Is the defensive scheme really the issue this week?

Leave it to Bleacher Report to get me started.  I read this post there suggesting that perhaps Georgia’s woes on defense could be traced not to things like poor fundamentals, but to scheme.  It’s one of those classic write ups in which the author throws out enough verbiage/buzz words to make it sound authoritative, but when you parse it down, there’s not much there.

Like this:

… The problem with the 4-3 defense as it applies to the spread or the option offense is that there isn’t enough team speed.

Spread offenses aren’t usually relying on the run game to pick up yardage. There are a lot more three, four, and sometimes even five receiver sets employed—the tight end is generally a hybrid (meaning he is listed as a tight end but has the speed of a wide receiver).

Unfortunately, reality intrudes:  three of the top four rushing offenses in the SEC belong to schools employing some form of the spread.  And as we’re all aware at this point in the season, the worst rushing offense in the conference belongs to a team that definitely doesn’t run out of a spread attack.

This doesn’t strike me as very observant, either:

… Willie Martinez is still relying on the defensive scheme of Van Gorder because it worked. However, in 2001 when Van Gorder took over as coordinator, the most mobile quarterbacks in the SEC were Tyler Watts and Corey Phillips—neither of whom operated in a spread system.

Now, the Dawgs see the spread at Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Auburn. LSU and South Carolina both have incorporated variations of the spread into their offenses.

It’s a changing league and the Dawgs need to start making some adjustments.

Well, guess what?  Martinez has already done that.

“In our league, more and more people are spreading out (on offense), and I think it’s happening pretty much around the nation,” Richt said. “The more (offenses) spread, the less (defenses) play their Sam linebacker. You could play Sam and play a certain team and play maybe 15 snaps or something. And then if you have two Sams who are ready to play, you are splitting time like that.”

When offenses spread out their formation, defenses have to replace the Sam linebacker with a defensive back, a player who is expected to be faster and better in pass coverage. With a linebacker in the game against a spread offense, Martinez said, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators know the defense will be playing zone defense, giving the offense an advantage.

“They know a linebacker is not going to play man (coverage),” Martinez said. “He’s going to play zone.” [Emphasis added.]

I don’t want to say that scheme per se is overrated, but it’s not as important as fundamentals.  Play your assignments properly, win the battle at the line of scrimmage and tackle properly and you’re generally going to be successful whether you’re doing that out of a 4-3, 3-4 (by the way, “lose the nose tackle”?), 3-3-5 or any other alignment you want to toss out there.  Monte Kiffin slowed Florida down playing classic Tampa Two, while Meyer noted that Mississippi State confused Tebow last weekend playing cover zero.  (Check Chris Brown’s breakdown of those coverages, if you’re interested.)  They both worked because the defenders did what they were supposed to do.  Go back and look at Georgia’s defensive play against Crompton and the UT receivers (if you can stomach it, anyway).  Can you say the same thing?

The thing is that Martinez by and large has done a decent job against Meyer’s offenses.  Believe it or not, Georgia has outgained Florida in three of the past four games.  And that’s with DJ being out for the 2005 game and Georgia being -4 in turnover margin in both the 2006 and 2008 games.

Now, as they like to say in the securities biz, past performance is no indication of future success, but I’m a lot more worried about whether Georgia is going to play a bunch of soft zone against a team that’s not as successful throwing the ball as last year, struggles in the red zone and whose go-to receiver is its tight end than I am about counting how many defensive lineman Martinez lines up with.

For Georgia to win, the defensive line needs to step up with its best game of the season and the Dawgs need to be in the black on turnover margin.  Purely and simply, that’s where it’s all got to start.

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UPDATE: David Hale takes a look at the passing game numbers for both Georgia’s defense and Florida’s offense.  It’s not for the faint at heart.

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20 Comments

Filed under Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

20 responses to “Is the defensive scheme really the issue this week?

  1. The Realist

    1) Why do you do this to yourself? Bleacher Report? The next credible, knowledgeable writer that pens an article for the BR will be the first.

    2) Tennessee doesn’t run the spread. Giant Catfish ripped Georgia to shreds out of a pro-style offense. Georgia’s defensive woes are not based on outdated scheme. They are based on poor execution, poor effort at times, poor adjustments, and a general lack of aggressiveness (insert disclaimer about not actually knowing anything at all.)

    3) I’m glad D Hale is back.

  2. Turd Ferguson

    I remember someone on ESPN talking about (so it must be true!) Monte Kiffin’s gameplan against Florida. It had something to do with bringing Eric Berry all the way up to one side of the line of scrimmage in order to contain the misdirection. And apparently, it worked really well. Anyone else see that?

