Friday, January 6, 2012

Last word on bubble screens... for this season

I drew much ire yesterday for criticizing Al Borges' neglect of bubble screens. It's been a bugaboo all season and it was especially bad against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Specifically, this comment caught my eye:
This is what happens when fans and internet blogger heroes think they know more than coaches. We're not running a spread-option offense anymore. The bubble screen and constraint plays went out the door with Rich Rodriguez. If that pisses you off, then take it up with David Brandon for hiring a coach who doesn't wish to run the spread. Expecting a coach to run an offense that isn't his is unfair, and, quite frankly, dumb.
Frankly, I'm not asking Al Borges to run an offense he doesn't know or doesn't understand. I'm asking him to be smart enough to take advantage of the defense when it aligns like this:

This is egregious. When you don't throw the bubble screen here, things like the Sugar Bowl happen: a game that saw Borges absolutely punked by the Hokie defensive staff as they played to his tendencies and forced Michigan to run plays into the strength of the defense.

I don't care about constraint plays or zone reads or any of the other plays and terminology that came with the Rodriguez era. I do care about winning football games, though, and ignoring the bubble screen when a defense aligns like this makes it significantly harder to win football games. This is equivalent to coming out in a three-tight end formation under center on 1st and 10 in the first quarter, when the defense has 11 defensive backs on the field, and running play action. Attack what the defense is giving here. In the picture above, they're giving Michigan anywhere from 8 to 46 free yards.

If Borges never aligns the offense like this next year, that's fine. But if you align the offense like this, you have to take advantage of its benefits. Those include stretching the defense horizontally by using screen passes. This isn't even a questionable screen pass call (where it's 3 vs. 3, for instance, and you're asking a receiver to make a play in space); there are barely two defenders covering three of Michigan's receivers.

Many times this game, Michigan ran the ball into 10 box defenders. This is not effective. It will never be effective. Like Michigan's losses against Iowa and Michigan State this year, the defense had a gameplan: load up the box and defend the run aggressively, forcing Denard to beat them through the air. Michigan was lucky to win this game because offensively, they were dominated. If Borges implements screen passes--and not even many of them, throwing one or two a game will force teams to respect the threat--this forces defenders outside of the box, opening lanes for Denard and Co. in the running game.

I realize that at this point I'm banging my head against a wall. No one even wants to read about this anymore, but it's something that, when it pops up during such an abysmal offensive performance, I can't simply ignore. Borges does not believe in the bubble screen. That's unfortunate. It's also stupid.


UncleFedele said...

The analytical quality of your posts this season have been uniformly exception. I have learned a great deal about the nuts and bolts of offense and defense.

I think what we witnessed in the Sugar Bowl was the impact of Molk being injured and having to play anyway. I don't think the bubble screen or any particular play would have made much difference because our execution was badly hampered.

I do not have the expertise to look at the snaps and analyze the degree to which Molk's injury degraded our offensive capabilities. You, if you are willing, seem an ideal person to perform this analysis. I would be very interested in your conclusions.

Thanks again for all your work.
Go Blue!

AVC said...

Completely agree with you on this post. It is things like this that have me worried about going back to late era Carr offenses. Watching Borges call the OSU game had relieved most of my fears. This performance brought most of them back...

However, I will wait to really judge Borges until year 3 or 4 where he has all of his guys and more of his system installed.


Chris Gaerig said...

I do plan on showing at least a play or two in which Molk's injury hurt the team. There was one play in particular that I'll have to look up in which the defensive tackle just slants right by him and into the backfield because Molk is too slow to block him. Virginia Tech's defensive tackles are not very good, and Molk is generally very good at that kind of block. You can be relatively certain that his injury played a big factor.

That said, his injury was not the sole reason Michigan's offense was so dysfunctional against Virginia Tech. He held up OK. The rest was on Borges who called a really bad game.

SC Wolverine said...

If misery loves company, then you should know that I was screaming "bubble screen" at the tv and "throw on first down" throughout the second half while we ran up the middle against 9 and 10 man fronts. Much as I am living in a Hoke induced euphoria right now, I also try to show some intelligence as a fan. This game has me worried about a reversion to the offensive mindset that drove us crazy with Lloyd Carr.

I comfort myself, however, with Borges' excellent performance in the tsio game. Maybe he just got it into his head that he could run against VT, got freaked out by the passes Denard was throwing, and then decided that the few points he would score by sticking with the run (while eating clock) would be enough to win... in which case, he was rewarded with victory.

SC Wolverine said...

In order to give credit where it is due, let me say that I only knew what to be upset about during this game because of what I have learned the last two years on MGoBlog and from you.

Louis said...

If a CB lined up 8 yards off the line, Henne would just stand up and throw it to Braylon for a guaranteed 5 yards (or 15 yards if he could make him miss). Even Debord (kind of) understood this. It was like a first-down run, but less likely to fail than a zone left.

Also, anyone else remember pro-style Sparty killing Gerg defenses with bubble screens?

Tom said...

"Reversion to the offensive mindset that drove us crazy with Lloyd Carr."

Yes, the offensive mindset that hampered our teams to the tune of a 75% winning percentage!

Coach Rod, who used the bubble screen fairly frequently, won at a 40% clip.

You aren't talking about efficiency, you are talking about taste. There is no arguing taste.

We are winning games again. We even won the game you are complaining about. We could have used a few bubble screens. I still don't think it would have done much good. Our receivers are slow and not known for shaking many defenders, so the quick score is very unlikely. We might make a few more first downs. Still,we were going to struggle in this game no matter what, unless Denard was going to become a deadly passer of the football overnight.

And we could have used a few completions on first down, for sure. But where are we going to get them? Denard was bad all day. Remember the State game? We passed on almost all first downs, in an effort to counter State's loading of the box. It didn't work. We got rolled. I think that weighed heavily on Borges when making calls in this game.

The fact is, we are not a good passing team. Because of that, teams can pack the box. And that will make it hard for us to win.

Just because you disagree with the particulars, you simply CANNOT continue to paint Carr teams as poor offensively. They won way too much to have been anything but good.

I do wish, however, that they didn't "drive us crazy". It would have made all of those wins more palatable to guys like you. Wins suck if they don't satisfy your narrow- and simple-minded strategic criteria!

Owen Rosen said...

The bubble is a huge part of Sparty's offense. Borges' distaste for simple bubble screens and stretch blocking is bizarre. Forcing Virginia Tech to defend the whole field would have helped dramatically.

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