by Mark Edwards
Defensive football is an ever-changing strategy in terms of complexity. When the spread offense was “invented” two decades ago, it inevitably forced defenses to account for so many components of one play. From the days of the Bo Schembechler “5-2” to Lloyd Carr’s “4-3 Over” to Don Brown’s “3-3”, it’s all about taking away what the offenses of those eras want to do. In the “Ten Year War” between Woody and Bo, you had to take away the fullback belly and then the option game. Lloyd’s defenses needed to be able to handle the shotgun passing game. Now, as we find ourselves with “Dr. Blitz” in Ann Arbor, never has a defense had to be so multiple in what they have to do on a given play.
This column is all about “pressure.” To the casual fan, the term “blitz” is what they think of when they see “pressure.” In our ninth installment of this column, the reader has to know that there are “run pressures” and “pass pressures.” Run pressures and stunts/movements/blitzes design to foil a running play. These are fairly new in terms of designation because of the spread offense. The pass pressures are the “go get to the QB” types of movements that almost always include a non-defensive lineman being included in the rush. This week’s pressure is a “run pressure” that not only highlights the defense’s design but also the discipline that the Michigan Defense is playing with.
THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE
SITUATION: 1st & 10, Minnesota ball on Michigan’s 49 yard line
TIME: 12:47 left in the third quarter
WHY THIS SERIES: With Michigan up 20-7 and having had to punt after receiving the second half kickoff, Minnesota made their way into Michigan territory. This was the pivotal possession that could have seen the Gophers get within a score. Never have the design and the discipline been so clearly on view for the 2017 Michigan Defense.
OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Trio Flex Left (You have twin receivers to the field while the H back has motioned from right to left.)
MINEESOTA PERSONNEL: 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end)
DEFENSIVE BASE: 4-2
MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES: In this look before the ball has been snapped, we see that Michigan is in their four-man defensive line to combat the run heavy attack that Minnesota used. Rashan Gary (#3) is in a 5-technique to the top of the screen while Maurice Hurst (#73) is in a 3-technique on that side as well. You might ask “why are they shaded so heavily to the short side of the field? The answer is that they are not setting the front based on where the ball is. They are setting the front to be strong on the opposite side of the back. Aubrey Solomon (#5) is in a 2-technique which is head up on the guard. Chase Winovich (#15) is in a ghost 9 meaning that he is aligned on the outside shoulder of the “imaginary” tight end to the bottom of the screen (look at the endzone view and the H back *86). Devin Bush Jr. (#10) has been faking a blitz and is in retreat back to normal linebacker depth. Mike McCray (#9) and Khaleke Hudson (#7) are aligned at four yards from the ball and both have leverage on the play. You can see the alignments in the picture below:
Cornerbacks Lavert Hill (#24) and David Long (#22) are in their press alignments. Notice that safety Tyree Kinnel (#23) is the safety to the twins side and is rolled down a bit while Josh Metellus (#14) is deeper. More on their depth later.
What has changed: The ball still hasn’t snapped but as Bush Jr has dropped back to a middle linebacker alignment, you can see Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) start to come down toward the line of scrimmage.
What is Minnesota doing here? Minnesota is running a “counter option” play. Their offensive line is blocking an inside zone play to their right. The H back is “arcing” to the outside linebacker. The QB and RB have both stepped right and are now moving left.
What has changed: Hudson is the key to the run pressure. He is “free” off of the edge. Winovich (#15) is unblocked and in great position to force the pitch, which he does.
Michigan’s pressure: Hudson has entered the Minnesota backfield while the defensive line has played their technique and responded to the offensive line’s movement. Notice Kinnel has backed up to normal safety depth while Metellus (top of screen) is running down hill to replace Hudson, who has vacated his pre-snap position to bring pressure. Metellus is attempting to provide inside help to Lavert Hill on the top of the screen.
What is Minnesota doing here? While the ball has been pitched, the offensive line is in decent shape. The problem comes from the fact that the H-back has arced to the mike linebacker (Bush Jr #10). This forces the slot receiver to try to “crack block” the force player, which is Mike McCray (#9). As you can tell, he’s going to miss that block badly.
What has changed: While Hudson is still coming off the short side, McCray is now running directly at the RB who is looking back for the pitch.
Michigan’s pressure: It’s a Viper crush pressure on the short side with all kinds of technique and gap responsibility being shown out of Winovich, McCray and Bush to the wide side of the field.
What is Minnesota doing here? Minnesota is demonstrating that in the option game, if you miss blocks on edge defenders, that’s where the play inevitably breaks down.
What has changed: McCray has officially beaten the slot receiver while not allowing the RB to run around him.
Michigan’s pressure: Hudson is still coming but notice that Winovich (#15) has redirected to become the inside-out player to “sandwich” the RB (with McCray being the other piece of bread).
What is Minnesota doing here? They are losing three yards.
What has changed: Khaleke Hudson’s great effort has forced three Michigan defenders to converge on the ball carrier.
Michigan’s pressure: The discipline/effort of the Michigan Defense is on full display as Kinnel (#23) is running the alley to get to the ball while Josh Metellus (#14) and Aubrey Soloman (#5) are in pursuit from the back side. The only disappointing thing is the Devin Bush Jr. (#10) has been driven five yards by the H back.
Gang Tackle! Regardless of the defensive eras listed in the intro, gang tackling is still a desired activity by the best defenses. The Spread Offense tries to get the one-on-one matchup so this obviously isn’t what they are trying to do.
FINAL THOUGHT: Hudson gave great effort all night long and it would’ve been easy to pick a play where he made the “one-on-one” play. In Don Brown’s system, gap accountability and discipline are key. The work of McCray, Winovich and the pursuit players is the thing that enables Michigan to have an elite defense.
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS: If you have any questions or comments, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.