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Monday, September 21, 2009

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

So you've all been pestering me for some defensive critiques for the past 36 hours, but a few weather delays in Cincinnati put me a bit behind. But fear not, I'm ready to dig into the details.

I think at this point, you all know the bad news, but I want to give a special thanks to Texas Dawg for doing a lot of my research for me and quantifying the misery. Here's what he called "The pathetic reality"…

1) Last in the SEC in total defense
2) Last in the SEC in scoring defense
3) Last in the SEC in passing defense
4) Last in the SEC in interceptions
5) Second to last in SEC in sacks
6) Last in the SEC in allowing opponents 1st downs
7) Second to last in the SEC in allowing 4th down conversions
8) Last in the SEC in turnover margin
Those stats are what they are, and no one is in a position to argue with them. In my best Willie Martinez voice, "We've just got to do a better job. We're not getting it done."


To be fair, however, a few points in the defense's favor:

-- Arkansas is second in the nation in offense so far and has a future NFL-er at QB.

-- Oklahoma State, who the D looked pretty good against, was the sixth best offense in the country last year.

-- As bad as the defense was considered to have played against South Carolina, the Gamecocks only averaged 5.1 yards per play -- just six-tenths of a yard worse than the supposedly impressive game against OSU.

-- South Carolina ran 83 plays against Georgia. That was set up by a woeful first half filled with turnovers. The same thing happened against Arkansas last week as the Bulldogs coughed up the football three times in the first half.

-- In each of the first two games, Georgia's D had a stop on the opening drive, only for the offense or special teams to give the ball right back. Yes, a great defense overcomes. But it has set a bad tone for the rest of the game for the D by keeping them on the field longer and putting them in an adverse situation right from the start.

-- It'll be a popular excuse, but there is something to be said for playing your best when it matters. Georgia's opponents have converted just 15-of-46 third-down plays this season, including a woeful 3-of-14 by Arkansas last week, which was essentially the difference in the game. The Bulldogs have also allowed just one offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter through three games.

-- The other popular excuse will be the turnover situation and special teams blunders. Again, there is some merit to that.

Georgia has allowed 18 scoring drives through three games on defense. (That does not include Eric Norwood's pick six or the safety South Carolina got.)

Ten drives were for touchdowns, eight for field goals.

Of those, 10 drives were for 50 yards or less, and five of the 10 touchdown drives were for 32 yards or less.

Another of the "long" drives came following a fake punt, when the defense had stopped South Carolina but was forced back onto the field by a special teams blunder.

So of the 18 scoring drives against Georgia, only seven were truly length-of-the-field, down-your-throat types of drives, and of those, three ended in field goals.

Overall, 40 of the 102 points allowed by the defense has come following a turnover, with five more tacked on from the safety and fake punt. So roughly half of the damage has been set up by the offense or special teams.

So… does all that balance out to a free pass for the D? Absolutely not, but I think it's important to remember that things probably aren't quite as bad as they seem. After all, remember three weeks ago when everyone wanted Joe Cox benched and Mike Bobo fired?

Of course, the difference is, the Okie State game created a momentary knee-jerk reaction. The worries about the defense have been going on for more than a year (and maybe five years depending on who you ask).

But in the wake of all the message-board chatter, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

1.) Brian Van Gorder is not coming back to Georgia.

2.) Erk Russell is not coming back to Georgia.

3.) Even if scientists could genetically engineer some type of Erk-Van Gorder super coordinator, the players would still have to make plays.

So let's deal with reality rather than pipe dreams.

First, Mark Richt is not going to fire Willie Martinez during the season, and even if he did, it likely wouldn't have any significant effect on the defense. A team does not learn a new scheme overnight, and the roster is what it is for this season.

Secondly, there is a lot of talent -- or supposedly so -- on the defensive side of the ball. There are at least four future NFL players in the starting lineup, and I'd say Brandon Boykin and Justin Houston could work their way into that discussion, too. So any defense that starts six potential NFL-caliber players should be able to overcome bad coaching. The problem is, these guys aren't playing like future NFL players.

