Defending Against Chris Wells? Easier Said Than Done

Chip MinnichCorrespondent INovember 20, 2008

Hit him high, and he'll probably unleash a stiff arm that will leave you seeing stars as you watch him run past you.  Try to hit him low, and he'll hurdle you in a single bound.  Oh yeah, almost forgot - try to get around the multiple offensive linemen who all average over 300 lbs a man, and you'll get an idea on how tough it is to stop Ohio State's Chris Wells.

Actually, it is possible to slow down Chris Wells, but it takes a certain defensive philosophy and scheme.  The philosophy is simple ~ put eight men in a box, and crowd the line of scrimmage. 

Here is where the "easier said than done" first shows its head.  Even though Ohio State's offensive line has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, Ohio State's line, led by senior OT Alex Boone, is big (each man averages 300 lbs) and good at straight-forward run blocking. 

How to slow down Chris Wells in this area?  The opposing defensive line needs to clog the holes (again, easier said than done), forcing Chris Wells to run east-west, versus his preferred north-south.  Chris Wells has good speed once he breaks into the open field, but if you watch any of Chris Wells' long runs, most have come through the interior of the line.  If the defensive line can force him to run peripherally, the linebackers and secondary have a chance to minimize his gains.

The defensive philosophy also requires the secondary to play Ohio State's receivers man to man, or in single coverage.  Considering Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are more possession-type receivers, this is a break for the defense.  It also requires the opposing secondary to be as physical at the line of scrimmage as possible, jamming the receivers and making it difficult for them to break into the clear.

The biggest problem with this scheme is it leaves a secondary wide open for play-action passing by Ohio State.  By continually crashing the line of scrimmage, Ohio State can find open receivers with some quick hitters.  Hit enough of those type of passes, and a defense will back off...thus opening up the running opportunities for Chris Wells.

Probably the best example of how to defend Chris Wells this year was by Penn State.  Wells had a tough game, but late in the game, was starting to break longer runs on the tiring Nittany Lions defense.  The fumble by Terrelle Pryor was preceded by a run by Chris Wells that was close to a first down.  Most people forget about that because of the fumble that turned the momentum towards Penn State in their eventual victory over Ohio State.

Can Michigan slow down Chris Wells on Saturday?  Stranger things have happened.  Considering how Wells has had two big games against Michigan the previous two seasons, and how the Michigan defense has performed this season, I would not bet on it.