Tuesday, October 12, 2010

MSU man vs. zone comparison

After the Indiana game, I started yelling for a lot more man coverage. Teams (UMass and Indiana specifically) had been picking apart Michigan's zones and Greg Robinson's schemes looked less than sound. I went so far as to say,

No longer is this a question of defensive talent or improper personnel. No, sadly, this is far more systematic: Greg Robinson's schemes Do Not Work.

And I stick by that to an extent. It's not necessarily that his schemes don't work; it's that they're predictable and without variation they don't work. Until the MSU game, Michigan basically showed one look on defense with sparse blitzes and it showed up on the stat sheet.

I was overjoyed, then, when I saw Michigan playing a lot more man coverage against MSU. And then the game ended and I wasn't sure if it was a good idea. So like the Indiana game, I rewatched the game and noted each time that Michigan played man coverage against MSU. (I watched it a lot more closely this week. Last week's breakdown included a few zone plays that I misidentified and talked about here. This also includes man coverage against the run as I suspected that at least one of those long MSU running plays was man coverage.)

In sum, Michigan played man coverage 24 times in the game. Against the coverage, MSU called 9 passing plays and 15 rushing plays. They gained 143 yards on the 22 plays that counted (one called dead on false start and one had a holding penalty), which amounts to 6.5 yards per play (MSU averaged 7.88 yards per play in total). After the break is a chart with every play on it (except for the very end of the game when they were rushing for 3 yards per play and running out the clock).

Quarter; time Down Result Responsible
1st; 11:00 2nd and 6 10 yard completion K. Martin in motion; Avery on coverage; Rogers forces him out
1st; :37 1st and 10 3 yards rush; holding penalty Martin on tackle
1st; :18 1st and 20 12 yard Martin sack Play action pass; Michigan blitz
2nd; 15:00 2nd and 32 Incompletion Avery in man against slot; pass outside, cover-3, Rogers PBU
2nd; 7:58 1st and 10 3 yard rush group tackle
2nd; 6:41 3rd and 10 5 yard pass Kovacs on tackle. Play called dead for false start
2nd; 5:48 1st and 10 Incomplete deep Rogers on coverage; pretty tight coverage that forced long throw
2nd; 4:34 2nd and 12 41 yard TD run Ezeh makes awful play and shoots wrong gap
2nd; :40 2nd and 6 10 yard Roh sack Martin forces Cousins into Roh sack
3rd; 15:00 1st and 10 Fluke completion (15 yards) Good coverage, pressure by Kovacs; bad throw tipped to K. Martin; Rogers cramp leaves K. Martin open
3rd; 13:00 2nd and 4 5 yard rush Ezeh tackle
3rd; 12:42 2nd and 10 41 yard TD pass Christian gets beaten on double move on an island; pressure almost gets there; Cam Gordon should have helped in deep coverage
3rd; 9:30 1st and 10 5 yard rush Martin tackle
3rd; 8:10 3rd and 2 3 yard rush Mouton tackle
3rd; 7:25 1st and 10 8 yard rush three missed tackles; should've been a 1 yard gain.
3rd; 6:45 3rd and 2 10 yard rush two missed tackles
3rd; 3:33 1st and 10 -1 yard rush Mouton tackle
3rd; 2:14 3rd and 9 6 yard completion Kovacs tackle on TE; Michigan was OK giving up underneath throw
4th; 12:23 1st and 10 jet sweep for Martin; 15 yards Floyd coverage, late getting to the other side of the field; playing with 10 yard cushion on LoS
4th; 10:15 3rd and 1 2 yard rush Ezeh hits correct gap but gets pushed over; first down
4th; 8:40 2nd goal from 16 3 yard rush Ezeh, Gordon, Banks on tackle
4th; 4:50 2nd and 4 2 yard rush Kovacs tackle.
4th; 4:10 3rd and 3 0 yard rush Mouton tackle

So aside from the long passing touchdown and long rushing touchdown, it was actually pretty successful. Of the 143 yards that MSU gained, 82 of them came on two plays: one because of terrible linebacker play and one because a true freshman got beaten on a double move (and I believe Cam Gordon didn't give proper help over the top, about more which later). And 15 more of those yards came on a fluke reception. When 97 of 143 yards gained on 22 attempts came from three plays--two meltdowns and one fluke--the defensive look was relatively successful, at least insofar as these were teaching moments that the team can learn from. Otherwise, MSU gained 46 yards on 19 plays (2.42 yards per play).

Then again, you can't just discount those big plays. Especially on the passing touchdown, Michigan got exactly what they bargained for: they left a corner alone on an island and he was thoroughly beaten. (Cam Gordon was a deep safety in cover-1 who appeared to have deep middle coverage, but this was a one-receiver route. I believe Gordon needs to recognize this and give over-the-top help. But I could be wrong. Anyone with knowledge, it would be appreciated.) The rushing touchdown was symptomatic of Michigan's other glaring deficiency. These things are unlikely to change in the future, so man coverage may be more susceptible to these kinds of implosions.

Otherwise, Michigan was able to get pressure on Cousins including two big sacks. Most rushing plays ended either in short gains or long gains because of missed tackles (again symptomatic of defensive woes and not likely to change soon). More encouraging though, Michigan held up OK when playing man coverage against the pass. They got two sacks and forced two incompletions (Cousins only had 7 all game). They were beaten deep once and were the victim of a fluky tipped pass for 15 yards. All of that is to say that JT Floyd and James Rogers and the freshmen can play man coverage, the biggest objection to the suggestion that Michigan should play more man.

Obviously, Michigan is going to primarily play zone. On a down-to-down basis, that's probably their most effective defensive look. But a full third of Michigan's defensive plays against MSU were man coverage, and including the two massive blow ups, Michigan in man coverage still held MSU to a significantly lower yard per play average than they garnered on the game as a whole.

In the end, I think this amount or slightly more man coverage is probably ideal. It's enough to keep quarterbacks on their toes and will, if deployed and disguised effectively, confuse quarterbacks and cause incompletions or interceptions. This is an important moment in the development of the defense. If they can continue to improve in man coverage (not allowing huge plays), this defense might start to improve as a whole.


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