There are two problems that most people will point to as serious issues right now: The pass rush and the coverage in the vertical game. Both are concerns, but I want to also point out something ChillyDawg wrote following the game:

"The secondary has absolutely too much athletic ability to be this unsound. For the last two games I have watched the secondary get picked apart. Their coverage fundamentals are ridiculously poor; their ball awareness is poor and their ability to read routes seem non-existent. The Linebackers have a responsibility in this as well- curl, flats and middle zones. Our LB’s must get a deep enough drop to help. Besides Rennie, their coverage skills have been awful. So, it’s more than a secondary problem. Arkansas ran the same underneath crossing pattern three times and there was no one covering the zone. Poor coverage, poor coaching, poor adjustments."

It's absolutely more than a secondary problem, as evidenced by the awful coverage underneath that the Bulldogs had against South Carolina. In truth, Georgia probably caught a break in that D.J. Williams missed much of the first half after an early injury. He finished with four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, and it was all in the second half.

So this is an all-over problem, and there's plenty of blame to be spread around.

The defensive front is not getting the pressure it needs. Ryan Mallett is as stationary a QB as you'll find, and Georgia had just two sacks in the game -- one coming late in the fourth quarter when it was obvious Arkansas had abandon any pretense of the run and was simply dropping back and throwing. That gives Georgia a whopping four sacks for the season.

Willie's defense is predicated on pressure. I'm not an Xs and Os guy enough to critique the specifics of Willie's battle plan (and for that reason, I'll never be the one who says he needs to be fired, I'm simply not smart enough to know that beyond looking at the final stats) but it seems to me that if you have a smart offensive coach (like Bobby Petrino) and a strong-armed or athletic quarterback (Mallett) and you give them time to throw the ball, Willie's defense simply can't get the job done.

While a lot of fans piled on Willie following the South Carolina game, I actually gave him some credit. He decided he wasn't going to get beat vertically, and he didn't. The Gamecocks' longest plays of the day were two 20-yarders. It was a successful strategy.

Against Oklahoma State and Arkansas, however? Not so much.

Looking back on those 10 touchdown drives this season, the longest in terms of game time has been 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Six of those TD drives lasted 2:02 or less, with drives of 40 seconds, six seconds and 19 seconds.

That tells me that Georgia's defense isn't awful, it's simply very susceptible to the big play. When Georgia keeps the ball in front of them, they've done a nice job of stopping the offense or, at worst, holding them to a field goal.

(By the way, here's what Joe Cox says about field goals: "We feel that when we know we're moving the ball, if the defense holds them to a field goal, that's a win for us. We don't really care about three points." Who would have thought the offense could speak so confidently three weeks ago?)

There's one other issue with the defense that has to be addressed, and on the surface, it might seem like a point in Willie's favor.

Through three games, Georgia is allowing just 121 yards rushing per game -- not great, but good. Of course, the numbers are actually even better than that. Here's what the opposition's starting tailbacks have done in three games:

Kendall Hunter (OSU) 23 carries, 73 yards (3.3 ypc)
Jarvis Giles (SC) 10 carries, 23 yards (2.3 ypc)
Mike Smith (ARK) 8 carries, 59 yards (7.4 ypc)

Smith had a 23-yard run in the fourth quarter but had effectively been shut down prior to that. Overall, Arkansas had just 42 yards on the ground through three quarters, and the Razorbacks' inability to run the ball was a direct contributor to their 3-of-14 third-down conversion rate.

Senator Blutarsky asks a good question regarding the run defense though:

"Martinez also needs to figure out why his line is so good at stuffing the line of scrimmage in stopping the run, but remains feeble at getting after the quarterback – even a relatively immobile one like Mallett."

