Snapshots: Passing Game Confusion

Snapshots: Passing Game Confusion


September 26, 2019
Michigan’s first offensive play against Wisconsin

NOTE: I whipped up this post on a break at work, so if the writing seems a little hurried in nature, then…it is.

THE SITUATION
On Michigan’s first possession of the game after a Wisconsin touchdown drive, the Wolverines have the ball at the 25-yard line after a touchback. It’s 1st-and-10 with the ball in the right middle.

THE PERSONNEL
Michigan lines up in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end). The receivers are Nico Collins at split end, Ronnie Bell at slot, Tarik Black at flanker, Christian Turner at running back, and Sean McKeon at flex tight end, with Shea Patterson at quarterback.

THE DEFENSE
The Badgers are in a 3-4 look, perhaps in a “Tite” front with two 4i defensive tackles and a shaded nose tackle. There are two high safeties. The cornerback to the bottom of the screen has his eyes in the backfield, which indicates zone coverage, so you’re probably getting a form of Cover 2 (each safeties has a deep half of the field) or Cover 4 (each defensive back has a deep quarter of the field).

Here’s the poorly executed play.

First of all, one of the advantages of a hurry-up offense is to see what the defense is doing and then exploit that weakness, change the call, etc. Michigan lined up for this exact play and then “executed” the play. Question #1 for me is: Why not run the ball? There are 5 defenders in the box, each of whom can be blocked, and then the quarterback can effectively “read” the overhang defender to the bottom of the screen on a zone read option or RPO. Count the box and take what’s given to you. On a 1st-and-10, this should have been a run.

But okay, just running the play that’s called…

Shea Patterson should have been reading the bottom side of the field. With two receivers to the top of the screen covered by three defenders and going into the boundary, the defense has removed that side of the field from my thinking. Black is running an out route into a cornerback who’s only seven yards off the ball pre-snap, and McKeon is running a stick route at a safety who’s eight yards off the ball; in between the two is an outside linebacker “apexing” their route combination. Cross that off the list.

At the bottom of the screen is a cornerback who is two yards off the ball and a safety over the slot at eleven yards, along with an outside linebacker who is splitting the difference between the tackle and Bell. There is a green triangle of space between those three defenders. THAT is the area that should be attacked, either by your pre-snap call (so don’t check out of it) or by your audible.

Michigan runs double slants at the bottom of the screen, with the tailback running a swing route out of the backfield. It’s a simple three-man route combination. The bottom inside linebacker helps Michigan out by stepping inside to help, leaving a three-on-three situation to the bottom of the screen. That’s fine. You can’t expect to get free guys running all over the place. One of your guys has to win OR the play concept has to simply win by alignment.

On the play that was run, the ball should have gone to Nico Collins on the outside slant. It probably would have resulted in a short-ish gain, because Collins isn’t particularly explosive and won’t get a ton of yards after the catch. But this is the type of thing that needs to be executed to keep the offense on schedule.

Below are a couple examples of concepts that could have worked based on this formation and the defense:

Throw the slant.
Run an inside zone run-pass option.
If you can’t block the backside 4i, read him.
Swing screen

There are a bunch of things you can do. These are four simple things off the top of my head, and Michigan has the personnel to do them. This isn’t John Navarre at quarterback. And it’s not a Lloyd Carr offense where the team isn’t familiar with RPOs, option football, etc. This is an RPO/option offense, and either Michigan isn’t capable of making the necessary adjustments, or the quarterback isn’t able or empowered to make the right reads.

I know it’s easy to sit at your computer or sit on a drawing board and come up with plays that would/should work. It’s much different to go out and execute them. I created the plays up there based on the defense’s alignment, and Michigan didn’t have the advantage of knowing how the defense would align to this formation before the game started.

BUT the first option up there is an option that was built into the play and not executed, and option #2 is something this offense runs – inside zone with a slant RPO. Why not make that adjustment or check from the quarterback or the sideline? One issue could be that the offensive coordinator would have to relay that check from the booth down to a guy on the sideline, who would then have to relay it to the quarterback, which can take valuable time. But a college program with literally millions of dollars being funneled into the program should be able to work out a method of communication that’s efficient enough to make that happen.

CONCLUSION
Ultimately, this is just a sign to me that this team was not prepared from the moment they stepped on the field. Later in the game, maybe discomfort or fatigue or getting hit causes you not to think straight, but if the quarterback/coordinator can’t see this stuff on snap one, you’re probably in for a stinker of a game.

The play starts at 1:30 of the link (sorry, I can’t embed from this browser): YOUTUBE.

