Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Picture Pages: Defensive Adjustments?

While I enjoy reading Picture Pages, either by Brian @ MGoBlog or Chris @ BWS, I generally try to avoid replicating them here. I admittedly lack a deep understanding of schemes like they have and the last thing I want to do is spend an hour loading a dozen pictures only to explain the whole damn play incorrectly. But a few plays caught my eye on my 2nd go-around for SDSU so I'll try to highlight what I'm seeing and thinking.

While the defensive line and secondary earned significant praise following the 28-7 victory, the linebacking corps was inconsistent at best. True to his style, Hoke pointed out that they need to play better as a whole and then proceeded to highlight positive plays made by each of the backers. One of the things SDSU loved to do was to mix in a lot of pre-snap motion to confuse the defense. This typically sets off a firestorm on the defensive line, realigning last second, while the linebackers/secondary adjust (or should adjust) their alignment and coverage responsibilities.

The Aztecs opened both halves with identical running plays yet different pre-snap motions. They were defended by Michigan with varying results: poorly during the 1st half, excellent during the 2nd. That either shows positive defensive adjustments made by Mattison during halftime or perhaps just a better understanding of the play from different linebackers. Let's take a look:

PLAY #1: 1st drive of the 1st half, Score 0-0. 2nd and 7.
 This is just to show the original backfield formation; BTN didn't switch to a side view. Notice which side the FB is on (TE off the screen but he's on the right also).
Much better. As you tell from the red arrows, the FB and TE switch sides. This puts Michigan's defensive line in a tizzy, scrambling to match up with the strong and flex side. RVB/Roh switch places, as does Martin/Heininger. Jake Ryan is the EMLOS.
 Lindley sets a man in motion as Ryan watches. Man coverage. It appears Floyd is signaling to Kovacs to pick him up.
This is the snap. Floyd is still signaling and Kovacs has gotten the hint. Notice how Ryan has moved away from the EMLOS back to a normal 4-3 set. More importantly (and disturbingly), both Demens and Hawthorne have not budged. Demens who plays MLB is now at the OLB position. Something's up: either the LBs should shift or Hawthorne should be adjusting to an OL position with the pre-snap motion. Aztecs completely flipped their strong side and the only man who moved was Ryan.
 Handoff. A couple of things here from the Aztecs: the RG is pulling to the strong side, the LG/TE engage in a scoop block on RVB, the FB is running towards the LOS. Demens immediately sees an open B gap and runs uphill to fill it. Is he supposed to? If the LBs should have shifted, then his responsibility should be to the outside. If Hawthorne is out of position, then Demens is making the proper play here, even though he's leaving 2 LBs to the left of him.
The LG peels off the scoop block and takes on Demens, leaving the FB searching for somebody to block on the 2nd level. The pulling RG is right behind the TE now, who is still on RVB, anticipating Hawthorne. Ryan is nowhere near the play anymore but it's not his fault.
 The RG actually whiffs on Hawthorne but he's taken a poor angle at Hillman and can't get to him cleanly. Ryan is in pursuit. Dude hustles.
 And catches Hillman 4 yards past the LOS. It ends up being a gain of 6. 3rd and 1.

VIDEO #1 (H/T: MGoVideo... with... interesting music choice?):

PLAY #2: 1st drive of the 2nd half (after Denard's 1st pick), Score 21-0 Michigan. 1st and 20.

Pre-snap formation. The Aztecs are going to flip it again, except this time the WR is already on the eventual strong side.
Pre-snap movement is a little different though. This time the FB takes the TE spot while the TE turns into an H-back on the strong side. No movement from the D-line this time. With the slot receiver already lined up on the strong side, this ultimately ends up being the exact same formation as the previous play.
That's Avery on the far side signaling an X, Gordon picks it up and moves forward. Hawthorne is also communicating and though you can't see it in the pictures, Demens does the same motion right before the snap (you can see it on the video). Ryan is playing noticeably outside this time and the alignment of the linebackers, as a group, is much better this time towards the strong side.
Snap. Look familiar? RG pulling, LG/TE scoop block on RVB and the H-back racing towards the LOS. Same play. Except Michigan is in a much better position to defend it.
If you recall from before, Demens was the outer-most linebacker on the strong side with 2 LBs on his left. This time, the linebackers are positioned in order--Hawthorne, Demens, Ryan--and Hawthorne, though pretty far from the LOS, ends up engaging with the LG pulling off his scoop block. This leaves Demens free and Ryan in prime position to make a play.
Demens engages the pulling RG while Ryan, with ample time to diagnose and react, avoids the H-back block in the open field and keeps contain on Hillman.

Ryan TFL. Loss of 2. Also, COME ON Hawthorne! You are still so far from the play. And you waited for the RG to run to you for the block.

VIDEO #2 (H/T MGoVideo...again, the music creeps me out)

  • Defensive Adjustments? It's unclear if Michigan's linebackers just got luckier on the 2nd play because there was less pre-snap motion, most notably from the WR. Either way, they were much better aligned for the 2nd play and defended it appropriately. Tentatively crediting Mattison.
  • Communication is key. It's nice to see Floyd/Avery both recognize and communicate the formation shifts with Gordon/Kovacs. Hawthorne and Demens did the same for the 2nd play. A communicative defense!
  • But confusion still works. I thought SDSU could have snapped the ball a lot earlier on several plays while Michigan was still figuring out their alignment. This should improve as the season goes on but for now, the pre-snap motion is a pretty easy and effective way to confuse the hell out of our defense. Expect more of this from future opponents.
  • Jake Ryan is a playmaker. I suspect he'll get hammered a little bit in Brian's UFR; there are other plays where he abandons his responsibility or just looks terrible in pass coverage. Having said that, it's hard to doubt his--wait for the Hokeism--fanaticism for the football. He makes the tackle on both plays and from opposite sides! His hustle is also the reason he recovered two fumbles in this game. All and all, a pretty good 1st career start.
  • Demens truck. Man, Demens hits gaps hard. Big difference between him moving North-South vs. East-West (see: BWS' Jet Sweeps Defense Part 1 & 2). He's the biggest enigma on this defense, IMO.
  • Hawthorne/Demens switch? If anybody knows the actual football answer to what Hawthorne/Demens is supposed to do on the 1st play, I'm curious (comment). When the FB, TE and WR all switch sides and 2 of your 3 LBs don't budge, something went wrong. At least Ryan got off his EMLOS position. My guess is that Hawthorne should move to the right of Demens. Also, not to pick on Hawthorne too much, but he dies on the spot once he gets blocked.

1 comment:

  1. In the first play, Ryan should have switched sides. When the tight end and full back switched sides, they changed the strength of the formation to the offenses' left. The D line switched but Ryan (the strong side backer) stayed on the weak side. In the second play, they got "lucky" because the defense had the strength to the field and San Diego switched the strength to the field (where Michigan had already called it.)