Indeed, it seems odd that the defensive line is so strong at stopping the run, but so bad at getting pressure. More to the point, isn't it always the goal of the defense to make the opposition one-dimensional? Georgia has effectively done a great job of that. In the last two games, South Carolina and Arkansas have thrown 92 passes and run just 54 times. Of those 54 runs, 16 were by the quarterbacks (or were sacks which are counted as runs), making the real split more like 108 pass to 38 run (that's 74 percent pass plays). In other words, teams aren't just one-dimensional -- they're freaking ridiculously one-dimensional.

And yet the one dimension offenses are left with has remained pretty darned effective. Georgia has allowed 722 yards through the air (and another 58 on the ground to the QB) in the last two games. I considered going back and finding the last time Georgia had such a bad two-game stretch, but I simply didn't have the energy. I think we can chalk it up under the category of "they've sucked" and leave it at that.

So why is it that Georgia is effective at making the other team one-dimensional, yet that's bad for the Bulldogs' D?

The answer comes back to pressure. The only way that any defense can be effective at stopping a vertical attack is if the quarterback is forced to do things in the pocket he doesn't want to do. (Or if the other team's QB is Johnathan Crompton. His mustache makes Tom Selleck cry.) That simply hasn't been the situation through three games for Georgia (or, in truth, for most of the past two seasons).

I also wanted to go back to a quote from Jeff Owens following the Oklahoma State game about the lack of pressure the line got then:

"If you watched the film, it was all play action and he tried to get out of the pocket," Owens said. "I can't remember one time of all 36 snaps I played that he dropped back and threw the football -- not one. It was a quick slant or the play action. I guess they knew we were going to try to get up field and rush the passer because there was never a five-step drop or seven-step drop and throw the football. It was tough for us. The one deep ball Dez Bryant went, it was play action. The two tackles, they pulled the guard, so we were playing run first and trying to convert to pass. There was never an, OK, we'll play the pass first. It was a good game plan because I guess they knew we were going to get upfield."

The explanation made a lot of sense against a spread team like Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys have allowed just one sack all season.

But I wonder if this commitment to stopping the run hasn't become more of an obsession with stopping the run, whereby the Georgia defenders are so concerned with bottling up the tailback that they've lacked the aggressiveness to get to the quarterback. They're accomplishing their primary objective of stifling the running game, but at the same time, the quarterback has all day to stand in the pocket, which given Georgia's problems in coverage is a nasty problem to have.

Arizona State isn't going to be the toughest test of the season for Georgia, but the Sun Devils do like to throw the ball in a more traditional, West-Coast style. Owens said Sunday he was excited about finally getting a chance to go after a quarterback.

"For our front seven, we've got to get more pressure on the QB," Owens said. "We've got to rush more. That should be our focus for this week is to rush the passer. Arizona State is going to try to throw the football, and as a defensive tackle, I've got to pin my ears back and get to the QB."

I can understand Owens excitement, but my question is: If 75 percent of the plays you've gone against during the past two weeks have been passing plays, why the heck weren't you doing that all along? And if you were playing a quarterback one week who has been a historically bad decision maker and the next week you played a guy who has cement blocks tied to his feet, why not pin your ears back then?

It's one thing to focus on the run. It's another thing to sell out on it every play, and I can't help but wonder if that's what Georgia is doing.

(As a side note, as Arkansas struggled down the stretch trying to play catch-up, it did look like Georgia changed focus. They rushed Mallett more, got pressure, and he struggled. Mallett was just 2-of-10 passing in the fourth quarter and was sacked or forced to run three times. Meanwhile, Smith had three carries for 32 yards -- essentially half of his total for the game.)

Essentially the problems on defense are threefold:

1.) Poor fundamentals on tackling and coverage. That alone should be enough to warrant the ire of fans at this point, particularly given that the defense supposedly worked all offseason to fix these problems.

2.) They can't get any pressure on the QB.

