MGoBlog: I Beg to Differ

MGoBlog: I Beg to Differ

October 21, 2011

Yesterday, Brian at MGoBlog made a “Picture Pages” post where he questioned the diagnosing skills by Michigan’s linebackers, based on a play from last week’s game against Michigan State.  I disagree with at least part of Brian’s conclusions.

First, here’s the play:

Michigan is in a standard 4-3 Under alignment, where the responsibilities are as follows:

Jake Ryan = outside contain
Ryan Van Bergen = C gap
Kenny Demens = B gap
Mike Martin = A gap
Brandin Hawthorne = A gap / flow to the ball
Will Heininger = B gap
Craig Roh = C gap / outside contain

Brian’s conclusion is this:

The DL cannot do much more than this. They got a two-for-one on the double that leaves a free hitter. On the frontside they drive into the backfield such that the tailback has one realistic option. Short of throwing offensive linemen into the RB, they have done all they can.

I completely disagree.  The defensive line can do much more.  First and foremost, Mike Martin can make the tackle.  The star defensive tackle that people seem afraid to criticize is the first person who makes a mistake here.  He’s responsible for the playside A gap but refuses to get off the center’s block.  If Martin gets off the block quicker and wraps up Edwin Baker, the play gets made for a loss or a minimal gain.

It’s true that middle linebacker Kenny Demens doesn’t do a great job on the play.  In my opinion, he should be attacking the offensive guard’s outside shoulder, thus maintaining B gap responsibility.  Instead, he takes the guard on head up and then gets stalemated.  If he takes on that guard with his inside shoulder, the WILL (Brandin Hawthorne) is screaming downhill and will tackle Baker for about a 1-yard gain.  (With the way Hawthorne reacts, it looks to me that he’s just flowing to the ball and that the free safety is responsible for supporting the weakside A gap.)

I also take issue with Brian’s assertion that MSU’s linebackers are better at reading plays just because they’re coming downhill as soon as Denard Robinson turns to hand off to Vincent Smith.  Well, of course  they are.  Denard Robinson doesn’t throw the ball very well, and their entire game plan revolved around stopping Denard Robinson and the running game.  Run the ball?  They’re going to sell out to stop it.  Play action?  They’re stopping the run and taking their chances with Denard dumping the ball over their heads.  That’s been the Spartans’ game plan for the past two years, and it worked both times.

Meanwhile, Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne have to be concerned about the play action pass because MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins is someone who can actually complete a few throws downfield.  In fact, just before Demens impacts the releasing guard, you can see his head scan to the right.  I’m not certain that Demens is looking at Cousins, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was checking to see whether Cousins had kept the ball and was rolling out for a pass.


  1. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    MGo may be great for Michigan news but Brian doesn't have much of a clue on how to break things down. For some reason though, people just want to take everything he says as gospel. I read all of the contributors, but lately, his posts are borderline unreadable.

    For me personally, TTB has been a daily must-read. MGo, a must-skim. Keep up the great work, Thunder!

  2. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    @ Anonymous 11:22 a.m.

    I still like Brian's writing, but I take his play breakdowns with a grain of salt. He's not perfect, but no one is.

    Thanks for the compliments.

  3. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    I will take what Thunder says over Brian's lego-land analyses any day of the week (meaning, his analyses come off as the work of an child in writing-style who looks at things in isolated states rather than ongoing processes). After having spent a couple of years at Mgoblog, I have determined that Brian is an engineer masquerading as a football analyst. If he just stuck to commentary on football-related events, and commentary on the work of other writers, he would be fine for the audience he is trying to reach (folks in their 20s). But he gets way over his head when he tries to be an actual football analyst.

    And as for his writing, I find that once you emerge from your adult-tweener stage (early 20s to early 30s), in which not only do you have to be perceived as super cool, but you are also out to change the world, his writing and points-of-view become more annoying than entertaining. I'll take TTB any day over Mgoblog. It's where mature adults go for their Michigan football analyses.

  4. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Kudos on the Mike Martin comment. I've been feeling the exact same way. He doesn't seem as effectual as I think we once thought he would be yet nobody seems to want to talk about the purple elephant in the room. Hate to say it, but he's no Jerel Worthy. Keep up the good work.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 5:35 PM


    I'm kind of glad Martin isn't Worthy.

