Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Naked bootlegs: Not working, but not for the reasons you think

Last year, Michigan ran a lot of naked bootlegs with Denard that didn't work because defenders are way more worried about Denard rolling out than any of Michigan's running backs. Case in point:

Notre Dame was similarly not surprised by the play and Denard did the Denard thing and threw a ball off his back foot that was eventually intercepted. I'm not convinced that this is a bad play call by Borges, however (about which more later).

Michigan comes out in an I-formation with Devin Funchess lined up as an H-back. Notre Dame is in a 4-3 look.

Devin Funchess motions across the formation.

As the ball is snapped, Notre Dame's defensive end Stephon Tuitt and the weakside linebacker are left unblocked. You'll see that neither of them cares about the potential hand off.

Tuitt continues to stare down Denard and isn't flowing down the line to make a tackle on a potential handoff.

Tuitt has seen Denard pull the ball and knows to head straight upfield. However, look at Gallon (highlighted; explanation below).

Tuitt is now bearing down on Denard.

Denard shuffles his feet to make a throw....

...and heaves the ball without stepping into it.


The Takeaway
This play is not as bad as the interwebs will have you believe. The defensive end doesn't bite on the play action, but look at the strongside and middle linebackers in the video: both of them step toward the play action and are taken out of their coverage zones. Jeremy Gallon (the intended receiver) is wide open on this play because the linebackers bite on the play action. Are there better ways to pick up 12 yards with Denard? Probably, but this is Al Borges' offense.

The thing people seem unwilling to talk about: QBs get hit a lot when they're throwing the ball. Stepping into your throws and taking those hits is what great good QBs do. When Denard gets pressure, he goes into self-defense mode instead of standing in the pocket, delivering the ball, and taking the hit. Getting hit sucks, but that's what it takes to be a quarterback.

It doesn't help that there's a second defender in Denard's face because Michael Schofield once again gets beaten off the line. I understand the tendency to blame Borges for calling this play, but Denard is a senior quarterback that still hasn't figured out how to throw the ball away or refuses to stand tall in the pocket. Quarterbacks get pressure in their face; many of them make the right decision, but Denard never does. With an offensive line that's clearly not up to par right now, Denard is going to see more pressure as the season wears on. His ability to throw the ball away and recognize when a play is dead--or take the hit--will be crucial to this team winning games against more talented opponents.


dnak438 said...

I really enjoy these. But the counter-argument is: if Denard is your only viable option at QB, it is stupid and stubborn to call plays in which the result is known if Denard gets a defender in his face. Borges must know that there is a good chance of an INT if Tuitt gets in Denard's face. Borges must also know that Tuitt is going to key on Denard, so it is relatively unlikely that he won't threaten Denard. Isn't one definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? As you pointed out in your season preview, Denard is Denard. But I guess to a hammer everything looks like a nail, and to Borges every quarterback looks like some West Coast QB, and certainly not the player that Denard is.

Chris Gaerig said...

Well, I hesitate to make this argument because of the talent disparity, but it's the same question people were asking when Rodriguez came to Michigan and had Threet/Sheridan. You have to run your offense because it's your offense. Borges has made a ton of compromises and changes to his system in favor of Denard, but the team still needs to implement the core of Borges offense and be able to run it.

The other issue is that [random QB] getting pressure should not automatically mean a terrible throw, especially with a senior, returning-starter quarterback. This is a fundamental flaw with Denard but one that he can overcome. It's a mental issue more than a physical one. It's hard for an OC to limit his playcalling because the QB might be too afraid to take a hit in the pocket. Borges expects Denard to stand tall as a QB on every play. If his QB is not doing QB things, that's not the fault of Borges.

dnak438 said...

I think this is a reasonable response and I'm sure that Borges and Denard have worked on this issue. It's possible that Denard stands tall in the pocket in practice but then reverts to his bad habits in games. It's a pity, really, that Denard hasn't turned a corner in his QB play yet. I'm sure it's not for lack of trying.

Chris Gaerig said...

Yeah, this is my impression too. I'd imagine his fundamentals in practice are improved, but when guys are bearing down on him and really trying to put a licking on him, Denard reverts to his bad habits.

FMH said...