3.) They're giving up too many big plays.

I think if Georgia can fix #2, that will help significantly with #3 (and ideally add a few turnovers, too, which has been another issue). What will essentially be the deciding factor on whether Willie can right the ship, however, is No. 1. It's one thing to get beat. It's another thing to look clueless, helpless and effortless doing it.

I'll have my grades for the game posted later today, so keep checking back.

19 comments:

jferg said...

DH,
Who can we turn to for a smart "X's and O's" explanation of what's going on with our Defense? I am with you in that I neither no enough nor have the time to watch the game film to critique.
There has to be a logical reason. I do, however, believe that maybe Jeff/Geno/Kade are overrated. In watching some NFL games yesterday, I saw MANY DTs shooting gaps and making plays. I have yet to see any of those three just blow up plays.


If we have the bodies/talent (and I think we do) then it must be scheme. Can we try Tampa 2? Can we try any of the other DOZEN defensive schemes out there? At what point does CWM go back to the drawing board to get results???

rbubp said...

Thanks for all of the analysis, DH. It's such a pleasure to get so much info so quickly after the game.

Regarding selling out to the run, we didn't do that against SC. That's why the D was in a zone the whole game, because blitzing is the understood strategy against Spurrier's run off of the pass approach. So we blitzed to start the game.

When that didn't work and we got beat deep in the first quarter, Martinez shifted Rennie back into coverage but stayed with the zone. Thus, we didn't get beat deep, but Garcia kept stepping up to draw the LB away from the RB or TE underneath, then pass to them for the 6 yard gain.

So, we perhaps have sold out to the run too much on the line except for vs. SC, cause everyone knows they pass first. Despite that I still wonder how the CBs are affected, though, especially--they can't have much responsibility in the run game. If anyone sells out to the pass, it has to be the corners. How to explain them getting so completely lost so often against Arky?

David Hale said...

jferg -- I'm not in any way saying Willie's scheme is the right one, but changing things up midseason isn't necessarily a solution either. These guys have all been playing under one scheme for 3 or 4 years... they don't learn a knew one overnight. Unfortunately, I think it's going to be a lot more of what you see is what you get, and the players are simply going to have to play better the rest of the way.

rbubp -- regarding the corners, clearly they haven't played well. I simply meant that by selling out for the run, the front four wasn't disrupting the QB enough, which makes life tougher for the CBs, who already weren't playing very well. There's really no separating pressure from coverage though. The two go hand-in-hand.

John P said...

Bottom Line is this. If we had never committed a turnover this year. This team would be 3-0, ranked 10th, and talking mostly about the improvements over last season (ie: QB, and we would be looking forward to Oct. 31st.

Granted defense needs improvement, but so could some areas in offense, but our offense has a chance to overcome any defficiencies in defense if we can just improve our turn over margin. The owness on that lies in the hands of the inexperienced freshman and sophmores that have been the lions share of problems with the turnovers and stupid mistakes like trying to return a kick 8 yards deep in the endzone and bumping into your punt returning as he is attempting to catch the ball.

My 2 cents.

jferg said...

DH, I know you weren't saying CWM scheme is wrong--your assessment was fair....I'm asking that particular question. At what point will CWM try something new? I don't believe it's an impossible request. The Offense can change/adapt on the fly...why can't our D? Try 5-2..try 3-4...try 2-7-2....just don't keep beating your head against the wall until you die from head trama!

David Hale said...

I see your point jferg and I'm not arguing. I just wonder how much they really think the scheme is broken. As I said in my post, most of the damage has come via big plays, and they have been strong against the run. If you're looking at it from Willie's perspective then, do you say, "We need to do a 180 here" or do you say, "We've got the right plan but our guys have to do a better job of getting pressure and covering the deep ball."

Again, I'm not defending Willie here, but I'm saying I don't know that he (or anyone in the locker room) sees it as a blow-it-up-and-start-from-scratch situation.

rbubp said...