    Martin isn't a true nose tackle. If BWC or Q could step up and do even an adequate job at 1-tech, Martin could be moved to 3-tech and destroy things. That's probably where he's headed in the NFL.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    (First of all, I love the idea that a football blog that regularly posts pictures of women in bikinis–as if this were something the internet was lacking in general–is "where mature adults go." For a given definition of "mature," I guess.)

    Serious question, though: if Hawthorne's responsibility is to "flow to the ball," why does he stutter step on his way to Baker? If Kovacs had the weakside A gap, shouldn't Hawthorne be screaming toward the playside?

    If that's the case, then I don't see how Brian's complaints aren't accurate. Demens and Hawthorne were hesitant.

    Second question: by saying that Martin "refuses" to get off his block, do you mean fails? Or do you think he was purposefully staying blocked? That's a genuine question. Do DTs ever purposefully stay blocked?

  7. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    @ Anonymous 1:42 p.m.

    I don't know why Hawthorne stutter steps on his way to Baker. Maybe he thought Cousins still had the ball. Maybe he was responsible for the backside A gap. Regardless, Hawthorne can't make the play from the WILL position if Martin/Demens/Van Bergen don't bottle it up.

    By "refuses" I mean Martin fails…but it doesn't really look like he makes much of an effort to disengage from the center. He gets his hands on the center and then they just kind of get in a shoving match until Martin makes a less-than-full effort to wrap up Baker with one arm.

    DTs don't purposefully stay blocked, for the most part, although sometimes they are taught to maintain gap responsibility and squeeze down gaps rather than trying to go around them. That's not the case with Martin here. He's not trying to squeeze down anything. He's just making a poor effort, in my opinion.

  8. Comments: 21384
    Painter Smurf
    Oct 21, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    In the case of the UFR's, it's probably best not to get to hung up on detailed analysis of any one play. And maybe he should cut back on the detailed "picture pages" because he has reached erroneous conclusions on them before. Brian has obviously never done anything resembling coordinating an offense or defense. He is getting better at it over time though and I think he approaches the analysis with some humility. I often disagree with analysis of individual plays, but his summaries tend to be directionally correct. He may not have picked the perfect example, but the slow LB flow was driving me bananas while watching the game live as well. I am thankful for the amount of work he puts into it. Interesting reading regardless.

  9. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    So other than Martin not getting off the block what else was the line supposed to do here to hold this down?

    And has Demens season seemed a little disapointing to you so far? With the huge upgrade in linebacker coaches/defensive coordinator I guess I expected more out of him.

    Last question, do you see any of the incoming LB's next year stepping into the WLB job?


  10. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 6:13 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 1:56 p.m.

    Agreed. I read the UFR's, but I don't put too much stock in the individual plays, either. I know I wouldn't want to sit there and write out explanations for over 100 plays every week. That would be extremely tedious.

  11. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    @ AVC 2:06 p.m.

    Well, Van Bergen might be getting a little too deep here. I'm not sure what he's supposed to do on this play, whether he's supposed to get penetration or get 1 yard deep and squeeze things down. So Martin didn't do very well, and Van Bergen might deserve a tsk-tsking as well.

    Demens has seemed a little disappointing, yes. Of course, I thought he overachieved last year. I didn't think he was going to be much of a linebacker at the college level, and he was obviously pretty good in 2010. Then I ratcheted up my expectations for him this year…and he hasn't taken that next step. I guess missing spring practices might have slowed him down a little bit.

    I don't really expect a freshman to start next year, simply because freshman starters at linebacker are generally bad news. They're not ready physically or mentally. That being said…if anyone does it, it will be James Ross. He's the most college ready linebacker I've seen come to Michigan since I started following recruiting.

  12. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Mike Martin was held on the play and every other play. Clearly MSU told their young center to try and get away with some things and on this play he's holding onto Martin's shoulder pads where it covers the chest. That was happening all game long and was infuriating that it didn't get called. Any time Martin would get some release you'd see the centers arm extend right underneath the should pad and Martin couldn't get away. It was great coaching by MSU.

  13. Comments: 21384
    Oct 21, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    If you look at the play closely the guard reaches out an arm and grabs/slows down Hawthorne. He probably should have been able to run through it if he was coming full speed to the ball, but it's there none the less.

