Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Transitioning from a 4-3 Under to a 4-3 Over


Much of the talk about Michigan football last year was on the offensive struggles, but the change from Borges to Nussmeier isn't the only change happening in the Michigan program this offseason. The defense, dissatisfied with their inconsistent performance last year, is also switching base fronts from a 4-3 Under to a 4-3 Over. In this post we'll look at what this change amounts to, both in terms of scheme and player deployment.

What this isn't
Let's start with what this isn't: it's not a panic move. This isn't switching an offense from a 21 personnel I-form to a shotgun spread. This is a tweak. Many of the fundamentals from last year's defense carry over and Michigan ran some Over front last year. While there will certainly be differences - which is the point of this article - this isn't a complete overhaul that negates many of the positives that the players have learned through the experience they are finally starting to show on the defensive side of the ball.

So... What is this?
I think the coaches for the most part are being very honest: this is a change to adapt to the growing use of the spread offense. This isn't just a change to get Jake Ryan in the middle. But it is a change to get a defense that is naturally more adaptable to more fronts. One of the strengths of the Michigan State defense that many believe is the reason for this change (the Spartan defense, which was easily the best defense in the league last year and a great defense at that, has very little to do with this change, for what it's worth) is that at its core it can be a 4-3 Over against a Power O team as it can against a spread team.
This also simplifies things in multiple other ways, from coaching responsibilities, to deployment of players. In the end, this touches on the foundation for the change: simplify the defense as a whole. On both sides of the ball there appears to be a common theme, that things have gotten too complex, the coaches have been stretched thin, and it's time to get back to basics, do those basics great, and grow from there. When Hoke first arrived, he made references to the 1998 defensive line, the year after Michigan won the National Championship. They struggled because they didn't have a foundation in the basics. Well, this is applying that logic to a different set of circumstances unfortunately, but with the hope that the lessons don't belie the results.

Change in Scheme
Let's explain what the change actually is. Think of a basic 21 personnel grouping. Imagine that the TE always signifies the up direction, and the ball is the center plane or ground level. The under front shifts the defensive strength under the ground level, away from the TE direction. Therefore, the 3-Tech DT is to the weakside of the formation. Conversely, the Over front shifts the strength of defensive front Over the ground level in the upward direction. Now the 3-Tech DT is to the TE side.
Here is a look at a 4-3 Under.
Here is a look at a 4-3 Over.

Change in Coverage
Because of the alignment, this does likely change Michigan's base coverage. I do not believe that Michigan will be as stringent with the Cover 4 as MSU is, but an Over front is kinder to a 2-high defense than an Under front is, mostly because of the LB alignment and how the safeties interact with the LB level. On the other hand, an Under front is more likely to have a one-high base coverage. Neither prevents press coverage or aggressive defensive play. Michigan State runs a 4-3 Over Cover 4 base, while the Seattle Seahawks run a 4-3 Under Cover 3 base. But a shift to an Over front does signify a shift to more 2-high looks.

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Head over to Maize n Brew to find out how techniques change for the DL and LBs

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Goal Line Passing, Stack Formation, and the Triangle Concept

Stack and bunch formations combined with triangle concepts can provide quick and easy reads within the conjestion of red zone offense. In this article, we look at numerous ways an offense can use these concepts in the pass game to pick up the final yards to put the ball into the end zone.

Outside of the QB draw, inverted veer, zone read, or other backside plays (throw backs included), let's look at some other concepts that Michigan has run from bunch/stack formations near the goal line while utilizing a triangle concept.

Triangle Concept

Go to any football website, and most likely you'll find something about the triangle passing concept. Chris Brown (Smart Football) describes the concept very well (though, when he gets into specifics, he discusses a different play that utilizes the triangle scheme).

The insight behind the triangle is that the horizontal and the vertical stretch are combined to create a single straightforward read for the quarterback that provides answers no matter what the defense presents.
The X-receiver (Funchess) is running a slant to the goal post. This is the vertical stretch. It is also the first read against man coverage as slant, especially to the back of the end zone, is a very good man-coverage-beater.