16 comments

  1. Klctlc
    Comments: 80
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Klctlc
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:05 PM

    Thanks for taking the time Thunder. It is appreciated. However, this leaves me more depressed. Just validates how bad things really are. Not sure if it is just who Shea is, or if coaching is piss poor. I guess they can simplify, but that is not a long term solution. How the hell did we get here in year 5?

  2. Avatar
    Comments: 111
    Joined: 10/22/2015
    SinCityBlue
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:18 PM

    I really liked this. Had to read it a few times to comprehend it all, but I dig this stuff so keep on doing more of these please. It reminds of the Urban Meyer segment on the B1G Ten channel which I enjoy watching on YouTube.

  3. DonAZ
    Comments: 482
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    DonAZ
    Sep 26, 2019 at 1:31 PM

    This is outstanding content!

    “… either Michigan isn’t capable of making the necessary adjustments, or the quarterback isn’t able or empowered to make the right reads.”

    I’d speculate it’s that the QB isn’t trusted — thus empowered — to make those reads and adjust. Perhaps they see things in practice to suggest Patterson just isn’t that good at snap decisions; perhaps it’s that they’re looking to see if they can execute the script first, and if so then they can improvise on plays.

    • Avatar
      Comments: 1618
      Joined: 1/19/2016
      je93
      Sep 26, 2019 at 10:38 PM

      I don’t know Don, Harbaugh hasn’t had any of his QBs check at the line. Even in the Amazon series, he chews out Speight for doing it

      • DonAZ
        Comments: 482
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        DonAZ
        Sep 27, 2019 at 8:47 AM

        Did he allow Andrew Luck to do that at Stanford? I’m wondering if it’s a case where he’ll permit it only once he has trust in the QB. And then it’s a question of how high a bar he sets to earn that trust. In other words, is he waiting for the next once-a-generation QB talent to land in his lap?

  4. Lanknows
    Comments: 5515
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Sep 26, 2019 at 4:14 PM

    Pep Hamilton Miss Me Yet dot jpeg

  5. Avatar
    Comments: 1618
    Joined: 1/19/2016
    je93
    Sep 26, 2019 at 10:03 PM

    Swing screen!

    Get Turner and his speed involved! Force the D to creep up and respect it, now Black & Nico can go to work!

    This is Gattis/Shea, but Harbaugh has never taken what a D offers

  6. 17years
    Comments: 277
    Joined: 2/6/2018
    17years
    Sep 27, 2019 at 12:09 AM

    Josh Gattis is learning what life with out Mike Locksley is.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 5515
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Sep 27, 2019 at 8:50 AM

      Last year was the only time they coached together.

  7. Avatar
    Comments: 20
    Joined: 11/15/2015
    brandywine
    Sep 27, 2019 at 12:17 PM

    To me it just shows how poorly the new offense has been installed evidenced by how disorganized it is. Harbaugh doesn’t know this offense well enough to run it like a well oiled machine and Gattis has never done it on his own. It’s showing.

    • gobluetwo
      Comments: 46
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      gobluetwo
      Sep 27, 2019 at 1:29 PM

      I do wonder how much of it is Harbaugh handcuffing Gattis.

      • Klctlc
        Comments: 80
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Klctlc
        Sep 27, 2019 at 1:44 PM

        I think it is the opposite. I think Harbaugh gave him free reign and now is stuck with it.

        • Thunder
          Comments: 3366
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Sep 27, 2019 at 1:54 PM

          This is my gut feeling, too. Not that there’s not room for improvement or that Gattis is waiting for the ax to drop. I could be wrong, but the look on Harbaugh’s face last Saturday was one of exasperation. I’ve had that look before when coaches/players under me weren’t doing what they were supposed to do, and you want to blow up but you can’t.

        • Lanknows
          Comments: 5515
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Lanknows
          Sep 27, 2019 at 4:07 PM

          Same guess here. Harbaugh wants to believe he made the right hire. Gattis doesn’t appear to be ready to manage this sort of transition on his own. Hopefully corrective action is being taken.

      • Thunder
        Comments: 3366
        Joined: 7/13/2015
        Sep 27, 2019 at 1:44 PM

        I guess Harbaugh is never going to shake this. Everybody – insiders, outsiders, the coaches themselves – says that Gattis is running the show. I’m not in Schembechler Hall, but my outsider’s opinion that this is *mostly* on Gattis, with the caveat that everything happening within the program is allowed by Harbaugh. “You’re either coaching it or you’re letting it happen.”

        • Lanknows
          Comments: 5515
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Lanknows
          Sep 27, 2019 at 4:08 PM

          Spot on.

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