Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Inside the Playbook - MSU Defense Primer

Michigan faces off against one of the nation's top defenses on Saturday, and moving the ball through the air will be no small task. Michigan State's defense is legit, so let's not mince words there. Still, every defense has weaknesses or tendencies that can be exploited. Now, the Spartans have minimized these weaknesses, and when they do make mistakes they are often fundamentally sound enough to keep gains relatively low, which is what makes them one of the better defenses in college football. The goal of this article will be to look at some of the ways that Michigan can attack some of MSU's tendencies from a schematic point of view to get relatively favorable match-ups on their end.

MSU Primer
Over the summer I wrote two preview pieces about Michigan State's defense. One was about their 4-3 Over front, the other was about their Cover 4. For the vast majority of the snaps they will be in this set up. They will run some man under, they will run cover 3 behind most of their blitz packages, they'll at times switch to a quasi-nickel package to get a hybrid player on the field, and on 3rd and long, they'll run their 3-3-5 nickel package with their Okie front, which is where much of their complex blitz package originates.
Because, for the most part, they'll stick in their 4-3 Over Cover 4, we're going to focus this article on beating that. As not all cover 4s are the same, Narduzzi will also adjust within the cover 4 to take away certain things. Let's look at three basic ways that Narduzzi will play his coverage.

Keep his LBs in the box and keep the safeties at 10 yards deep and 1 yard outside the EMOL


This will be adjusted slightly depending on the alignment on the #2 receiver or if there are more than two receivers to a certain side. The main idea here is that this basic alignment will be the stoutest against the run. It allows the LBs to play directly in run support, fast flowing and getting in position to play the ball, and it also allows the front side safety to play leverage in the alley as well as the backside safety to fill into the LB level and play backside leverage. The weakness of this set up will be the short to intermediate flats, which can be attacked in certain ways but not necessarily others, which we'll discuss in a bit.


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To continue reading this MSU primer, follow the link to Maize n Brew

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Inside the Playbook: The Power of the Spread Offense

Regardless of how much Michigan decides to spread the field, at the end of the day this is going to be a power running team. By that, I mean they are predominately going to use a power O blocking scheme to pick up yards in the run game. In this article we are going to look briefly at the traditional power O run play, and then look at how Michigan runs it to both sides of the formation out of the gun, as well as how this makes life difficult for defenses.

Power O
Here is a look at your typical Power O blocking scheme from an I-formation. The two keys are the kick out block by the first back (a U-back or a FB, here, a FB) and the pulling opposite ("O") guard to the playside hole.

Inverted Veer
Believe it or not, the inverted veer is really a Power O blocking play. Many know that you can run the same blocking scheme with the inverted veer up front, down to the pulling guard, but it works because the "kick out" block is accomplished by kicking out the DE by optioning off of him. Literally, just like you'd run power, if the DE stays out then he's blocked out (nominally, if there is indecision in the inverted veer, the QB keeps).
On the other hand, if the DE crashes down, he is essentially blocked in. In this instance, by giving to the RB, it's similar to the FB passing the EMOL, turning, and sealing him inside and giving the RB the edge.

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To read more about how Michigan is using power blocking in their spread attack, follow the link to Maize n Brew

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Coach's POV - Michigan vs PSU - Overtime Play-by-Play

4th Quarter Link

Michigan 1st Drive of OT 34-34 (PSU missed FG in first half of OT)

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - A few things are important to note coming into this series. Gibbons missed a FG at the end of regulation, but the kick was dead on target. He also he a 42 yarder or so earlier in the game with plenty of leg to spare. So being at the 25 yard line, a 42 yard kick, is fine. Any extra is essentially icing on the cake giving what was known of Gibbons before this OT period. He is money inside of 40. Get inside 40 and get out with a win.

Michigan lines up with the TE-wing to hash and two WRs to field. They are likely expecting PSU to go back to the 7 man front with a CB in the box as they did every down before the last 3 in which Michigan tried to kill the clock. But they stay in their 8 man front. The original call makes sense before Borges sees how the defense aligns. All evidence points to them going back to that and Michigan being able to run this. And remember, any additional yards is icing on the cake.

Alas, PSU is thinking Michigan is going to be conservative and stacks the box. Corners are well back. Yes, an extended hand off would be nice here, no doubt about it. But before you saw this, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the play call. This is hindsight theory working for people. And this is probably a situation in which Borges doesn't want Gardner to check because if those CBs approach at the last second, it could result in a pointless turnover. No problem with this play call given what the situation is and what the situation appeared to be going into the down.

Play 2 - 2nd and 9 - Michigan goes to a pro I set in an effort to get PSU out of the 8 man front. Remember the situation, yards are just icing on the cake. PSU goes cover 4, which you should expect, so you can't go stretch, it needs to be a run up the middle. Michigan runs Iso and gains about 2 yards. That's pretty much exactly what Michigan wants.

Play 3 - 3rd and 7 - Yeah, I just don't like this. I mean, I get the point, trying to center it and all, but it's a wasted down. Maybe this is an effort to just minimize the bad, so you can't get a 3 yard loss, but in my opinion run a run that at least gives you a chance to gain a few. Other than that, I have no problem keeping it on the ground in these circumstance.

Michigan 2nd drive OT 34-34
Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Alright, let's look at this logically. After the 3rd Quarter, PSU only stacked the box on the clock killing drive and when yards were just icing on the cake in the first OT. So you expect them to get back to what they were doing originally now that Michigan will tend to open up the offense. That's going into the drive, you haven't seen anything yet. Think about what you actually know and what you should actually expect to see from PSU.

