Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coaching Points: Wisconsin D vs Northwestern and Illinois

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images
Wisconsin D: 3-4 One gap or 2-4 Nickel; Mostly Cover 1 or Cover 4
Also, check out the PODCAST on the same topic.

Run D vs Northwestern
Wisconsin started in a 3-4 with the wide-side OLB flexed over the slot. Northwestern countered with a ton of pin and pull, pinning down the DE playing 4i and pulling out to kick the overhanging OLB. This opened a wide run lane and allowed the backside to get around to the ILB.

When the OLB/NB did try to set the edge to prevent the OL from getting out to them, they often set it way too wide. This provides a large gap for the ball carrier to work vertical. This forced ILBs to have one-on-one vs a blocker in a very wide gap. DEs was too easily getting scooped and sealed and their hand work is lacking. They aren't violent or physical with their hands, their hands don't make contact first, this allows the OL to get their hands inside the DEs and keep them there. Once the OL has leverage and hands inside, the handwork isn't there from the DEs to get off of blocks, which is now harder because they've lost leverage and momentum.

NTs weren't doing much better, consistently getting moved out or cut. On one isntance, the ILB has a 5 yard gap to try to make a tackle within the box. You can't put your ILB in that kind of position.

Wisconsin responded with a shift to a nickel over with standup DEs for one snap, or in other words a 2-4 nickel set. This allows the OLBs and ILBs to play more like a standard 3-4, while the DTs play the NT through the 3 technique, depending on the shift. This allowed the defense a little more opportunity to set the edge before getting kicked too wide. However, now Northwestern could work off guard a little more and the ILBs had to fight a bit more.

I especially think with the 2-4 set the ILBs started to play more aggressive. They were helped by going a little more to a Cover 4 look. But because they aren't as protected up front, they need to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, they shot a little out of control at times. Athletic, fast, downhill, but a bit out of control. This forced a cut back in the backfield, but now you are on different plane as rest of unit, so there is a large cut back gap rather than a wall. With the NT too easily getting scooped and not able to fight across his blocker or squeeze the gap, this allowed for some run success

Chikwe Obasih was the most picked on. He got scooped a lot. Really not getting any push against force, just sitting in his gap and not doing much else. Pushed back into LBs. Really picked on in the run game. Benched in 2nd half? Comes back in end of 3rd, quickly gets sealed inside too easily on pin and pull, gets no movement and can’t get off block. Back to bench. This is because he isn't bringing his hands first and has no ability to control the man across from him. He has the athleticism, but you don't bring your hands and you lose leverage and you get easily controlled.

I hate to sound so down on the run D. I do really like some of what the ILBs do, I like their athletic ability and how they shoot gaps quickly. They are mostly physical and mostly tackle pretty well. The OLBs struggle a bit to set the edge but they're quick and can make some hit/miss plays by getting penetration. But I just do not think this DL is where it needs to be for a 3-4 defense.

Wisconsin Pass Coverage vs Northwestern
Wisconsin was mostly consistent in coverage in a good way. But they did get beat a few times. Some of this was missed or poor jams at the LOS. There was some poor hip rotation when flipping from underneath to running with receivers deep, never allowing the CB to get back in phase.  But still, once the CB was out of phase, they didn't try to act like they were in-phase. They kept working back to the receiver until the ball arrived.

A few times they got beat too easily inside. Once in Cover 0, once in Cover 4. Cover 4 is fine to allow inside release, but can’t allow past so cleanly if you can’t recover. Some of it is on the safeties a little bit too, but for the most part, the CBs are on an island with their coverage and Northwestern attacked that. The LBs also had some issues struggling underneath, mostly with not walling off or not taking their eyes to the correct spot. This allowed Northwestern to get underneath a little bit.

DL Vs Illinois
Wisconsin went away from the standard 3-4 pretty early, strongly favoring the 2-4 nickel package. It is clear they worked with Obasih a little on working across the helmet of the blocker and winning playside, but must do so under control. If you're out of control you get washed outside and open up the inside gap. Again, the OLB do a good job getting vertical and forcing the cut back, much better doing that than setting the edge. This allows them sometimes to get washed out when they get too far upfield, but it at least normally forces the cutback into the flowing ILBs. Illinois mostly went after Biegal in preference over Schobert, who I think is a little bit stronger on the edge, though maybe not as good in a straight line.

Illinois actually worked back more to the 3-4 as Illinois went a little less spread than Northwestern did. Illinois did somethings in their run game to get reads on a few other people. They went to a triple option look which allowed them to actually read the true 3-4 DE and then read the EMOL OLB as the pitch read. That got a guy like Obasih, who doesn't have much experience, a little confused and out of position. But the LBs are flowing nicely. Need to keep pitch relation, but they do flow well when they get the opportunity to be clean. A little bit.

Problem is the other DL (outside of Obasih) aren't performing much better. Keefer got cut too easily and scooped too easily on several occasions, again, because his hands were late. Goldberg didn't do much better and wasn't very athletic. He at least keeps low pad level and can drive a bit, but no control because his hands are late. Wisconsin wanted to 2-gap a little at the Nose position but couldn't because of that lack of control and lack of handwork. Zagzebski was pretty much in the same boat.

