Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Obligatory slobbering Mattison post

Late in the game against Iowa, Greg Mattison unveiled a pre-snap defensive alignment and blitz package that was similar to the one that produced the late Notre Dame touchdown. Michigan overwhelms the line of scrimmage with defenders and drops most of them into coverage, generally rushing only four defenders. The difference between the Iowa formation and the ND formation was the alignment of Mike Martin who, instead of lining up in the nose tackle position, lines up outside of the offensive tackle--Desmond Morgan instead lines up as the "nose tackle".

Against Illinois, Mattison went insane. Or rather, he put on display his brand of mad genius. Not only did Mattison dial up that pre-snap alignment six different times in the game, he showed just how deep his playbook goes by calling five (!) different plays from it, using a combination of zone and man coverage. Doing a Picture Page post for each one is probably redundant, so what follows are diagrams of the five different plays Michigan showed from that formation in addition to the game situation.

The first time Michigan showed the alignment, Illinois was in 3rd and 10 in the first quarter. This is the most coverage-heavy variation of the play Michigan showed. As you can see, Martin is bounced outside the Illinois tight end. Martin, along with Van Bergen, Roh, and Ryan will be the four rushers while the rest of the defense drops off into zone coverage. Hilariously, Ron Zook or Nathan Sheelhaase checked to a running play when Michigan showed this formation. My guess is that Scheelhaase was coached during the previous week to check to a run when Michigan showed this alignment because it was a zone blitz that would be susceptible to a run. But this was 3rd and 10 and Illinois came up obviously short.

The second time Michigan showed the formation, Illinois was once again in 3rd and 10. The biggest change is having all of Michigan's defenders play man coverage against Illinois' eligible receivers rather than drop into zone coverage. However, Ryan and Morgan will still drop into underneath zones. Meanwhile, on the strongside of the play, Van Bergen, Kovacs, and Martin are running the stunt formation that Michigan used to great effect against Western Michigan early in the season. Though this doesn't produce a sack, Scheelhaase makes an errant throw with pressure in his face and the defense gets off the field.

This result is not sufficient for Mattison. Once again, Illinois is in 3rd and 10. Michigan shows the same formation but brings another completely different coverage scheme. The blitzing schemes are the same, but with Illinois spreading the field with five receivers, Michigan drops all players that aren't blitzing into zone coverage. Here, Martin--who had rushed on the previous two instances--will drop into coverage. Floyd and Woolfolk are playing deep halves and the rest of Michigan's defenders are in underneath zones across the field. Roh, Demens, and Ryan run the stunt formation we saw above. This will yield a sack.

Mattison's playbook must go on forever. Illinois is in 3rd and 12. Michigan comes out in basically the same pre-snap formation. The only difference is that Roh and Van Bergen are much tighter on the inside of the line than they had been previously. The will run an inside stunt move while Martin and Frank Clark rush the outside. The rest of Michigan's defenders drop into the basic cover-2, underneath zone coverage they've shown a few times now. The inside stunt confuses the offensive line and Van Bergen gets in for the sack.

I imagine Mattison has more plays from this formation, but he showed only one more during this game. Once again, Michigan will use man coverage instead of zone. The biggest change here is the decision to rush five men instead of four, as the team had done the entire game. Scheelhaase makes a quick hitch throw to AJ Jenkins, which JT Floyd covers but is called for a legitimate pass interference call.

This is insane. As I rewatched the game, Michigan seemed to always be in this formation and every time (save one) they brought a different blitz scheme. Though not all of them produced sacks, they did get considerable pressure on Scheelhaase. In addition, the various coverage schemes must be nearly impossible for a QB to diagnose before the snap.

After the game, I said of Mattison's schemes:
Mattison is installing this defense a lot like Rodriguez or Borges installed their offense. Week by week, Mattison introduces a new formation or coverage scheme to the defense--usually only one. Early in the season, it was a basic stunt move intended to overwhelm one side of the offensive line. Against MSU, he debuted an A-gap zone blitz. Purdue: nickel blitz. Iowa: crowding the line of scrimmage. Michigan's base defense is a 4-3 under, man-coverage look that Mattison can slowly and effectively build upon. While he doesn't go back to the cookie jar in later weeks, the hope (and my expectation) is that when Michigan plays Ohio State, they'll have an arsenal of blitzing plays that can be deployed in unison, creating a defense that is as unpredictable and consistently effective as the constantly tweaked offense under Rodriguez.
...but I hadn't imagined he debuted quite this much during the game. Not only does Michigan's defense now have five blitzes in their arsenal should they need them, but these are schemes that opposing offensive lines now have to practice and account for. And even if Michigan shows this pre-snap alignment, they could still bring a variety of different pressure and coverage schemes. If Mattison has this many variants from other pre-snap formations, Michigan's defense will have a near endless arsenal of blitzes to throw at opposing offenses. It'll be fun once the defense really learns the playbook.


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