Michigan comes out in a pistol set with 3 WRs. This is the formation that has given them the best gains all day. Perfect. PSU has 7 in the box, so Michigan can run veer option with it. Perfect. It's exactly what you want. The DE stays, forcing DG to give. Fitz, if he doesn't slip gets at least 4, probably 5. But he slips and he gets 3.

There is nothing conservative about this play call. This is how they produced a lot of yards in the 3rd quarter, with this very play. Play should have picked up half the first down yardage, didn't because of a slip, it happens, but we are on a decent track.

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I bring this series to its thrilling conclusion over at Maize n Brew. And the conclusion is very different than the common perception out there right now, and hopefully and in my opinion, supported by sound reasoning.

A Coach's POV - Michigan vs PSU - 4Q Play-by-Play

Link to Quarter 3

Michigan drive 14 - 13:09 4th 27-24

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Michigan stacks Funchess over Gallon and run the PA tunnel screen to Gallon. This is a play to take advantage of soft coverage on the outside, by forcing them to retreat and getting a block down field. Would have liked to have seen this a couple more times this game, but it's another way to stretch the box horizontally that isn't a bubble screen.

Play 2 - 1st and 10 - Pro I from Michigan. The PA and the screen have effectively backed off PSU. There are no 7 defenders in the box. PSU in a standard 4-3 Over. Gardner checks to weakside Iso. Why? He's likely running power to the strong side here, or even stretch, but PSU has essentially stacked both LBs over their DL on the strong side, making it very difficult to get out on players. Meanwhile, on the weakside, its 3 blockers for three defenders. Good check by Gardner to attack the correct side of the formation for a nice first down pick up.

Play 3 - 2nd and 5 - TE and wing to boundary, two WR to field. Michigan runs PA again and max protects to help the OL. Blocking assignments to help the OL, again. They still miscommunicate here and bust. The key is though, that Gardner has been stepping into the pocket time and time again, this means the DE is trying so hard to get to his level and then merge in, instead he takes a straight 45 at him. This allows DG to spin and get outside the pressure. He isn't able to find anyone and only picks up a yard on his scramble, but this is serious progression from DG.

Play 4 - 3rd and 4 - Same look that has given Michigan a high/low to field and in/out to boundary all game. This time, Michigan switches it up though, runs two outs to the boundary and a short hitch in the slot to Dileo for a first down.

Michigan would run this same play or similar in OT but miss Dileo

Play 5 - 1st and 10 - H-back motions to put 3 to the field. 2 outside are stacked, HB in a wing position. Play action max protect to help out the OL. He gets protection. Steps into pocket. Michigan is running double posts. Gallon runs a corner-post to keep any cover 3 corner in the corner. Then it's the same read as slants. Center field stays over top and follows first guy, throw to second, he hangs down and doesn't get over top, throw to first guy.

Turns out PSU blitzes the slot CB in an attempt to stop the run. This puts a LB on Funchess, so there is no clear, it's just Funchess over the top for a big gain.

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To continue, follow the link to Maize n Brew

A Coach's POV - Michigan vs PSU - 3Q Play-by-Play

Link to 1st Quarter and 2nd Quarter

PSU Drive 10 - 15:00 3rd 10-21

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Black is very quick to get penetration, gets a little too deep but realizes it and really squeezes the play. Ross, in the process of wrapping up (this is why you wrap up) rakes down right on the football and it kicks to Clark, who returns it for a TD.

PSU Drive 11 - 14:44 3rd 17-21
Play 1 - 1st and 10 - PSU in a mirrored solo set and Michigan in a 4-3 Under with Clark standing up on the near side. Michigan runs a double A gap twist with their LBs, Heck scrambles and throws right at Clark, who almost makes an eerily similar INT as Zettel did on his zone blitz drop. This is a great job by Clark, who had originally started chasing the QB, seeing that someone was leaking behind him and regaining depth to get underneath the route and break it up.

This play is a nice way of getting 7 guys in pretty much every gap and making the zone blocks difficult for the OL. The drops from SAM and WDE still allow these players to hold the edge.

Play 2 - 2nd and 10 - PSU goes 4 wide. Ross undercuts the OT as soon as he releases and the DT does a nice job getting his outside arm free. This means that both sides are closed for the RB to run through. Ross does a good job of riding so support can clean up.

Play 3 - 3rd and 8 - PSU 4 wide again, stacking receivers to the field and wing and on receiver to field. It's interesting that both Michigan and PSU have run this formation multiple times. Everyone standing up for Michigan as they go into their Okie package. They bring 4 and Ross is delayed as he's checking the RB first. The OT and OG just completely miscommunicate the coverage and Black says thank you very much, splits them, and applies quick pressure to force a quick throw and incomplete pass.

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To read on, follow the link to Maize n Brew

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Coach's POV - Michigan vs PSU - 2Q Play-by-Play

Link to 1st Quarter Post

Michigan Drive 6 - 14:32 2nd 10-7

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Michigan runs a 2 TE play action with 2 WRs to the top. PSU counters with 8 in the box, meaning one of the receivers to the top of the screen will get single coverage. They are in max protect, which means only 2 receivers are in routes. Bryant kind of watches a guy run around him when Fitz is expecting help, as he should. Because of that, Fitz is out of position to make the block, kind of reaches at the defender and misses, and he comes in a hits DG from the blind side. FWIW, DG is also very late in his read, or more accurately, doesn't trust his read as he turns. He should be able to turn, see coverage deep, and Gallon wide open on his snag route. But he sees him, then looks off of him again, and by the time he gets back to him he's close to the sideline and the pass is quite difficult to make. Gallon still catches it and does a nice job trying to make a play in space, but it turns out to be a loss.

