Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hesitant linebackers versus Bama

One of the biggest concerns about Michigan's linebackers coming into this season was their continued indecisiveness in 2011. By not making quick reads, the linebackers allow lead blockers and offensive linemen to make their blocks downfield, opening cutback lanes for running backs. Much like breaking in Schofield at right tackle, this was the wrong game to remedy those linebacker issues.

Early in the game, before Michigan was down by double-digits, Alabama had a rare second-and-long. They lined up in a one-back, two-WR set, with an H-back and tight end on the strongside of the field. Michigan is in it's 4-3 under with Jordan Kovacs rolled into the box on the weakside of the field. (The second view below gives a much better perspective on what happens.)

As the ball is snapped, Will Campbell and Quinton Washington both slant to their right into the strongside of the field. This allows them to cut into the backfield but also gives a free release to the Alabama center. Everyone relevant to the play has started to move except Kenny Demens (highlighted in red).

As you can see, Washington and Campbell have now slanted toward the backside of the play and are being pushed that way by Alabama's guards. The B-gap on the weakside of the field is wide open for Desmond Morgan (#44) to fill (the free-releasing center is responsible for blocking Morgan). The Bama H-back (#31) is headed upfield to block Demens who will be responsible for the cutback lane.

Morgan quickly fills the B gap as the Bama center prepares to seal him to the outside. Washington and Campbell have slanted past the play but have forced the Bama running back (Jalston Fowler) into a tightening B gap. It is Demens' responsibility to fill this hole but as you can see below, the H-back is close to blocking him.

Before Fowler makes it out of the backfield, the H-back has been able to run out of the backfield and across the formation to engage Demens who should be filling the cutback hole. Demens is now being pushed out of the play (red).

Demens has now been pushed to the ground opening a huge hole for Fowler to run through. He'll be tackled 14 yards downfield.


The only thing that gives me pause on this play is the slant by Campbell and Washington, but I think they played this properly and were instructed to slant to the strongside. Both got deep into the backfield and eventually pushed out of the play, but I don't think that was responsible for this result. If they're slanting to the strongside of the play, it's the responsibility of Morgan and Demens to fill the gaps behind them. Morgan does so, but Demens hesitates as the play starts, allowing time for the Alabama H-back to push him beyond his assignment. This kind of thing was happening all game as pulling linemen and lead blockers were able to get to the point of attack a step ahead of Michigan's linebackers, pushing them out of the way.

I'm singling out Demens here only because this play stood out to me, but this happened to Demens, Morgan, and Ross all game. But this continues a trend that we saw last year from Demens. His first step is usually a beat after it should be. In this instance, he needs to know that Campbell and Washington are slanting to the strongside. If Alabama runs into that slant and is able to make yards, good for them, but something spectacular has to happen. But a strongside slant from both DTs will naturally open up lanes on the weakside of the play to be filled by the middle and weakside 'backers. Demens seems unsure of the structure of this defensive playcall and is too hesitant to be effective.


edjasbord said...

I appreciate the breakdown of the breakdown. But, is there any way to point us to the particular place in the video that this play happens? The video you posted is of the whole game. Thanks.

readyourguard said...

The DTs get too far upfield, creating cut back lanes and too many holes to fill. Demens read the play corrrectly and scraped over to where he THOUGHT the play was going. He over-pursued for sure, but the DTs didn't help. Once they slant and feel pressure, the should either dig down and fight pressure OR spin out and get on the back side of the pressuring OL. Pictures 3 and 4 clearly show QW going completely around his blocker which takes him way out of the play. Technique and responsibility, man. Technique and responsibility.

Chris Gaerig said...

The video is timestamped to begin where the play starts.

Stevesharik said...

Not only were the LBs hesitant, but the safeties and corners who were supposed to be the extra hat in the box were extremely hesitant, too. On the play you reference above, JT is way late and too deep. When a hole gets like that, there becomes two holes in the gap--one on each side of the LB. Demens getting there more quickly will reduce the size, but the back will still cut off that block, and that extra run defender has to be there. This is what Mattison and Hoke meant by saying our run fits were off.

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