Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Swallowing Kenny Demens addition

Today, MGoBlog Picture Paged a Wisconsin run demonstrating a flaw in the Michigan defensive formation:
by lining up his MLB just behind his nose tackle he dooms that guy to take one step to the playside, whereupon he is eaten by a guard who has no one lined up over him. Even if Michigan successfully plugs that hole they are crazy vulnerable to cutbacks and counters.
I don't think this is exactly right. The problem with the play is not necessarily that Demens is too close to the line of scrimmage, rather that Michigan's defensive numbers and zone coverage dictated not only a decent gain but a tackle by the safety.

MGoBlog's complaint is that Kenny Demens is lined up directly over Mike Martin and only two yards off the line of scrimmage. The bigger problem, however, is that Michigan is playing cover-3. Like Chris Brown of Smart Football likes to say, "football begins as arithmetic" (with depressing Michigan/Indiana tie-in!). Before this play even starts, Michigan is committing three deep safeties to an I-formation with two receivers--Courtney Avery, on the weakside of the play, is rolled down toward the line of scrimmage but because there are no receivers on his side of the field. Though it might look like more, Michigan is committing only six defenders to the box against seven Wisconsin blockers and a tailback. Cam Gordon and Jordan Kovacs are outside the box and covering flat zones (sort of, about which more later).

Important to note: on the strongside of play and inside the box, Michigan has four defenders (Martin, Roh, Ezeh, and Demens) versus four blockers (center, right guard, right tackle, and the fullback). The numbers are decidedly in Wisconsin's favor.

After the snap, the center and left guard double team Martin. The right guard is given a free release where Demens and Ezeh are attacking. Van Bergen is being double teamed by the left tackle and tight end. He gets sealed to the outside but understandably so. He has no shot here. There are no problems with Michigan's defense yet, but Jordan Kovacs standing with his hands on his knees becomes a huge problem in a minute.

Demens and Ezeh are running to the point of attack. The right guard, who was given a free release will be hit by Demens a yard past the line of scrimmage and Ezeh will attack the fullback.

This is where my understanding of this play varies from MGoBlog's. Brian argues that, were Demens further off the line of scrimmage, somehow, the offensive guard who was given a free release wouldn't find him or would miss his block. Frankly, that's wishful thinking. Demens plugging the line at the point of attack by taking on the offensive guard is actually the best possible scenario. Ezeh will be charged with stuffing the fullback, which will necessitate either a cutback or a bounceout. Structurally, Michigan is still sound.

The bigger issue with this play is that Michigan is playing zone coverage. Mouton and Kovacs are still frozen in place because they have to account for the pass. In Mouton's case, this is a function playing zone coverage and being assigned to the middle of the field. Kovacs, however, should be ripping down the line of scrimmage behind the offensive line right now. He can do this because Wisconsin didn't put any receivers on the weak side of the field allowing Avery to roll down and cover the overhang. So when the left guard releases his double team on Martin and starts to head upfield for Mouton...

...Kovacs needs to be rushing into the backfield to make the play on a cutback that has been forced by Ezeh and Demens stuffing the Wisconsin blockers at the line of scrimmage. Instead, Mouton has to take on an offensive guard, leaving the middle of the field open for Wisconsin:

Now look at Kovacs and Avery. What is Kovacs doing here? He's unblocked, isn't defending the overhang (that's Avery's job), and watching the play move away from him. If Kovacs had started attacking the backfield when he should have, this would've been a two yard loss. Michigan's defense is still sound if he misses: even a miss would necessitate a cut to where the play eventually goes, and Avery has overhang coverage. I think Kovacs just flat missed his assignment here and is frozen because he thinks he has a responsibility in the passing game (he doesn't as there are no weakside receivers and Avery has coverage on the weakside TE should he release).

Kovacs begins to attack the backside of the play when the ball is already beyond the line of scrimmage. Mouton has been successfully blocked. Avery, who was in overhang coverage is late getting back to the point of attack, which is OK because he needs to be behind the ball. And eventually Ray Vinopal will come downhill from the free safety spot to make the tackle.

The point of this is that it's not the alignment that's the problem. Moving Demens further from the line of scrimmage does not somehow remedy the fact that Wisconsin has a decided numbers advantage. Nor does it mean that he'll be able to read and react to a play that's designed specifically to flatten him. (What more could Demens do on this play from four yards deeper? Expecting him to completely shed a free-releasing offensive lineman is unrealistic and assumes that Michigan's players are supermen.) For this play to work, Wisconsin actually only had to block six of Michigan's defenders: Roh, Martin, and Van Bergen (all on the line), and Ezeh, Demens, and Mouton (the linebackers). Michigan essentially committed five players to the pass (the three deep safeties, along with Kovacs and Gordon at the Spur/Bandit positions). All of this despite the fact that Wisconsin had seven blockers.

This could have been remedied had Kovacs realized the shift in coverage when Wisconsin didn't put a receiver on his side of the field. But he failed to acknowledge it and instead completely took himself out of the play, acting as a redundancy overhang defender. So while I agree that this is probably an "incoherent defense", it's not the alignment of the linebackers on this play that causes the problem. Michigan is unwilling to test man coverage and, because of that, find themselves spread out and susceptible to the rush.


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