Play 2 - 2nd and 12 - Pistol veer option. DG doesn't make the read this time, and Fitz is forced to try to pick his way in space across the formation. A free blocker gets through because Bryant never releases from his combo to the second level LB despite the fact that only he can make a play on him here with the LB charging down. This means there is a free hitter in the backfield and Fitz takes what he can get. This is 8 blockers on 8 defenders plus a read option. This should be easy yards, you not only have blockers for every defender, you have an extra blocker. The idea here is to get back to manageable after the first down shot. They should, and didn't.

Play 3 - 3rd and 11 - Glasgow pretty clearly doesn't make the correct block and passes on the NT to no one. Michigan has 3 blockers on the bottom for 3 defenders (not counting the center), and 2 above the center for 3 blockers. Glasgow should pick up the most dangerous defender where PSU has numbers. Fitz will pick up B-gap on the side he's lined up on. So a relatively easy pass pro is busted. Then Gardner makes magic and gets a first down.

Play 4 - 1st and 10 - Tackle over Power from Michigan. PSU has 7.5 in the box, but backside isn't making a play here on the front side. Michigan has 7 blockers. They are in good shape with 7 blockers for 7 defenders. PSU does a nice job beating the puller to the hole, and because of that Green is able to hit an open hole for a decent first down gain and that half box player is able to make a play down the field after a 3 or 4 yard gain.

Play 5 - 2nd and 7 - Pistol look. Michigan has 2 wide and 2 TE mirrored. PSU walks down and 8th defender into the box and Michigan runs play action out of the stacked look. Green runs the wrong direction, so the LB doesn't have to hold up before his drop and he undercuts the route. Gardner never sees the underneath defender, which he probably should, but that defender shouldn't be able to make a play if Green runs to the correct side of the formation. This is why it's risky to play freshman.

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To continue reading about the 2nd Quarter play by play, follow the link to Maize n Brew

A Coach's POV - Michigan vs PSU - 1Q Play-by-Play

This is note intended to serve the same purpose as Brian's UFR over at MGoBlog. This is intended to look at things from a coach's perspective, namely, the two Michigan coordinators and why they are doing what they're doing. I will have one for each quarter and OT.

Michigan Drive 1 - 15:00 1st 0-0

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Tackle over Power. Glasgow missed assignment and didn't down block (instead deciding to triple the playside DT when that wasn't his job against this front). Butt didn't hold block anyway. Absolutely no problem running this here. It's first play, you see what the defense is giving. CB 6 yards off. Only 8 in box from PSU. PSU was set up to give up yards on the run, missed assignments killed the play. But you see what PSU is giving you early and it should set up things for later. Need to be executed better.

3 on 1 eh? Welp, see ya later.
Play 2 - 2nd and 14 - Designed QB Power off read option look. Kalis needs to do better in the hole on a small defender. Bryant needs to actually maintain his block. This should have been a big gain. Nice design to essentially block a couple defenders with the outside zone look to Fitz.

Play 3 - 3rd and 10 - Good roll call away from middle blitz. Outside receiver bracketed and slipped. Miscommunication on routes as there is no levels or inside/out concept here.

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To see my thoughts on the rest of the 1Q drives, follow the link to Maize n Brew

Friday, October 11, 2013

Inside the Playbook: Indiana's Screen Package

Indiana heavily utilizes the screen game to act like a rushing attack. In fact, a lot of their success comes off of screen misdirection and screen action, both things that are commonly associated with the run game. By doing this, they create conditions exactly what the spread offenses was designed for: to stretch offenses laterally as well as vertically. For defenses, this means a couple things, they must be extremely disciplined with their eyes and they must tackle in space.

Brief Screen Primer
A brief background on screen blocking first. The lineman that release depend on who isn’t covered and which defenders present a risk to the ball in the air or the receiver. This means any defender that will try to get in an alley between the passer and receiver must be cut down or washed away. Preferably on any outside screen you’ll have at least one blocker sealing off the inside to outside pursuit, another acting as a lead blocker in the alley, and another acting as a support blocker, which basically keeps any outside defender outside and then works upfield as an extra lead blocker. Typically, Indiana leaked the playside guard to be the support blocker and the center to be the lead blocker and a receiver to be the sealer, so for simplicity and consistency, I’ll draw up the plays like that.

Flare Screen
A flare screen is a quick screen to the RB that acts almost like a sweep play but allows the RB to start a little more lateral. It isn’t set up to suck defenders in as much on the pass as it is intended to make them hesitate for a brief moment so that blockers can get out on them and the RB can work in space. The reason to run a flare screen rather than a simple sweep is because, with the flare screen, you are hoping to get outside the initial leverage defender. Backside OL will reach block and work to the second level to hold everything inside.

This is usually shut down either by an OLB correctly reading the playside guard and beating his block into the flat, or more often by a flat defender coming off his man and meeting the RB in the backfield before the support blocker can get out on him.

Bubble Screen (Swing Screen)
The bubble screen attacks the edge of the defense by out flanking them (because of that, the blocking assignments don't contain the typical support, alley, and seal blockers). This can often be combined in a package play with a zone run, but when not, the OL will execute and outside zone blocking scheme toward the bubble action to again try to seal the box defenders inside. The receivers will block the person stacked over top of them with the idea that, by blocking them, the defender covering the bubble receiver will get caught in the wash.

This is usually defended by the outside CB winning at the point of attack and controlling the WR at the LOS. By not letting the play get outside of him, he forces the ball carrier to hesitate and go back inside, where support is coming from.

Tunnel Screen (Jailbreak/Alley Screen)
The tunnel screen is designed to attack the natural tunnel or alley that forms between the box defenders and the defensive backs covering the receivers. As usual, the OL will outside zone block in this case. Either a RB, a playside TE, or a playside OT will be responsible to be the lead alley blocker. The receiver inside of the receiver eventually catching the ball will be the support blocker, blocking the man covering the eventual ball carrier. Either a #3 receiver, a RB coming around the formation, or the OL will be responsible for sealing the defense inside the box.