The second route, by the Z-receiver (Gallon), is a corner/flat (run to open grass to the outside). This is a horizontal stretch. This is the first zone-coverage-beater. This can also be a man-coverage-beater if his coverage is coming from the inside because the X-receiver provides a rub.

The W-receiver (Dileo) thus is the 2nd read for both man-coverage and zone-coverage. He is also the hot read. He is provided with a rub from both the X and Z receivers. He is running an option route. With no inside help, his route becomes an angle route. An angle is generally a man-coverage beat verse outside leverage. By stemming outside initially, it gets the defender flat footed and moving outside, opening up room on the inside. In concept, coming from a stack set, this would work like a double slant against a standard man coverage. Now, if there is inside help, the W-receiver is essentially running a snag route. What this means is that he will run to the void in the defense (the outside release is merely to hide behind the receiver in front, providing a better rub) and hitch, and work inside-out. The QB will throw him open. This means that with inside help but outside coverage, the QB will throw to his numbers. If the outside, flat defender follows the Z-receiver, the QB will throw to the back shoulder into the vacated zone, or in other terms, throw the receiver open. The W-receiver is the 2nd read (outside of a hot situation), but the most likely target.

I discussed this play in full HERE

Drag and Follow
Ran by Michigan against Iowa on 4th and 2, ran against Iowa a couple times and I believe at least once against OSU. It's been a part of the playbook dating back to Borges's first year. If Michigan runs this play, the outside CB's jam takes him out of the play completely and it's a TD (Borges typically runs this with his play in as shown above according to personnel, so Gallon would be the follow, though the routes could be run by any of the three WRs in combination).

This gives both a high and low stretch, as well as a horizontal stretch, gets receivers in routes quickly, and lets them work in space. The read is a bit harder for DG, as he has to correctly identify which target has best position, and it also requires a bit more from the receiver end. I believe this play was run earlier in the season, sometime in the first half.

This is essentially the same look as hitches, but runs the receiver's opposite of their initial release. This maximizes the rub aspect of the stack formation, as well as gives the WR more separation due to their movement. It makes the throw a bit tougher because of the movement involved, and the read is about the same. This tends to work better against a man coverage or a match-up coverage, where as hitches would work better against zone.

Outside Triangle (Smash)
This takes Funchess to the corner instead, and puts the high low further away to the field. This is more than likely paired with a roll out and gives Gardner three pass options and a potential run option. It also utilizes the motion to get Dileo two rubs while getting into the flat. A similar play was run on 4th down earlier in the game.

It is interesting to note that the play that was run was quite similar to the one that sealed the ND game for Michigan. In that case, the motion receiver ran the flat route though and Dileo ran the option route still. The formation was a bit different (WR on the backside, RB flipped), but the route concept was highly similar. That means OSU probably saw something similar, but it was also a different set-up and in a different context.
It's important to note a few things further. Pretty much any of these routes can be run in any combination by any receiver. Each receiver will have some tendencies that follow their strengths, but on any play that can be changed. It should also be noted that on all plays (besides the inside-out play) that the triangle can be inverted into what is known as a delta concept by some. This puts the horizontal stretch deeper (there will be some manipulation to the routes in order to achieve this, but it's in general the same play). There are certainly other possibilities as well, these are just ones that I've personally seen Michigan run in similar situations that utilize a triangle concept.

Delta Equivalents

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Film Review: How Michigan Can Use Their Base Offense to Attack KSU's Tendencies and Weaknesses


By most measures, the Wildcats appear to have a pretty good defense. According to advanced statistics they fall back into the average range. After watching them on film, I tend to lean toward the latter mark. While they can force offenses into so unfortunate down and distances, there appear to be some good ways for Michigan to get preferred match ups if they continue to execute in a manner similar to the OSU game. In this article, we will look at how Kansas State plays their defense and how Michigan can take advantage of some of KSU's weaknesses.

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3x1 Formations
When KSU goes to their nickel package, they line up against 3x1 formations (3 receivers to one side; 1 to the other) in a distinct way that isolates their CBs.


