Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mattison's strong safety blitz

Allow me to preempt this because I realize it's ludicrous: I've been a little disappointed with Greg Mattison this season. The work that he's done with a relatively young and inexperienced defensive unit has been remarkable, but it seems like his blitz packages have been lacking this season. Last year, Mattison used the Illinois game to debut what has become known as his okie blitz package, but there haven't been all that many new blitz packages this season.

Against Northwestern, Mattison broke out perhaps his most innovative blitz of the season (a strong safety zone blitz), which was returning poor results on third downs until he made a subtle tweak, about which more later.

When Michigan blitzed in this game, this is the blitz that they used. It was successful approximately once (on a really important third down), and shredded otherwise, both because of unfortunate play calls and also because Kain Colter is a wizard.

Northwestern comes out in a four-wide set with a running back in the backfield. Michigan is in its nickel package.

Before the snap, Michigan doesn't do a great job of disguising its blitz. Desmond Morgan is also bluffing at the blitz, and Kenny Demens is in a two-point stance as a defensive tackle and will drop into coverage. In any case, Colter can see this coming.

As the ball is snapped, Jake Ryan and Jordan Kovacs come on a blitz.

Frank Clark sucks up the right tackle opening a hole in the B gap. The offensive right guard blocks Ryan, giving Kovacs a clear lane to Colter.

This is where the problem develops with the blitz: Kovacs is coming from Colter's frontside and he's able to recognize the blitz and do a bunch of wonky Colter stuff...

Colter steps away from Kovacs, does some yackety sax, and finds a receiver open at the sticks for a first down.

I could show you pictures of how the play ends, but the video does it justice.

Michigan tried this same blitz a few different times with worse results. At least in the play above, Michigan forced Colter to make an athletic play to find a first down. On other blitzes, Northwestern simply pitched the ball outside for a big gain because Kovacs was out of position due to the blitz.

Late in the game, though, Northwestern had a 3rd and 8 and Mattison dialed up the same blitz with a subtle change: he flipped the field, allowing Kovacs and Ryan to blitz Colter's blindside for the first time. As you can see, this is almost the exact same alignment except everything is flipped: Demens and Roh switch sides of the line and Ryan and Kovacs have also flipped the field.

Michigan still doesn't do a great job hiding the blitz, but it's less important here.

Play looks like a mirror of the blitz above. Demens drops into coverage. Ryan and Kovacs blitz, this time on Colter's blindside.

This is the moment above that Colter sees the blitz coming. He still hasn't recognized it.

Colter is looking ahead at his open receiver but hasn't recognized Kovacs screaming down on him.

Kovacs drills Colter as he's releasing the ball and it falls to the turf.


The Takeaway
In the second video, you can see Colter try and roll away from the blitz briefly before setting his feet and throwing. He has recognized the blitz pre-snap but has also underestimated Kovacs' speed. Because the blitz is coming from the blideside, Colter can't actually react to Kovacs other than to half roll away from the pressure. It is not a coincidence that this is the only one of these blitzes that actually works out.

It took Mattison a little longer than ideal to recognize this, but he was able to do so mid-game and made the proper call in a crucial moment. We're still yet to see a game where Mattison really uses his entire array of blitzes, but as we saw in this game, he may not be able to; certain blitzes are susceptible to various offenses, so his options may be limited. However, it's good to know he's able to analyze an opposing offense and dial up a blitz package specifically for them.


TriFloyd said...

Is it possible that Mattison is playing more conservative by not blitzing so much? IOW, Mattison has more confidence in his standard defensive sets, and is choosing to not gamble with the blitz packages.

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