This screen is usually blown up one of two ways. First, by the outside CB cutting underneath the support block and staying right on the butt of the intended receiver. Second, by the leverage defender playside reacting to the look and squeezing the alley before blockers can reach him.

Traditional Screen (Slow Screen)
This is your traditional RB screen. It tasks the OL with sucking the defense up the field. The OT will continue to drive his DE up the field so that the player can’t make a play on the ball in the air or disrupt the receiver. The playside guard becomes the support blocker, the center is the lead blocker. The receivers will typically be the sealing blockers, and the backside guard may try to flip and seal the pursuit defenders from making a play, also known as a peel blocker.

This play typically gets blown up by the DL reacting to the OL release or by a LB cutting underneath a block and making a play on the RB.

Combining Screens
The first two screen plays I described are considered quick developing screens, while the second two are considered slow developing screens. Any set of quick and slow developing screen can be combined to utilize misdirection in the screen game and provide the offense with multiple options. Indiana does this a lot.

Here, the QB’s first read is the quick screen rush end. If he quickly crashes, the QB can hit the flare screen, if he hesitates, holds up, or peels, the QB can pump fake, continue to drift, and hit the slow screen side. For the slow screen portion, the screen misdirection acts as the "seal blocker".

This means that a defense must read their keys correctly. Trying to play outside your assignment will get you caught out of position and the offense will take advantage.

You can also see how a bubble screen and tunnel screen work in combination.

And in fact, you can run a quick tunnel screen and run two tunnel screens as well if you so desire.

Screen Action
For every type of screen play, there is a screen action that goes along with it. Indiana will utilize this when defenses start playing aggressive and lose their initial assignment in the pass game.

For example, here’s a flare action pass. The seal blocker will stop in the hook zone, someone else will run a seam, and the RB will convert his flare into a wheel route.

And bubble action, where the blockers will run vertical routes to pick on the deep safety whom doesn’t have help from his CB.

Or tunnel action, where the support blocker will convert into a wheel route, another receiver will run a seam, and the initial screen receiver will convert into a delayed slant and sit in an opening in the defense (against zone) or continue on the slant against man coverage.

All these things stress a defense to play sound and not over react to what is going on in front of this. This is difficult, because these screen plays are getting people open in space, and the key to a defense is always to tackle in space, which means to get at least four defenders in a position to tackle the football. But if you leave your assignment early you can be beat over the top by the screen action or by misdirection. So there is a fine line between swarming to the football and staying within your assignment, and that very fine balance is what gives this offense the advantage most of the time.

ItP - PSU's Quick Underneath Passing Game (Breakdown Sports Exclusive)

With a true freshman QB, Penn State has really simplified their offense to help him adjust to the speed of defenses. With these adjustments he has looked like a very good QB for such a young player. PSU looks to rely more on the inside zone than they did a year ago , and they’ll throw a tunnel or bubble screen on almost any down and distance to keep the defense honest against them, but what I want to discuss today is how they attack the short zones, and then when they catch defenses peaking, how they attack with 4 vertical receivers to keep the defense on their heals.


This is perhaps the easiest play schematically that there is. However, execution is key to its success. The key is for the receiver to run at the defender’s leverage point. This is to get into his body in an attempt to turn him or continue to maintain cushion on you. At about 6 yards the receiver plants on his outside foot and works back to the ball. The ball is placed away from the defender, so if the defender jumps outside, the ball should be throw toward the receiver’s inside, upfield shoulder and the receiver should box out. If the defender jumps inside, the ball should be thrown to the back shoulder so that the receiver can seamlessly turn, catch, and try to make some yards.

On the outside they’ll often attempt to run a bit deeper route so that their levels are different. Here, it is fundamental that the receiver first sell the streak. Aiming at the defender’s outside shoulder, he needs to turn him, as this is a longer pass for the QB. At the break, he must drop his shoulders and sink his hips for 3 or 4 steps, then break back at 45 degrees, accelerating out of the break. He continues to work back to the football if the ball is late so that the defender can’t undercut the route.

Option Route

On the underneath option route, the outside receivers are going to run simple out routes. What this means is that they’ll attack the corners outside shoulder in an effort to get him to turn away from the ball and break no less than parallel to the LOS. Work back to the ball if it’s late.

The inside receiver will then run an option route based on the defense. This means he can essentially run an out route, a hitch route, or an in, depending on how the defense leverages him. Say for instance, it’s cover 2 and a defender has inside leverage on him in the slot. He will option into an out route to pick on the flat defender, who likely has voided his zone to take the out route outside.

If the defender is playing soft, likely because he has help from a LB inside, then the receiver will sit in the void with a hitch route. If the defense is tighter, then it’s less likely there is help inside. On the receiver’s turn he’ll take his eyes inside, scan for open grass, box out his defender, and go to the clearest opening.

Basically, this is a easy way to get a favorable match-up on the inside receiver and let him work in a lot of open areas.

Here's what it looks like against two different coverage styles on each side of the green line. Pink Boxes are first read, outlined box is second read.


Based on the hitch route concept and option route concept, the underneath defenders will start to play a little more forward. Any sort of hesitation by the receiver, to them, will look like they are about to break and they will try to jump. What this does is leave a large void behind them. The depth of the next level dictates how the seam receivers run their routes.

This isn’t your 4 vertical no matter what style routes. Yes, the outside receivers will stick with their vertical motion and attempt to beat the corners with speed. If safeties help outside then the #2 receiver should be sticking with his seam route and it should be easy pickings there.