DH and jferg, they won't change the basic scheme mid-season. That would be analogous to changing from a spread offense to an option--you have to reconsider your positions, your personnel, and reset your entire thinking.

Ultimately WM does make some adjustments in-game and game-to-game; he changes blitz packages, stacks the line, changes from zone to man...the problem is, as much my untrained eye can see, that the players are not well-coached enough to execute the scheme properly.

Any way you slice it, in the end it is all on the coaches, which is why Washington upsets USC the next season after going 0-12. Your players can't do it right, well, learn 'em or get someone who else who can! You're not stuck with a salary cap or a cheap owner and or a nagging GM. You know this player or that player can execute what you need better than anybody else, you better get them.

Everyone can see now why Pete Carroll whined so loudly about losing Sanchez, right? It had nothing to do with Sanchez's career and everything to do with Pete's!

Will Q said...

David,

In reference to jferg's request, how about asking Chris from "Smart Football" for his input? Maybe he could do it here, or if not, in his column on EDSBS.

Anonymous said...

I agree changing a scheme mid-season is a recipe for disaster. Right now, we don't play another true drop-back passer this year, except for maybe Arizona State, and they don't really scare me.

Most of the teams we play execute the pass to open up the run and none of them have shown the ability to spread the field like Mallett can. Still, we have been hearing this "ifs and buts" argument for a few years, now. We have the talent so that tells me that our problem HAS to be the coach(es) putting that talent in the right position.

There are times when our defense bows their necks and makes the crucial stop, but why are we in that position in the first place? The offense and special teams have been putting our "D" in bad situations for 2 years, now. I'll agree with that, but as you stated, a defense with our level of talent stops the other team most of the time. It seems this year, about 90% the other team scores. The offense may not care about 3 points, but the defense sure as heck should!!
Why are we still kicking the ~%~$^@$%&^#&^#&^^%&@$%^@%^@ ball out of $~@%@#^#$&$%&*%@#%!$&* bounds??? Bogatay and his "cannon leg" came in to pooch kick it????

If "ifs and buts" were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas! Why is it that we need to feel relieved to come away with a victory when our team scores more than 40 points? SEC defenses should allow no more than 20 points, 90% of the time.

Willie needs to go at year end.

Anonymous said...

David....excellent article but I think your missing (imo)the biggest problem on defense.....creating turnovers. Fumbles and interceptions at a +3 per game would drastically reduce the yardage given up by the defense. We can't intercept because of our players seemingly lost on the field and they can't even hit hard enought to cause fumbles. The defense as a whole can't seem to jar the ball from an opposing player. Start causing turnovers and things will improve on defense.

Anonymous said...

congrats you write a much better analysis than the atlanta newspaper which seems to lack any idea of what is going on

Anonymous said...

I hear you on selling out for the run. It looks like our safties are doing the same. There were several times you could see the guys starring into the backfield as recievers ran right past them

Bryan Carver Dawg97 said...

I believe Willie's actually already playing the Tampa 2 as our base (I believe in terms of how the safetys cover the field). We have adjusted more to the nickel with a 4-2-5 look for the spread teams, but that is still out of the Tampa 2 scheme.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is this: if we simply made a 1 for 1 trade out between Willie and any other DC would the defense be considerably better? The answer is no. It's not just a Martinez problem. We replaced a Frank Broyles Award Winner with John Jancek straight up. No other changes or adjustments were made. At least BVG had Willie to bounce ideas of and to rely upon to do his job as a position coach. Willie has Jancek, Fabris, and our recruiting coordinator.

We are bringing a butter knife to a gun fight and it shows. It's only our athleticism that is preventing us from being shot to death.

Sports Dawg said...