    Anyway, I’d say something like, “Hopefully, Willie was watching,” but then … even if we go into Jacksonville with the same gameplan, what’re the odds of our guys wrapping up and tackling as well as Berry did?

    Here’s hoping, I guess.

    • The Realist

      I saw that. They brought an extra guy down to cover the give on the zone read. Tebow reads the DE, who is presumably playing him, and he gives right into the teeth of the defense. With Florida’s RB’s being far more dangerous on the outside, containing the outside was very productive.

      • 1974gator

        If he decides to do that, Willie will have to find an answer for dealing with our pulling centers and guards. We started using this last week and had great success springing the RB off-tackle.
        Also, look for Tebow to have at least one RB back with him to help difuse the multiple LB blitz. We have been getting killed in the 4-5 receiver formations because the D has been calling all-out blitzes on those plays. Tebow should have learned by now that, if he gets blitzed, he should make more of a conscious effort to look for his safety valve back to get the 1 on 1 match-up with the CB or safety.

  3. Will Q

    That link to the Smart Football article was very educational.

  4. Bryan Carver Dawg97

    I think our coaches have identified the need to basically play for speed and the 4-2-5 against true spread teams such as Florida. I’m sure they recognize to stop the dive (as we did a good job last year keeping Rainey and Demps in check up the middle) and that pressure on Tebow a la 07, is important. Florida (and to an extent GT) provides isolated events where it is more fundamentals/technique and good tackling will take care of a lot of problems on defense.

    But I do wonder whether 5 years and how many ever 30+ games has given the other coaches enough tape on how to beat Willie’s D. I think we’ve seen other teams understanding that we are so predicated on stopping the run that play action eats our LBs up too much or that seam routes at our safeties or a TE settling in the soft zone eat our D up alive – the SC, Arky and UT games this year being examples.

    It is another topic for another time, but while yes, long haul, overall season perspective, the old argument of the success of our D being predicated on a monster DL pass rush, especially from the DE always applies. But if we aren’t going to develop the talent or execute it properly to the point of where we can disrupt the opponents passing attack, I wonder if we really shouldn’t switch scheme. Just to force the other teams to find new ways to beat us.

    • But if we aren’t going to develop the talent or execute it properly to the point of where we can disrupt the opponents passing attack, I wonder if we really shouldn’t switch scheme.

      If they can’t properly execute a scheme they’ve been running for nine years, what gives you confidence they’ll do any better running another?

      • Bryan Carver Dawg97

        I’m just think that the issue is seems to that the other teams really have seemed to diagnose and have solved our D – regardless of our execution – while we just keep waiting/hoping that the D-line will dominate.

        Think of it like directional kicking – could we do any worse by changing either one?

  5. 69Dawg

    To paraphrase the new wonder boy (Kiffin) : UGA does what they always have done. You can look at tape from the last game or from FSU 15 years ago and see the same thing.

    If we out man you or out execute you we stand a chance of winning. So far this year against the really average teams we have done neither.

    I am a Dooley/Munson trained alumni and I can’t for the life of me see a way we will beat UF, we have made too many average teams above average to start beating great teams now.

  6. KingDawg

    Playing zone most of the time and having the linebackers take a step back at the beginning of most plays is scheme/coaching.

    Crompton/Ainge/Mallett/Garcia/JPW/UK QBs have not picked us apart because of execution. They have found soft spots in the zone due to scheme. Soft zone coverage without pressure is a recipe for disaster against a decent QB/OC.

    It is the coaches job to put the players in a position to succeed. Find a scheme they can execute and run it well. If execution is a significant problem several games into the season, either the coaches are not doing a good job teaching the players or the scheme is too complex.

  7. KingDawg

    Bryan Evans wasn’t on the field for a lot of it. Further, if your scheme depends on Bryan Evans covering someone, you have a schematic problem.

    Bryan Evans would be a very good, small, fast linebacker with weight training for a LB. We played him at corner for 2 1/2 years and then moved him to safety.

  8. drunk dawg

    This is a false hypothesis because techincally you could tell everyone on your defense to “pick a man” and “stop them” and then blame it on them not winning individual matchups when everything goes horribly wrong.

    Like the poster above said, if your scheme calls for Bryan Evens to cover a top receiver 1 on 1 down the field, you schemed improperly. Part of defensive scheming is understanding the limitations or strengths of players and adjusting to it. And all too often Martinez has showed an ability to do just that, adjust.

    Now naturally there are times Martinez has a perfectly fine call and there is no execution, but scheme definitely does matter, ALOT.

  9. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Scheme is what won the UGA-UT game for UT.