If the safety stays over top of the #2, in many offenses the #2 will continue to carry his vertical route, but PSU will sit in the soft spot between zones with the idea that it’ll still force the safety to choose his spot (only if the underneath defender isn't carrying him). Where this really helps is cover 4 or cover 3, where a safety will be over the top of the #2, but it doesn’t force the #2 to read the safety and outside defender to understand how to adjust his route. His only read is if there is a safety over the top, and run/sit in open grass. Here's a look against cover 6, which is essentially cover 4 to one side and cover 2 to the other side, so you can see how the #2 receiver adjusts to someone playing over the top of him.

What this does is give PSU’s QB easy reads and allows him to use his arm strength and accuracy to get the ball out quickly as to avoid pressure. It can be defended, yes, and it’s not the only thing the Nittany Lions run, but it’s a nice starting point that can get them back on track when behind the chains or pick up a 3rd and medium. And defenses still have to respect getting beat over the top and the run game because of the way the receivers attack the DBs. While it’s far from where O’Brien wants to end up, it is a very nice starting point that gets them moving in the correct direction.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Inside the Playbook: Double Lead O from an Unbalanced Formation

Saturday, Michigan deployed an unbalanced time for the first time this year and found success with it. In theory, the run plays out of an unbalanced line aren't required to be any different that a balanced line. You can run Iso to strength and away from strength. You can run Power O to and away from strength. You can run your counters and zones and sweeps. But, if you're going to line up your two best blockers on the same side of the formation, you might as well pull and lead so that you are completely dominating the point of attack. That's what Michigan did against Minnesota, when they pulled out the "Double Lead O" play to run between Lewan and Schofield and get consistently good yardage.

Once upon a time there was a difference between "Lead" and "Iso". That difference pretty much summarizes the difference between "man" and "gap" blocking. The summary, in today's lingo, is often that there is no difference. Needless to say, the terms are fairly interchangeable today, but we will call it double lead because it is technically a little more accurate.

"O" is something you often here with "Power O". You'll also hear things occasionally like "Power G" or "GO Sweep". The "G" and the "O" determine the pulling guard. "G" means the playside guard whereas "O" means the opposite guard.

So "Double Lead O" will be two lead blockers and a backside pulling guard. The play call will also include strength of the formation, the formation itself (including the unbalanced line), the motion, the intended ball carrier (denoted by a number), the intended hole, and the play call. It'll end up something like (but probably completely different) than "Right Rhino I Over Zap 46 Double Lead O". "Right" means TE to the right, "Rhino" is the formation (Wing lined up just outside of TE), "I" is the backfield formation (I-formation), "Over" is flipping the OT over, "Zap" is a motion that goes across the formation then comes back from the Z-receiver (wing here), "4" is the tailback, "6" is the hole the RB is trying to run through, "Double Lead O" is the blocking system. Very little of this will translate to other systems. It's a problem in football: there is no consensus on terminology on a lot of things, not even close. On other things, there is, which makes it even more confusing.

The Play
Here is how the play is blocked against an over front.

A bit of a preface: Michigan ran a true unbalanced look where the TE wasn't covered (they did this when they passed, FWIW) and where the TE was covered. In the two videos below, the TE is actually covered. This makes passing less likely, but also makes the blocking easier because it typically will force a CB to be an extra box defender. For the most part, getting a lead blocker out on a FB with everyone else blocked up within the structure of the play is a very good thing.

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To continue reading about this play, and how this play will adjust to other defensive fronts, follow the link to Maize n Brew.

Inside the Playbook: Simplified Pass Concepts for Young QBs

Cook has been maligned as not being able to "hit the broad side of a barn" or "the ocean from a boat". Surely, there are other, more colorful phrases that have been painted on the young QB, some of them, at times, fairly accurate because of his inaccuracies. But, to Cook's credit, he has made improvement each week, as have the coaches in understanding simple passing concepts and reads to give him. It's become increasingly clear that, as the route concepts have simplified and his reps have multiplied, he has become more comfortable throwing the ball. In this post we'll look at a couple of the simple pass concepts that Michigan State deployed on Saturday, and why they are good plays for a young QB who has struggled at times putting the ball where it needs to be.

Smash Concept
Perhaps one of the most basic pass concepts in modern football, the smash concept was initially developed to take advantage of cover 2 defenses (or really any two high safety defense to a degree). Over the years, it has been adapted to theoretically work against any sort of coverage, but the main reason it's deployed is still to defeat cover 2. You can find info on the smash concept all over the internets.
The reason it is utilized so often for its simplicity is: it is a simple read for the QB who keys a single defender; it's outside the box and congestion that happens within it; it's typically easy to teach safe throws to the sideline.

Much like MSU is known to heavily lean on their cover 4, in the past, Iowa has been that way with cover 2. While they mix it up a bit more under former Spartan and current Iowa Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker than they did with former DC Norm Parker (no relation apparently), they are still favor cover 2. That gives good reason to deploy it here, so let's take a look:

The basic idea here is to pick on the rolled up CB in the flat. The QB will read safeties (to see two high or one high) to flat defender (CB in cover 2). If the CB stays on the man he is initially over the top of, the corner route should come open.