  14. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    @ Anonymous 2:41 p.m.

    MSU's coaches might have told him to hold…

    …but if that's holding, then every offensive lineman on every team holds on every offensive play. That wasn't holding. At all.

  15. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I love the MGoBlog bashers… they probably visit MGoBlog everyday!

    Having said that we all know Brian isn't a coach.

    However I think he's put more effort into learning about the sport than most sportswriters… give the guy some credit.
    Does anyone else in the mainstream sports media break down every play?

  16. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    I've no idea what RVB is doing on this play other than taking himself out of it. Its 1st and 10, he needs to take care of his gap first and foremost on a likely running play. Martin clearly dominates the center but he's too aggressive and fails to fill his gap responsibility as well. As for Demens, I agree he needs to take on the center with his inside shoulder. RVB misplays this the most in my opinion.

    In MGoBlog's defense, he has been doing the UFRs on Michigan's d-line and hasn't seen a good one in many years. I don't blame him for some distorted conclusions.

  17. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    I think Brian would admit he's learning to go. I don't know about the others, but I really appreciate his work as well as Thunder's and other blogs like Smart Football. I feel like I've learned a lot in the last couple years thanks to informative blog posts.

    Brian's sycophants and his arrogance can be off-putting, but the guy cranks out a ton of good content, and agree or disagree he backs his opinions up with rationale. You may not buy all his assumptions and presumptions, but at the very least he comes up with an interesting opinion I think.

    Martin's overrated by Michigan fans – I've been saying that for two years. Quality player but not the all-american people have been treating him like since his sophomore season. On this play though, I think he did his job at least adequately. It's someone else's job to make the tackle here if he can't make an extraordinary play.

    I agree with Thunder though – this is one where you can spread the blame around.

  18. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    @ Anonymous 8:56 a.m.

    I do give Brian credit for the amount of work he puts in on his blog. I think he runs an excellent site.

  19. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    @ Lankownia 2:52 p.m.

    It's not anyone else's job to make the tackle. It's Martin's. That's why he's responsible for the A gap. He does an "adequate" job by not getting blown off the ball and chasing down the play, but he still needs to make the tackle. Like I said, there were others who could have played it better too (Demens, probably Van Bergen, maybe Hawthorne, etc.), but the ball was run to Martin's gap, he had a pretty clean shot, and he barely slowed Baker down.

  20. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    OK, I'll take your word for it. Just seems like if you're counting on DL guys to make tackles, your scheme is bound to get beat regularly. I don't see a TFL as a routine play and that's exactly what Martin would have done if he had tackled him as you describe. TFL's usually happen when an OL blows an assignment, someone doesn't know the play, or the defender makes an excellent individual play to beat his man.

  21. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    @ Lankownia 4:11 p.m.

    You're counting on everyone to make tackles, not just defensive linemen. They all have a gap. If the play doesn't get made, at least one person receives the blame.

    If I'm the coach and we're watching film, I'm singling out Van Bergen, Demens, and Martin on this play and asking "What the hell happened?" Martin didn't make the play, Demens took a bad angle, and Van Bergen got too deep. If each one of those guys does his job, Martin wraps up Baker and Hawthorne helps take Baker to the ground. Each of those two gets an assisted tackle, MSU gains about a yard (max), and we live happily ever after.

  22. Comments: 21384
    Oct 22, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    I’m going to have to agree with both analysis here.

    Yes, the D Line “could" have done more. Martin could have made the tackle, but isn’t his “first” job to blow up his man and control the gap to keep the LB’s clean?

    I think we as UM fans are expecting too much of Martin. He is playing out of position and is not as dominatiing in the position he’s playing as we would like/hope.

    This play was tailor made for the MLB and WLB to clean up. Demens should have taken on the blocker’s left shoulder. In doing so the RB would have been forced to cut back, right into a down hill Hawthorne.

    Someone asked earlier why Hawthorne stuttered/delayed. A cut back lane to the left of the RB opened and was then closed by the offside DT. Hawthorne had to respect that opening before moving on.

    One other point, #90 may have had outside contain on this play but RVB clearly turns the play back inside. As this is happening Ryan is still trying to fight to the outside, causing the hole to open wider. In a couple years Ryan “sees” this color to the outside and immediately goes inside to close the hole.

    Just my .02

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