The OLB will carry the #3 up to the FS. He will also try to prevent any crossing route underneath. But this opens up everything to the outside and puts those DBs on islands. With Michigan having the quicker Gallon, who can work over the top on the fade, can work back shoulder fades, and is great at coming back to the ball, as well as Funchess on post routes and over the seam, this makes for a difficult match up on the outside.
Here is a double post by the #2 and #3, while the #1 runs a fade:

Here's Michigan running a double post. Note that this is a 3x1 formation with the TE staying in to block. This would likely suck the OLB in and leave leave the WRs with isolated match ups.

It also draws the coverage outside and gets them playing the receivers, both the CBs and safety. This means if RBs can burst through the first and second level, they will have ample room to eat up yards before the DBs converge. On top of that, if Michigan's QB is still a run threat, this puts the OLB in a position where he is likely uncomfortable handling the run QB run. Roll outs with the #3 in the flat become even more difficult to maintain outside leverage and cover the receiver.

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To read more about how Michigan can work within KSU's tendencies and weaknesses, follow the link to Maize n Brew

Thursday, December 12, 2013

State of the Blog - December 2013

TL;DR - Not enough pictures. I am sorry for that. This is a meta post. I tried to diagram that and failed. This will be an odd circumstance where a post doesn't have a diagram. Sorry.

So I wanted to do a State of the Blog post for a while now, and now that the regular season has wrapped, this seems like a good time do have such a thing. There are lots of people I would like to thank, but I'll save that for the end just in case that's not something everyone wants to read. What I want to address here is what I see from this blog, other projects I'll be working on, and where we go from here.

Breakdown Sports
Readership has gradually increased since the start of this blog, which is great. Much of this is still Michigan based readership, which I expected, but I've been lucky enough to expand a little bit, mostly to the Michigan State and Ohio State fanbase. I'd like to expand more, as I really want the focus of this blog to be B1G-based more than just Michigan-based with a sprinkle of the other stuff. I also want to keep up the quality of the work.

So with that in mind, posts may become a little more sporadic (though hopefully still a 2-3 a week) while I try to watch as much film on other teams as I can. My main source of film has been the great Noon Kick site, which has full game video from across the college football landscape. Unfortunately, the B1G decided it was in their best interest to take down all the video previously on youtube. This is less than fortunate. So I'll be working with what I can find, but this makes my job a little harder. In the mean time, I'm going to try to pump out a few posts on each of the teams and the teams that will be joining the league next year as well.

Hit the jump for a lot more

Friday, December 6, 2013

Know Your X's and O's - OSU vs MSU - B1G Championship

I've compiled a decent amount of work focused on these two teams this year. For those interested in some of the X's and O's and schematic things. Here's the links:

Ohio State
Thought I'd start a thread for those interested in what OSU runs, and that sort of thing. I should have two more posts come out today/tomorrow sometime, which I will link on here. I'll give a brief breakdown of each link so you know what you're clicking before you click it. Hopefully this is alright, and if you have any questions for me in regards to breaking things down, feel free to ask. Apologize as well for linking previews, but again, it helps me track readership better than I can on SBNation, and my goal is to start writing more non-Michigan-centric content and start getting further in depth with the other B1G teams.

Here's a general look at OSU's Flood play, which is probably their favorite way to attack defenses deep, something like this will be a play OSU will likely pull out on any down/distance, because it isolates defenders (including safeties and LBs) on WR in the cover 4, and it requires great communication and great eye-technique in cover 3 on the third and long plays:

Here's a corner-post concept. This is a lot like the flood route, but a little different. This will probably be done once or twice to take a shot more than anything, but against MSU's defensive scheme, I don't think this is a great option for them

Here's a link focused on OSU's pressure against Wisconsin. Somewhat similar personnel groupings and run-to-pass ratio, so expect this to be fairly similar

This is a play talking about Michigan, but OSU runs it much more (MSU runs it as well). It's how OSU uses a FB as an adjustment in to the inverted veer look.

OSU mixes up man and zone blocking schemes, but this year have gone mostly with a Power O concept (similar to MSU). Here's a round-up of Power O links for those interested

Here's a look at the origins of OSU's run game and how it relates a lot to the old single wing formation (something I coached for a few seasons, an interesting offense).