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To continue reading how the smash concept works well for MSU and why, and also take a look at Double Slants, follow the link the The Only Colors

Monday, October 7, 2013

Week 6: Coaching Points Round Up


  • Lots of people will complain about that Iowa playcall (deep pass on 3rd and short), but you won't run into the mouth of an 8 man MSU front. Even w/ INC it makes MSU respect pass in future
  • Iowa LBs doing a good job meeting MSU's pulling OL in the hole. MSU needs to do better taking LBs out with their momentum
  • The lead blocker on that roll needs to peak inside earlier. As soon as you find no one up-field, you become lead blocker playing inside/out. Blocked air for too long and forced QB to throw it away.
  • Iowa CB too high on that tackle. Wrap and drive the player OOB if you don't want to tackle, but never go high there. (On MSU 3rd down conversion on catch short of the sticks)
  • Iowa has been very disruptive with DL, preventing MSU from getting to LBs, and LBs on meeting blockers on inside runs, MSU trying to get outside now but not getting into Iowa defenders well.
  • That's the area to attack MSU's cover 4. Short/intermediate out. That's a realyl tough pass to complete though. But it starts to open up curl/hook zone just by throwing it.
  • Nice job by Iowa's DB staying on upfield hip of receiver when in deep coverage.
  • Dip route by Iowa's slot receiver. Holds LB inside and makes him respect sitting in hook zone, this is what I talked about earlier
  • Iowa QB throws to the wrong guy. You see a cross coming open underneath, that's a 1 to 2 progression in same throwing lane. Still got TD tho
  • OLB passed crossing route onto MIKE. Miscommunication there by Iowa in their cover 2 I think. That was discussion post-play btw LBs
  • Great throw by Rudock. Good rotation and got the ball out tehre quick. Nice job stepping into throw.
  • Same fake punt MSU ran against UM last year for first down. Iowa needs to keep a guy to SL up to prevent that, that's film room work there.
  • All about LB drop and LB eyes taking him to ball. MSU WR switched seem to hook with retreat DB. LB had good drop though.
  • Iowa forced to complete a lot of tough, short passes in the middle. Rudock looks solid on his underneath throws. But probably too little too late.


Michigan State

  • But good job by Minn reading play hole and diagnosing play to cut underneath for tackle (on third and 1 stop on Michigan draw play)
  • At some point they need to attack deep on fade. Minnesota runs lots of cover 1 press man. Will give outside release. Loosen up defense
  • On mid FL screen, Minn DL blew up the play. Released DL did great job getting hands in air. NT didn't fight inside slowing cross as well
  • Good patience from Minn RB on that 1st down play though, knowing he will likely have bounce with 8th man being safety outside leverage
  • Mich needs to continue to hit Minn QB square a keep feet pumping. Guy churns feet well on contact and OL help him out by continuing blocks
  • Minn is picking on Wilson (Michigan Safety) who is struggling in run fill/man coverage responsibilities. Eyes in back field, lost TE on 3rd down play
  • Num 3 for Minn has done a great job in run fills. Limited a few runs that would have been big gains if he doesn't make a stick
  • Minn went cover 3 on last 3rd down conv. Right play call there as it tests flat def inside/out. Surprised w/ call against mostly man team
  • Minn has some mismatch players. Some good TEs, and with a power running QB, that allows them to churn out yards. But, as with many young QBs, outside of the TE fade they bog down in RZ when they can't do more against stacked boxes.
  • Slugo burned Countess there. Committed hips to slant and struggled in reverse pivot to get into WR's body. If can't reverse just turn & run. QB threw it late
  • Northwestern attacked Miller there making him leave the ball in belly longer. Forced fumble
  • Not a fan of bubble to the boundary by Northwestern there. OSU's D too fast at LB position to get much more out of it
  • Big block by the TE getting a cut on OLB. Sprung that play. NU doesn't use TEs a ton in passing game, but they do well in the run game to help out.
  • OL needs to do a better job of not allowing DL to get into body. Allowing DL to control them in several aspects today, both in run and pass games.
  • Nice pass and almost catch. Northwestern CB has good initial position, needs to squeeze down on WR to put body between WR and ball though. When he got behind, CB went into trail position. The fact that he tipped the pass is what made that incomplete. Made up for a mistake
  • NU blitzing B gap to try to take away inside zone run from Hyde. Hyde still finding some success though. Miller keep could spring one tho. Taking more risks to stop run game in 2nd half
  • Get in rush lane and squeeze pocket around Miller. That's how you force him to read and stop him from scrambling. Nice job by Northwestern keeping Miller in the pocket and making him uncomfortable.
  • Key there is that NU WR never forced Grant to respect route going by him. Grant able to stay square and take eyes inside to find ball. (On OSU INT in flat). Need to force press corners to turn or drop off. If you don't they will beat WR to any outside pass.
  • Siemian is an underrated runner. It wasn't threat to run there, but run to extend play inside the pocket. Nice presence. Climb within the pocket and break lateral along LOS. Treaten run and keep pass alive. Even with 8 in coverage it's difficult to stop.
  • That hole was set up by NU's formation. DE had outside leverage, nearest LB was over center. No way he can fill that gap from his position. Ask DT to slant into B gap or LB to flow 2 gaps over. Just not putting either player in position to stop that play against zone blocking. Perhaps taking risks, more likely someone lined up wrong (on big OSU 3rd down pick up or TD run from RZ late)
Ohio State

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Film Review: Adjusting Routes to Coverage

Because Wisconsin has such run game prowess, many of its passing concepts attack the sidelines, away from the box area. In this area, the Badgers will often run "route adjustments" depending on the coverage. These adjustments rely on the quarterback and receiver seeing the same thing, and if they don't, it often leads to bad things. In this post, I'm going to try to piece together where these issues were made and talk about why you have these adjustments within your offense.

Not adjusting to Cover 2

I'm starting on this play, where there is clear miscommunication, because it provides me evidence on the next play. After the play, the tight ends points to himself, saying, "my bad," because he sat down in the hook zone rather than taking the route to the corner.

This is a defense that is in Cover 2 (you see because Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby is rolled up underneath before attempting to gain depth since no one threatens the flat). This needs to be a corner route, not a hitch.
The easiest way to show why you use route adjustments is with diagrams.


