NOTE: I first put this article out just before the Iowa kickoff. I've updated the article to include a few quick hitters on the game against the Hawkeyes. I have also expanded more about why Michigan would benefit from a 4-2-4 Flex defense.
- After just one start, it looks like Kenny Demens has (finally) wrestled the starting job away from Obi Ezeh for once and for all. Thank heavens. After only watching the game once, I would say Demens already played a little better in his first start than Obi was playing as a senior. Look for Demens to really grow into a nasty run-stopper. His continued growth throughout the rest of the season is really important and should be fun to watch. Hopefully his propensity for big hits will help Michigan finally start causing some fumbles.
- Kudos to JT Floyd. I know he had that ridiculous facemask, but Floyd is really playing his heart out and giving up his body. The last two weeks, Floyd has accumulated a ridiculous 24 tackles by constantly coming up to do his best to make plays against the run. Floyd plays harder against the run than the majority of cornerbacks I have ever watched. He truly gives his all on every play. He's also becoming a good cover corner. If the D can start to force some tougher throws by putting the QB under pressure, then I believe JT could start to accumulate some interceptions.
- Steph Hopkins looked good on his carries. He's all about getting north and south and using his 225 frame to bulldoze tacklers and push the pile. Although I was disappointed that he only ended up with eight carries, he looks like a bowling ball out there and is turning into an excellent downhill runner. A future John Clay in the making?
- My weekly call to see what Mike Cox can do with the ball continues. He is consistently listed as the third RB on the depth chart, but never gets on the field. Whatever Mike is doing to be out of favor with the coaches, I hope he's able to earn his way out of it soon because he's got so much potential!
- Michigan's offense showed some good versatility against Iowa. With Denard banged up, Tate came in and showed he is a great change of pace option if Denard is struggling a bit. He also clearly has great on-field chemistry with Darryl Stonum. Although Tate still has to continue proving himself to be a true team player and Michigan man, he has taken huge strides since the UConn game. Keep up the great work Tate.
- Denard has done soooo sooooo sooooooooooooo much for us this year. It looks like the bye-week comes at the absolute perfect time for him physically and especially mentally. From a mental standpoint, he has so much going on with every snap. He clearly hasn't been too sharp with his reads in the passing game - and it's 99% mental fatigue. I think watching Tate have success making quick reads against Iowa will also really help Denard get fully back on track with the quick passing game. The bye-week should give him a chance to recharge his incredible batteries and get fresh (it is important that the coaches give him a good mental break this week). Look for Denard to start regaining his early-season form a week from Saturday at Penn State.
OK, on to the main topic:
What I Would Do With The Michigan Defense
There are 120 teams in the FBS. After the Iowa game, Michigan is currently ranked 57th against the run and 118th against the pass. The scoring defense is ranked 82nd in the nation. Ouch.
With such a wide variety of offenses in the Big Ten, the Wolverines must have a flexible base defense. The current 3-3-5 has two hybrid positions built into it, so it does have flexibility.
The problem is that our current 3-3-5 is not taking anything away from the opposition. The guys play hard, but it does not have an identity. Teams can run the ball reasonably well and they also throw at will. During the first half of the season, the defense was making up for the yardage by creating turnovers. The past two weeks, Michigan's first two losses of the season, the defense has not caused a single turnover. So now, teams can run, throw, and hold onto the ball. Something major needs to change.
My 4-2-4 Flex defensive base is designed with a few main points in mind:
- Continue to have flexibility to match up with different teams and different in-game situations.
- Take something away. It's an obvious disaster when you let teams run, throw, and hold on to the ball. In our case, we have a lot of tough, experienced run stoppers along with a much less experienced defensive backfield. As you read on, keep in mind that this defense is designed to form an identity as a nasty group of run stoppers.
- Although I want our defense's identity to be that opponents can't run on us, I also recognize the need to protect the young secondary. As such, this is a very flexible / interchangeable defense. However, here's the thing: Michigan is not going to suddenly become a great pass defense this season. They CAN however, become extremely stout against the run. Since we're giving up huge passing numbers already, let's at least smash the run and see what happens. There is no point in continuing to give up both.
- The first thing I want to do is to play a four-man front as the main base of the D. I love 3-4 defenses, but you you have to get sensational linebacker play and you have to have a total ballhawk flying around causing turnovers and making big plays all over the field. While Demens and a developing Cam Gordon provide hope for the future, the Wolverines' defense doesn't yet have either of these traits. So let's get bigger and nastier up front with these four upperclassmen:
- LDE: 53 Ryan Van Bergen
- LDT: 99 Adam Patterson
- RDT: 68 Mike Martin
- RDE: 92 Greg Banks
Can you imagine the damage that Mike Martin can do when he has another interior linemen on his side? This would be a wicked stout defensive line in my opinion. By adding Adam Patterson's 276 pounds of beef, it suddenly will be very tough for teams to run against Michigan. Although we currently show an odd front as our main defense, these guys have played enough four man fronts this season to be able to make the transition easy.
There are only two base linebackers listed in my defensive scheme:
- Jonas Mouton
- Kenny Demens / Craig Roh
This second linebacker slot is the first point of flexibility. Demens is the primary guy in run situations and Roh is likely to play more in the passing game. Note, there is room for both on the field as either one can be plugged into the Flex position explained later.
In the defensive backfield, we have our current four starters:
- LCB: JT Floyd
- SS: Jordan Kovacs
- FS: Cam Gordon
- RCB James Rogers
OK, so that's 10 positions and that's where the Flex player comes in. Depending on the situation at hand — the opponent, down, distance, time on the clock, plus whatever else is happening — you could insert one of many different guys throughout the game.
Check out the great flexibility this gives you:
In addition to having both Roh and Demens in the game at the same time, here's a list of other defensive personnel that could flex in as the 11th player on the field. Simply based on variety of positions, you see the potential for all kinds of different packages. Of course, the starters above can also be moved or substituted for with many of these same players. The flex player in my Michigan defense can be:
- D Line Ronaldo Sagesse
- D Line Jibreel Black
- D Line Will Campbell
- Hybrid Thomas Gordon
- Hybrid Carvin Johnson
- Nickel Courtney Avery
- Nickel Terrence Talbott
- Safety Ray Vinopal
- Safety Marvin Robinson
- LB Brandon Herron
- LB J.B. Fitzgerald
So, the way I see it, the 4-2-4 Flex gives Michigan D three things:
1. Instant Flexibility with one substitution
2. This defense will actually have an identity. They will be very tough against the run. Since we're giving up boatloads through the air now, at least we will be wicked against the run.
3. The Flex lets you plug in whatever kind of help you want against the pass. You can bring someone like Jibreel as a big fifth pass rusher. As one reader pointed out below, it gives Michigan the ability to instantly be in a 4-2-5 with a third safety on the field.I've been clamoring to see Marvin Robinson all year long, but with Kovacs playing his heart out, Marvin hasn't seen the field much. This could be a way to get him - or Josh Furman - on the field at the same time as both the starting safeties - with at least a four man rush at the same time.
Look, RichRod said it best, we're not the the 1985 Bears D. However, I think if we start getting nasty against the run, we'll see more three and outs and start holding teams to that 24 - 28 point range. More often than not our potent offense will be able to make that good enough. What do you think? Can my 4-2-4 Flex help the defense improve?