Here's a counter look that I hadn't seen before (didn't see it against Michigan, FWIW) that OSU runs out of the inverted veer. I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled it out against MSU if the backside LB chases and the backside safety focuses on coverage instead of LB level fill.

Michigan State
I also thing I've done some interesting things regarding Michigan State this year. Most of it is focused on their defense (I will have a post up tomorrow focused on their offense however, that I'll post here). Some of it is about their base 4-3 Over Cover 4, but I've also kind of fallen in love with a certain 3rd down nickel package Narduzzi pulls out a few times a game, and have written about it a few times.

How MSU will use their base offense to attack OSU's defensive weaknesses

How MSU will use their jet sweep package to take advantage of OSU's speed

Look at MSU's 4-3 Over and the adjustments their front makes and why (I would expect a lot of Jam and Cage this week)

A look at MSU's base cover 4 with it's strengths and weaknesses

A look at the adjustments they can make within that cover 4 scheme

How they adjusted that scheme to shut down ND

Ways offenses can attempt to dictate some things from Michigan State on defense

The simplified offensive playbook to get Cook into a rhythm (and really set the tone for the rest of the year)

Then 3 posts on one of my favorite nickel packages (I particularly like the last one below)

Film Review: How to Attack OSU within MSU's Scheme - BDS Exclusive

Ohio State has been a solid defense this year, but not without its flaws. In this post we are going to point out some of those flaws and look at them in the context of MSU, and how MSU can run certain plays within their playbook to take advantage of these weaknesses.

Power O to the Nub
First, let’s define what the nnub is to get that out of the way. The nub is a side of a formation without a WR. A nub side can have a TE or a TE and wing, just as long as there is no one split out wide it is considered a nub.

Generally, teams that run cover 4 will convert the nub side of their defense to a cover 2 while maintaining a cover 4 look to the other side. This is typically known as a cover 6 or a quarter-quarter-half coverage (this because of the deep defenders).

OSU runs quite a bit of cover 4, but they don’t adjust their front a whole lot and instead just check into their cover 6 defense. This tends to put a DB, particularly a CB, as the outside leverage defender.

As far as Power O is concerned, this means that the CB is the EMOL that the FB is kicking out. Because OSU’s CBs struggle to be physical at the point of attack in run support (or at most points tackling) this tends to lead to the FB heavily controlling the CB. The CB, shying away from the physical necessity of playing leverage defense, will try to step around the block. If they step outside and maintain leverage, they are easily kicked and driven wide to open up a large hole. They also tend to remain occupied as they aren't adept at taking on blocks and getting off of them to make a play on the football. If they step inside they are easily sealed and pushed back into the wash, preventing flow from making it to the RB and forcing a lone safety to make a play in a lot of space.

Power O being MSU’s favorite run play this year, expect them to go to it when running to a nub side when the ball is centered or to a boundary side the majority of the time they wish to run the ball.

Attacking Underneath Coverage
Running this cover 4, as well as when they run any other zone coverage, forces the LBs to cover space underneath. This has been a sore spot for OSU’s defense, as while the LBs are athletic, they often get stuck coverage grass in their zone rather than a man that is entering their zone. Much of this is eye discipline or struggling to properly drop.

MSU doesn’t really have the jitterbug type for the slot position. Kings is a quick player, but not really a player that has enough experience to be extremely dangerous working underneath. So much of what MSU will have to do is work from the outside-in or inside-out with their possession type receivers and occasionally their TEs. Dig routes on the hash when the #2 runs off the deep coverage, or some seam passes such as those MSU ran against Michigan with the #2 receiver – but instead of completing the seam, find the void and sit – can be really effective ways of stressing the LBs in coverage, especially if the run game is working.

I don’t think you want to get to far into the center of the field, as I don’t think Cook has developed to the point where you want him picking between small windows where there is all the congestion and confusion happening, but anything from the hash out, from 10-15 yards deep (up to 20 yards only if deep coverage is run off well) is where you would feel more comfortable on a regular basis.

