's likely that Roh's pass rush gets to Stanzi and this is an incomplete pass, or at the very least, Demens is in position to make the tackle. It's easy to say things like "One of them was somewhat out of his zone" about Demens' performance here, but his poor positioning is what turned this play from an incompletion or catch and immediate tackle into a play that saw a lot of yards after the catch.
...It is likely that Demens wasn't supposed to re-route the TE because he wasn't going vertical, and he did drag out of his zone. The reason that's a fifteen-yard error instead of five isn't on him. I should have given him a –1; Avery still is the primary culprit IME.
As to how far out of his zone Avery is: I still contend that Avery is not nearly as out of position as other people say. We can all agree that he has a responsibility to re-route the slot receiver. With two vertical routes heading at one safety, without that bump, this is almost certainly a completion in the end zone (or there will at least be an open receiver). However, if Avery plays at the same depth as the linebackers, there's a huge hole between the three deep safeties and the underneath defenders. The outside receiver is running a skinny post between two safeties, and it appears that the slot receiver is running a square in at the sticks. The slot receiver would be 10 yards from the closest defender if Avery hadn't carried him as far as he had. Furthermore, Avery runs no further than the first down marker, which I'm fairly certain is the depth of his zone. If he had turned back toward the sideline, rather than making a 360-degree turn back to the play, he's in perfect position to make the tackle. Whether or not he makes that tackle is beside the point.
But returning to the assertion that Demens shouldn't be forced to cover a dragging receiver, this is another bullet in my Play Man Coverage gun. With Michigan's insistence on playing zone, team's can find soft spots and mismatches on almost every play. Asking our depleted linebacker core to make plays like this is, as Brian said, "an incoherent defense that will get you killed long term". What exactly about this year's defense doesn't make you think exactly that? Playing so much zone coverage necessitates that Michigan's linebackers play a lot of pass coverage and stick with a lot of receivers (see: Mouton's team-leading interceptions or Craig Roh attempts at coverage). I still contend that these schemes are flawed and the defensive results we've seen this year should be credited as much to Robinson's playcalling as they are to the lack of talent. But in the system that Michigan is currently playing, Demens completely missed his responsibility and Avery stumbled around helplessly like a true freshman often does.