What you see is that in Cover 2, that hook/curl zone is pretty well covered by the outside linebacker. Throwing the ball there against Cover 2 is very dangerous because you have the safety over the top squeezing down and the outside linebacker gaining depth, meaning the ball needs to be put in a perfect window just to have a shot at a completion. So instead, you run the corner route to open grass. This puts the receiver in a position to gain distance from the safety and pick on the underneath corner.
Now against Cover 3, the opposite is true. The corner is no longer open because there is a cornerback sitting directly in that third. Meanwhile, because of how the coverage has rolled, sitting in the hook/curl zone will come open, as you pick on the flat defender again and work him inside/out rather than high/low.
This sight adjustment is used depending on the safeties. A single high safety (Cover 1, Cover 3) will sit, though against man the route likely will become more of an out route instead of a hitch so that the tight end can gain separation on his defender. Against two high safeties (Cover 2, Cover 4) the No. 2 receiver (second from the outside) will attack the corner. In Cover 4, because the No. 1 receiver (farthest outside) hitches, the cornerback will come up and the defense will essentially play like Cover 2.

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To read on about route adjustments, and to see how they are done correctly, follow the link to Bucky's 5th Quarter

Inside the Playbook: Iso Blocking Primer

With the move of Glasgow to center and the insertion of Bryant into the lineup at LG, it means a few changes may be in order. Bryant, less the fleet of foot and more the very large, squatty man that is more of a hitter and less of a reacher, probably indicates that Michigan will go to more of a traditional man blocking scheme. Add on that Glasgow isn't the quickest of players for the center position in a stretch run team, and it's likely that Michigan will be running less zone stretch and more gap blocking type activities (with the occasional inside zone mixed in). Because of that, it seems a good time to add onto Power O blocking piece and look at how Iso is blocked and what the RB is looking at.



Note here that this is a strongside Iso. The center comes off his combo block almost instantly because of the aggressive nature of Notre Dame's LBs. He is letting the LB take himself out of the play, essentially combo blocking to him without doubling at the point of attack.

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Follow the link the Maize n Brew to learn more about the Isolation play.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Film Review: How Ohio State's Pressure Affected Wisconsin

One of the questions stemming from last Saturday's Ohio State victory over Wisconsin  – especially after the first half – was why wasn't OSU consistently getting pressure on Wisconsin's quarterback, Joel Stave. With a team so loaded in the front four with pure pass rushers, it was expected that they would force Stave's hand a bit. Indeed, they did, even when they didn't necessarily get pressure. We'll look at a few ways that Wisconsin attempted to mitigate pressure, and how, eventually, the Buckeyes still overcame it to hurry the opposing QB for much of the game.

Max Protect

After Wisconsin got over the initial terror of the first few drives, they went back to the drawing board in a way. Rather than attacking Ohio State horizontally, they started going more straight ahead. Combined with that, they were able to start incorporating some of their max protection package, where they only send two or three receivers out in routes. What this means is that OSU's front four will initially be doubled, and every blitzer should theoretically be easily picked up. The key is that you have to maintain coverage behind it.

Or, you can beat the chip blocks (having the RB do an awful job also helps) and you see something like this:

So then how else did Wisconsin "avoid pressure"?


To see more ways Wisconsin schemed to try to avoid pressure, and how OSU overcame those methods, follow the link to Land-Grant Holy Land.


And spoiler alert: It ends with this...

And you know you love it

Inside the Playbook - A Look at MSU's Unique Cover 3 Package Part 2

Last time I showed how MSU played a cover 3 look on 3rd and long against ND. This time, we'll look at how they can give that same look, still play cover 3, but manage to confuse the offense nonetheless.

The Set Up
Just a reminder of the set-up: it's third and long and here is the defensive formation.

Same Coverage, Different Look
This is something that MSU didn't run, but may in the future. The initial look is the same and it will still be a cover 3. However, now MSU will only bring 5 man pressure and will adjust the coverage behind the play to take away any routes.

Now MSU has built in the adjustment to any route concepts into their coverage. Both defenders are playing soft near the first down marker. If the #2 receiver decides to attack the seam on a vertical route, the seam defender will check #1 and have time to determine if he needs to carry the #2 deep or break off to his sideline curl/hook underneath zone. This allows, theoretically, for the defense to maintain 5 deep defenders.

Meanwhile, if one of the receivers doesn't run a vertical route, then the coverage will become a typical cover 3 as soon as one of them breaks or the QB's eyes take the underneath defenders to the play (essentially, the backside zone will be vacated in this concept).

Alright, so let’s look specifically how this coverage will adjust to different schemes.

4 Verticals

#2 breaking Short

#1 Breaking Short

Same Coverage, Different Look: Part 2
Obviously, the weakness of the last concept is the seam defender  holding the vertical route from the #2 and breaking on the #1 hitch, so now MSU can invert their deep third defenders and allow the outside CBs to make the read adjustment. The worry here is that the QB will fit a quick pass into the seam, so to adjust, MSU will give the initial pressure look, but will back off their OLBs. The perceived pressure from the OL is 6, but MSU actually only brings 4.

With slight adjustments to the look, you can run a safe cover 3 look with varying pressures and confuse the QB, offensive line, and WRs. By having these three variants in your back pocket, you can ensure that you are not giving up the big play, and force the offense not only to work for first downs, but be careful that they aren't falling into a trap placed by Pat Narduzzi.

Film Review: Wisconsin's young cornerbacks make young cornerback mistakes

If you followed along Saturday, you know I had some issues with the way Wisconsin's cornerbacks were playing. Much of it is being young, but there are things that you need to learn or else you'll eventually die by fire, which was the case Saturday. It's not they aren't good enough athletes; it's that their technique is still raw and they aren't doing the little things to help themselves out. Let's take a look.

