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.
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