Double Moves
I’ve talked about it in a post about MSU’s jet sweep package, but OSU is an extremely athletic defense but isn’t always discipline. They are attack oriented, first move they attack, both run and pass game. Now, recently, the Spartans have developed a bit more of a counter attack, and this will be helpful for the run game.

In many ways, that’s the double move equivalent for the run game. But for now let’s focus on the double move in the pass game. Players like Roby have probably as much or more athletic ability than any CB in the country. But OSU’s CBs are extremely aggressive to try to make the big plays. What this means is that they tend to bite on first movement.

What this means – particularly if MSU starts hitting on some of the intermediate gains when attack underneath coverage – is that the Spartans can pull out some of their double moves and find success. The key is going to be protection up front. MSU’s interior OL has been very strong this year. If OSU can pick and choose their blitzes correctly, though, particularly their pass blitzes, they can take advantage of MSU on the edge of their OL. Stunts and outside twists have been effective at rushing Cook, but those same blitz types often leave LBs out of position in the run game. So again, establishing the run game and putting yourself in a position for third and manageable rather than third and long is key.

Here’s an example of MSU running double move on a Michigan CB in their cover 4:

Note here that the CB plays this often how an OSU CB will play this. I went into detail at one point about the mistakes this CB committed in coverage, but in general he was being aggressive in an attempt to make a big play. It bit him as MSU ran the right route at the right time. That will be key. Also key is Cook’s improvement. In the throw against Michigan he’s a bit late almost allowing the defense to recover. OSU is a bit faster on the backend than Michigan currently is, so even a play that is breaking open may require a bit better timing that Cook has at times shown as the season’s progressed.

These sorts of things are what I’ve referred to as the match up advantage for MSU. I do think OSU is more talented, and I do think they would probably fare better against most teams than MSU would, but I really like the way MSU’s strengths align with OSU’s weaknesses, and how OSU’s strengths don’t align as closely with MSU’s weaknesses. On both sides it will start up front, as both teams need to establish the run in their offense. It will be interesting to see how often MSU takes advantage of the things I’ve noted above in this session of film review.

I have watched more film than just the OSU-Wisconsin game and the MSU-Michigan game this year. Unfortunately, my source for a lot of my videos got compromised and so I’m stuck without them for now. So this is the best I could come up with. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Inside the Playbook: MSU's Jet Sweep Package


Michigan State faces a very athletic defense on Saturday, when they meet Ohio State in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title. For the past couple weeks, the Spartans have added several deviations of their base play calls, seemingly to set up and prepare them for the show down against the Buckeyes. In this post we are going to look at MSU's jet sweep package.

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Jet Sweep Fake - Counter Trey
So now you've forced the defense to flow both outside and upfield to protect against the jet sweep and the inside zone. Particularly when the inside zone looks to be going in the same direction as the jet sweep motion, it really pulls the defense in that direction and upfield. This really allows a defense to fairly easily get outside leverage and seal them inside as they get caught in the wash.
This almost works similar to a reverse, in that you are heavily selling one direction and then getting outside on the back end. As defenses roll their coverage toward the jet motion and get sucked up to the initial movement, MSU opens a big running lane on the backside.

MSU uses counter trey action this play (on the above blocking the playside TE and playside OT would actually double the DE to the backside backer - this is the "trey" block in "counter trey"). Note here that the first puller would prefer to seal the EMOL inside, but if he gains too much depth he will simply kick that defender and the RB will run off his butt.

Here's the video:

Jet Sweep - Run Play Action
Michigan State has been running variants of this from shotgun simply because the footwork is easier for Cook (it also gives him a peak of the defensive backfield). But there is little that prevents this from being run under center and with the same backfield action to carry the defense out of coverage.
Defenses start bring safeties up when they see the jet motion or blitzing off the back end with the CB and now you attack them over the top.

This video is a bit of a variant, mind you. It's off an end around look where the RB fake is first, but that's only because of the shotgun look and the fact that they are trying to run inside zone to the backside of the jet motion (if you ran jet sweep with that, the two players would run into each other, though you could jet sweep and run inside zone to the same side).

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To learn more about the Jet Sweep package and how it will work for MSU, follow the link to The Only Colors