David: Every concern you covered, as well as the comments by your readers, are problems we encountered last year also. It's as if nothing got "fixed" since 2008. For example, are excessive penalties becoming a trait of a Mark Richt coached team? What is our staff not doing Sunday thru Friday that other coaches without penalty problems are doing? If there is a talent shortage in Athens, the so-called recruiting experts have sure been wrong about us for the past several years. Go figure...

Andrew said...

I have a general question regarding the ultimate fate of our esteemed defensive coordinator. From most of the Martinez "apologists" out there I hear three major arguments discounting his role in the collapse of all things defensive at UGA: 1) he doesn't have the talent; 2) the players aren't executing otherwise sound game plans; 3) too many inopportune turnovers deep in our own territory. I don’t really understand these arguments and as such I wanted some thoughtful discourse on the actual legitimacy of these defenses.

On the talent issue...should it really take a roster filled with future first and second round NFL picks to field a respectable defense? I know WM doesn’t have the talent of BVG, but he damn sure doesn’t have the talent of Toledo either, which is what we’ve become. The question is are we as talented as we’re currently playing? I think the answer is clearly a “no”, and I think it has been a resounding “no” by and large since Auburn 2005. The “talent” excuse is really just a debate over our talent level relative to 2002, not relative to our current level of play. No reasonable person can argue that we aren’t playing below our talent level on defense, whatever that might be. How far below is where the waters muddy, but the fact that we’re inarguably below is the salient point. Everything else is just noise.

Turnovers have contributed to the gaudy point totals without a doubt. But by and large, (USC as the exception) how can you blame turnovers in light of a) the total yardage figures, and b) the post turnover play of our defense? In spite of the short fields, we are still allowing massive amounts of yardage to accumulate, proof that this isn’t simply a field position problem. If anything the short field is helping us statistically, meaning our total defensive figures the last two seasons are probably WORSE than the stats say! Secondly, when we turn it over and the next play is a 30 yard TD pass, as happened Saturday and numerous times last year, it’s hardly reasonable to give the defense a free pass and blame it entirely on the turnover. This is the most valid of the defenses, but in light of the total yardage number and overall level of play I considered it a minimal contributing factor rather than a reasonable excuse.

Finally we have my favorite…the "execution" argument. It's a straw man that has no validity. If players always executed, every play would work every time. No coach would ever be fired. Do you not think that had UW's players executed Willingham’s scheme they might have won a game last year? Had Kevin Ramsey’s guys “executed” better on defense Donna might still be the coach! The “theory” behind most offense and defensive plays in football is sound…so then why do some coaches get more consistent success out of their theories and schemes? Execution. The "players not executing" is not a defense of Willie but an indictment therein. Coaches get fired because their players don't execute. If the players executed, you wouldn’t get fired. Execution is coaching…one in the same. No coach has ever had a bunch of good players who executed and lost. No coach has ever had bad players who didn’t execute and won. Good coaches get talented players to execute. That’s why they’re good coaches. Bad coaches don’t. That’s why they suck. So when I hear “execution” I hear “coaching”. I don’t see how no one else can do anything but reach the same conclusion.

rbubp said...

Here here, Andrew.

The only thing to add is that it's conceivable that the players are just not a good fit for the scheme or that the scheme is poor (try and run a single wing offense today). And both those issues are on the coach too.

Andrew said...

rbubp,

I'm on the same page with you brother...right down to the UW analogy. I don't know the X's and O's but I think I can objectively look at the inputs and outputs and realizes something's wrong.

Great blog by the way DH...we all appreciate it.

Castleberry said...

Hey David,
Spot on again.
Didn't the promotion of Martinez ruffle the feathers of Garner??
Do folks think we'd be able to pass over Garner again, this time with an outsider, and not lose him?
From what I've heard, he is our best recruiter and I would expect the replacement of Martinez with anyone but Garner would lead to the loss of Garner too.
You may not want to speculate on that sort of thing, but I'd be curious what other commenters think.
I am NOT defending Martinez. I just think there is a dynamic in play here that shouldn't be overlooked.
Mark