OLB vs Illinois
Biegel is a bit quicker to get forward. He's a good straight line athletic and can be fast. He was successful attacking both off the edge and twisting inside in the blitz game. At least in the pass game, that is exactly what Aranda wants. Fast, vertical, attacking LBs. They can be a little reckless and a little hellbent, but be physical, be fast, and force the OL to be fast with their reads and their reactions if they want to get your defensive front blocked up. He does struggle a bit to set the edge consistently. I wouldn't really try to read him as much, again, because he's a good straight line athlete and gets his shoulders square to the mesh point to play both a bit. But you ask him to fill an inside gap against the run or to set the edge, he can struggle. On a Cobra blitz he stunted inside the TE and got pinned and handled way too easily, pushed back into the ILBs. Did a good job early getting into the OT and being physical in pass game with his bull rush, pushing the OT back and keeping his outside arm free. He gets lazy at end of a couple plays though and almost let OT seal him after initially establishing position. Must finish plays.

Schobert is a little slower to set the edge or get vertical. Sometimes this puts him a little bit in no man's land. But again, I didn't see him get attacked as much in the run game. He can squeeze the plays a bit better, but must stay athletic. Don't get flat footed against a mesh, things of that nature.

ILBs vs Illinois
I really like Jacobs as an athlete right now. There is some evidence still where he isn't quite quick enough making some reads, where he gets a little caught up on the backside of a play or something. But he tends to more often than not get downhill fast and hard. He regularly wins playside of the blockers, he gets vertical and attacks blockers, initiating contact in the backfield if he can. Did so once to great effect against a FB trying to lead block into him. When he does read the play quick, he is athletic enough to shoot gaps and make plays from behind the play. And he has some really nice natural instincts. He stayed well with a drag coming over the middle, chucked the receiver and made a play on the RB releasing out of the backfield in the pass game. He needs more seasoning, but he has the athletic tools.

Ruechel I think was more of the block taking ILB. He's more of the MIKE (Strongside ILB) whereas Jacobs is more the MACK (Weakside ILB). But when asked to play in space Ruechel had some issues. He bugged out to the sideline too quickly at times, needs to be a little better with his angles in space, but he does tend to be physical at the point of attack and is a good downhill fill player.

Coverage vs Illinois
It was mostly Cover 1 from the 2-4 look and mostly Cover 4 from a 3-4 defense.

Shelton was thrown at a bit but I though he did well. Did a good job in Cover 1 with body position, got the receiver into the sideline, put himself in a position where the ball has to go through him on a back shoulder throw, and doesn't freak out when he can't find the ball. Did the same in Cover 4, understanding inside and over top leverage, keeps receiver inside and over top, and doesn't allow receiver to cross him back to the corner. He did have a little poor position on one TD pass, where he was too far upfield when he had to let the endline be another defender.

Aranda also put him on some blitzes. He was good at timing his blitzes and looked good initially, but struggled a bit to finish plays. Jumped upfield instead of maintaining outside leverage and then got juked and contain was broken for a big run.

Caputo got caught up in his Cover 4 with his eyes in the backfield and on the run fake. This took his eyes off the #2 releasing vertical. Once the TE was past him, Caputo lost him in coverage on a simple corner route and couldn't recover, easy TD. I thought Figaro made a nice play coming up from his safety position in the run game. Other than that the DBs were mostly unnoticed, which is a pretty good sign without having All-22 footage.

Blitz Package
Aranda is very much a quick hitting, blitz heavy, one-gap 3-4 guy. He wants speed and he wants whatever is going to happen to happen quickly. And I think you saw a lot of that against Illinois.

Illinois has really struggled against stunts and twists all year, and Aranda showed a bit of that. Their RBs were also about as bad as you could be in protection.

But Wisconsin took advantage of this. And these plays don’t work if you aren’t hitting them with a relative reckless abandon. That’s what Wisconsin did with their LBs. I really like Jacobs as far as his combination of athleticism and size, he gets on interior OL quickly and often times before they can get good leverage, so if you aren’t disciplined with your eyes as an interior OL, you’re going to be stuck with him bull rushing you. Biegal is similar, in that he’s a better straight line, downhill player than he is poking and prodding.

This defense, as it continues to learn the correct way to blitz, and as the DL improves some things in terms of technique, will continue to be a very blitz heavy front that can attack you from a lot of different areas, and in that way they can really scheme up some pressures in obvious pass situations. Good article, this really shows the multiple ways Aranda is willing to throw out different looks for the OL to have to handle, and shows one of the key strengths that a bit of an undersized, one-gap 3-4 can bring to the table.

Here's a link to Bucky's 5th Quarter which did a good job detailing the blitz package.


  • DL needs to do much better with their hands and needs to be much more disruptive for this run defense to take a step.
  • ILBs are good but not often clean. Jacobs is a good athlete that just needs more seasoning, Ruechel is more your MIKE LB that takes on blocks and needs to improve a bit in space.
  • Biegel is a better straight line athlete that needs to be an athlete and not tasked with consistently setting the edge with strength. Schobert is kind of the opposite, better edge setter, not as strong in space.
  • DBs are doing a good job and opponents really aren't trying to attack much here. Mostly attack Shelton on an island in Cover 1 or Cover 4 when anything.
  • Blitz package is extensive.

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