The short stuff

Wisconsin played a lot of Over 4 and mixed in some Cover 3 against Ohio State. That's fine. Cover 4 is a great defense against the spread that allows the safeties to get involved in run support. Seriously, it's not a passive defense, but the Badgers didn't necessarily run it like some other teams do.

That's fine, too. There's more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. But it does tend to put a tall task on your outside linebackers, who have to defend against the run and also cover the entire hook/curl/flat zone immediately at the snap of the ball. So passes like this are going to happen:

And things like this, where OSU is directly forcing the outside linebacker to decide between run and bubble because the quarterback is optioning off of him are going to happen until you start moving that cornerback up.:

But like I said, it's fine. If you want to force a team to dink and dunk 5-yard routes to the sideline all the way down the field, most likely at some point they are going to screw up or you're going to jump a route and they'll get behind the chains and have to do something they aren't comfortable with.
The problem is, when you are conceding the short, outside zone, you better cover...

The deep pass

To continue reading about how Wisconsin's cornerbacks struggled defending the deep pass, follow the link the Bucky's 5th Quarter

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Inside the Playbook - A Look at MSU's Unique Cover 3 Package Part 1

On normal downs and distances, it’s safe to say that MSU isn’t the most creative defense. While they are obviously still very good, they typically do a limited amount of things and do those things extremely well. But once you get behind the chains, well, that’s a different matter. Against Notre Dame, Narduzzi and Co pulled out an interesting formation and scheme. We are going to look at it briefly and how it is supposed to be run and why.


Here, the Spartans clearly line up in a single high look, and with the depth of the defenders in the slot, it’s almost surely going to be a 3 high type of defense. The question for the QB is: “Are the CBs going to drop into deep thirds?” or “Are the seam defenders going to drop into deep thirds?”


Turns out that it is a basic cover 3 zone but with a few tweaks with the way that it looks. And the underneath coverage follows the eyes of the QB.


Concept and Theory
The scenario is third and long. The idea behind running a cover 3 is that it will allow MSU to apply some pressure while protecting the first down marker. It’s relatively safe against a variety of formations and forces a QB to put a ball accurately and on time to defeat it.

However, there is one play that is quite adept at defeating cover 3: 4 verticals. 4 verts will force a deep defender to be wrong, will give the QB an easy read to find an open receiver, and is difficult for the defense to adjust to (who converts the coverage to defend the fourth receiver?).

One thing you see from the video on the replay is that both seam defenders are simply reading the QB's eyes and will rotate based on that,  that the 6 man pressure will not give the QB time to go through a progression on both sides of the field and that it also won't give the routes time to develop against the initial 5 high look something that proved to be the case. But Rees held the seam defenders for long enough with his eyes before turning to his hitch route near the sideline, and the first down was converted.

Despite the fact that it doesn't work (because the seam defender doesn't get his eyes to #1 early enough because he’s worried about 4 verts), this is an interesting set-up that I hadn't seen before. While it does give up the first down, it seems quite a bit safer preventing the truly big play. In the next part we'll look at how MSU can stick with the cover 3 concept, but confuse the QB and offensive line to generate a more complete defensive package.

Week 5: Coaching Points Round-Up

For more detailed and live coaching points, follow me @SpaceCoyoteBDS as I send live tweets during the game.

Ohio State

  • Purdue - like many teams - ran a mesh concept. Nice, easy read for a QB that is struggling to find a rhythm
  • Purdue had some success on the ground. They ran Power O nicely a few times where their combo block really crushed NIU's interior DL.
  • LBs didn't do a good job of "reading hats" of NIU. If helmet gets high, it's pass. If low, it's run. Purdue heavily bit on PA. Part of this is because of the amount of man coverage from Purdue
  • Interior OL needs to be better with feet and hands in pass pro. Got beat once because RG reached, causing his feet to plant, and he was unable to get hands or body into DT.
  • Henry needed to do a better job of putting his receivers in a position to succeed. Against zone coverage he lead his TE into a hit. He needs to stop the TE in zone with the pass, even if the TE doesn't do it himself. On top of poor throw from Henry, TE got gator arms. Leads to an INT.

  • Wisconsin OLBs had some trouble wrapping and tackling. Gotta get the ball carrier to the ground
  • A couple times Wisconsin LBs were trying to simulate Miller's clap count.
  • OLB had a nice inside move to beat the OT, who is really hell bent on not allowing him to win outside. But once he beats the OT he needs to get back on path, staying in his rush lane.
  • Wisconsin looked to start keeping more 7 man pass pro. This allowed routes to develop as Wisconsin likes, letting Stave hit passes to the deep sideline.
  • Wisconsin got good push when running straight at OSU. Inside zone and Power O.
  • Power O to the single TE, zero WR side got a FB on a CB and has looked successful against OSU's cover 1.
  • Abbrederis catch for a TD was just about perfect. Slowed up enough to put his body between the ball and the defender, walled off defender well, then made nice run after catch.
  • Wisconsin really focused a lot on the QB run. Left them vulnerable over the top. DBs needed to do better job gaining depth and using body to prevent WRs from getting clean looks over the top.
  • Looked to me like Wisconsin Squeezed their DL and allowed their LBs to stack a bit more in the 2nd half. This prevented a lot of the inside runs and forced OSU to go outside.
  • Out of spread with a mobile QB, I actually like Wisconsin in a 4-man front to do better in rush lanes.
  • Borland is the best tackler in the B1G.
  • On OSU's last drive. OLB did a terrible job with fundamentals. Too occupied with blocker, failed to disengage or even leave outside arm free. Lost leverage, which was his assignment, and almost have up a crucial 3rd and 8 conversion to OSU.