I disagree a bit. I don't think this was an effective play action at all. While the strong-side OLB does bite significantly, Teo does not, and he's the important one to breaking the coverage. He takes two steps forward. By the time he breaks down to change direction, the fake hand-off hasn't even been completed. When he starts his drop into coverage, Gallon is still a half yard behind him. Gallon is only open on the backside, but the time he gets to the frontside of the play, Teo will be in front of him. When I think of effective play action, I think of Wisconsin when opposing defenses bug out so much their LBs are almost getting blocked by the OL. Teo taking two steps forward is not effective play action in my opinion.

I would think the counter would be have Gallon settle in the zone instead of draging the entire away across the field, but I honestly don't know how fesible that would be, as it would require Denard to snap his head back across the field and make a quick pop pass.

And I have to agree with others, that continuing to run these plays when it's clear Denard cannot make the proper decisions in these situations is just bad coaching. I get Borges will do what he knows, and I do not expect him to just turn into RR for one year, but Borges has also shown he can use Denard effectively. I remember in the Ohio game, Borges eventually got them rushing only 3 on a third and long with John Simon spying Denard, which allowed Denard to thread the needle to Odoms on a perfect pass for a TD. There is an offense that Denard can be very successful in, but Borges just doesn't run it. The positive is that it seems like a well designed offense once the players are in place.

FMH said...

Additionally, the lack of the backside DE not running down the line for pursuit also makes it ineffective. If the DE even took a step or two down the line, it would keep him out of Denard's face. But he's not concerned about the run at all. I think this is because this call is incredibly predictable at this point. The most ironic part is that the run actually looks like it would work on this play.

Chris Gaerig said...

I see your arguments here, but I think you're undervaluing the play action bite by Te'o and the OLB. Te'o is nowhere near in position to make a play on an accurate pass. Gallon is as about as wide open as you can be when you're running a drag route across the middle against 5 underneath zone defenders. The defender that eventually tips the pass is even a few yards behind Gallon.

I can see arguments both ways, but I feel like if Denard is able to stand in and make the throw, this is a 12-yard completion, not an INT.

Potts00 said...

Te'o barely bites on the play action: maybe a step and a half and he's back trailing Funchess heading into the flat. By the time the ball is released, Spond has taken the flat, and Te'o has headed back towards Gallon, allowing him to make the interception. Look at the relative position of Gallon and Te'o as the camera pans with the pass: Te'o is a couple yards away and closing fast. Good chance he breaks up an accurate pass and takes Gallon's head off with it.

Also, Schofield doesn't get beat off the line for no good reason. Nix doesn't bite on the PA at all, charges Denard the whole way and leaves Schofield next to no chance to drive him down the line.

Plus, I would say that Denard steps into that throw and gets crushed, leaving a wobbly pass floating down the middle of the field. Its also important to note that Denard seems to stay on his back foot in order to obtain a higher release point. I think its absurd to assume that had Denard followed through as he should that that pass would have been any better.

Borges got RPS'd all to hell on this play. And shouldn't 17 games be enough to implement a gameplan that works for both?

Potts00 said...

That can't possibly be true considering he got to the batted ball far quicker than Gallon even though the ball was thrown behind Gallon. Te'o had followed Funchess to the edge of his zone and was returning to Gallon by the time Denard was loading up.

Mark said...

You're basically just regurgitating what Brian over at Mgoblog wrote a couple of days ago and in case you missed it, Chris started out by saying that his opinion is contrary to that of others on the subject of bootlegs. Brian readily admits his disdain for anything I formation and pro style. His analysis is hardly objective, especially when it involves Denard.

Asgardian said...

1. Schofield gets picked by Funchess who knocks him off his block.

2. I think this play is ideally run against a 3-4 where there is only one immediate edge defender outside Schofield and he has to choose between covering Funchess and contain.

3. Te'o seemed fast enough to cover both run and pass every time we ran play action. Guy is just that good.

Potts00 said...

I actually started a thread on this on 247sports during the game because it was plainly obvious.

Why are any of my three points wrong?

123kid said...

Disagree generally for two reasons:

1) As already stated by others, I think ND covered the play well enough and I think most "good" QBs would poop their pants with Tuitt one inch from their faces. Denard's no Andrew Luck, but if that's what it takes to run Borges' offense well we're in for some long years. Tell you who would be awful in that situation; Kirk Cousins, even as a Sr.

2) If Denard has trouble with throwing under pressure, don't run plays where he faces pressure. Michigan ran one bubble screen (and Gallon got 13 ish yards!) against a defense with piss-poor peripheral tackling. Denard can make those throws, but Borges doesn't want free yards.

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