Big Ten Championship: Defensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on December 12, 2013 at 1:00p

After a season of troubling signs from the Ohio State pass defense, the dam broke Saturday.

Once again, an opposing offense set season high in passing yards against the Buckeye defense and, once again, the Buckeye defense was undone by fundamental breakdowns. The difference against Michigan State was that the Buckeye offense could not overcome the defensive liabilities.

The Buckeyes' Achilles heel in the first half Saturday was coverage lapses that allowed explosive plays, often for touchdowns. 

Then, just when it seemed the Buckeye defense settled in, cornerback Bradley Roby left with a knee injury and what was left of the Buckeye secondary had no shot at stopping the Spartans. Continued breakdowns in basic coverage responsibilities allowed Michigan State to grab a lead and not let go.

Below I analyze how and perhaps why the 2013 Ohio State defense continually failed against the pass.

Winning Straight up ...

Michigan State did not employ anything particularly tricky against the Buckeyes. Although Michigan State did utilize calls  Michigan exploited the week before – such as speed option to the boundary or weak screens – to Ohio State's credit they were more fundamentally sound on the edge and limited gains from such plays.

And the Buckeyes largely bottled up Jeremy Langford and Michigan State's run game. Granted, Langford topped 100 yards, but much of that came on the Spartans' final drive. Given that Michigan State was such a run-heavy team all season long, rendering the Spartans one-dimensional would have seemed like a recipe for success.  

With Beaters

But such a theory was quickly discredited, as Connor Cook gashed Ohio State through the air. Michigan State did so with a pro-style passing game that systematically attacked Ohio State's coverage schemes.

For instance, the Buckeyes played a great deal of cover 2, particularly in second and third and long situations. The Spartans exploited the Buckeye cover 2, however, with smash and snag routes to the deep outside.

As Chad discussed, statistically this season the Buckeyes have limited explosive pass plays of 20+ yards, while being vulnerable to gains between 10-20 yards. If Ohio State had only continued this trend against Michigan State, they may have been ok. Instead, the Buckeyes allowed numerous explosive pass plays, including two longer than 50 yards, all of which led to points. 

For instance, below Michigan State packages mesh with a smash variation combining a corner and swing route. The goal is to put a man beater to the boundary and a hi-lo stretch to the field against a cover 2 corner.

At the snap, Cook reads cover 2, so he knows he is going to the wide side of the field, where he has the 2 on 1 against the squat corner. Cook knows that the corner must cover the swing to the wide side flat, and he can throw the flag pattern before the cover 2 safety can react. 

So Michigan State has a good call against the Buckeye coverage. But a completion is one thing. Throwing gasoline on the fire, Corey Pitt Brown takes a horrible angle, coming under the throw and violating a cover 2 safety's primary rule, which is not get beat deep. Seventy-two yards later Michigan State was up 10-0.

The Buckeyes suffered a similar basic breakdown in the fourth quarter. Here, Michigan State runs a post-corner combination. But now, Ohio State is in cover 3. So they should be able to cover the routes, with the middle of the field safety taking the post and the deep-third cornerback taking the flag route.


Unfortunately, backup Armani Reeves follows the post route, leaving the corner route wide open for another big play.

And here it is, in action:

Reeves compounded the breakdowns on the same drive when he allowed an easy touchdown throw by mistakenly playing man coverage when the rest of the defense was in a cover 3 blitz. This proved to be the decisive score off a back-breaking, 90 yard drive. It was unfortunately not the first time Reeves made this mistake.

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

It is not coincidental that Michigan State engineered this drive once Reeves entered for an injured Roby. In keeping with the theme of the dam breaking, in hindsight Reeves' entry likely removed any chance for the Buckeye defense to restrain the Spartan passing game.

After spotting Michigan State to a 17-0 lead, the Buckeye defense stiffened, allowing Ohio State to claw back to a 24-17 lead. But the turning point came on the play Roby was injured. Ohio State went from a potential turnover bouncing off Roby's chest, to him leaving the game. The Spartans promptly reeled off 10 points in Roby's absence.

In some ways this was emblematic of the Buckeye defense all season. Strong individual play and performances were drowned out by glaring weaknesses in scheme and execution. Roby and Joey Bosa played at a high level all Saturday. Bosa manhandled single blocking, particularly when Michigan State tried to handle him with a tight end.

More broadly, the defensive line as a whole played well but did not play at the level needed for the Buckeye defense to succeed. For instance, Noah Spence continues to struggle maintaining edge support at the point of attack.

But that is a relatively minor issues compared to the massive deficiencies in the Buckeye defensive back seven. So much is put on a young defensive line because it is the Buckeyes' only chance against the pass.

The reality is that significant holes exist, and have existed all season, in both the linebacker corps and secondary. As discussed, Ohio State only has three healthy non-freshman linebackers that should ever see the field, and two of those – Josh Perry and Curtis Grant –  have had their struggles in pass coverage. 

But the Buckeye defensive backfield is nearly as thin. Ohio State has two solid corners in Roby and Doran Grant, but are weak elsewhere and lack depth. The loss of Christian Bryant turned the Buckeye safety play into another weakness. CJ Barnett is solid in run support but weak against the pass. Brown was in no way qualified to take Bryant's spot. In hindsight, Luke Fickell and Everett Withers should have played a young player such as Vonn Bell in Bryant's absence (or moved Powell to safety with Bell at nickel), but at the time the defensive coaching staff was probably trying to triage the problem as best they could. But Brown never played at a functional level. Between the linebackers and safeties the Buckeye defense was left extremely weak up the middle, in direct contradiction to Urban Meyer's mantra that a good defense must be strong up the gut.   

The defensive weaknesses were only magnified without Roby. Ohio State is in the same position at corner as at safety. After their starters, the Buckeyes had only freshman and/or players unprepared to play. 

As such, once Roby left the field, the Buckeyes had little chance with Brown and Reeves in the backfield. 

Who Are You?

But accepting the above personnel limitations does not absolve the coaching staff. Such massive breakdowns in basic coverage principles ultimately reside with the players, but it is troubling that such issues continue to rear their head, even with backups.

In the bigger picture, the game again begged the question of what, exactly, is Ohio State's defensive identity. For example, the Buckeyes played a sizeable amount of cover 2 against Michigan State; after using the coverage sparingly throughout the year. This was emblematic, as the season was replete with examples of altering schemes week to week. The charitable explanation is, given the personnel issues explained above, the coaching staff is seeking some formula that works. But one can only assume such variety in schemes is in part contributing to certain breakdowns. 

The ultimate result is that the defense as a unit does not have a formula that the defense as a program can hang its hat on, continually rep, and believe in when it needs a stop. One only needs look across the field to Michigan State to see an opposite approach, where an experienced unit has spent years learning and repping the intricacies of Pat Narduzzi's 4-3 over cover 4. 

Pulling it Together

In all likelihood, Ohio State's defensive was not championship caliber and the Buckeyes were living on borrowed time. Going forward, is difficult to imagine such systemic breakdowns being completely fixed by the Orange Bowl. The hope in the long run is that the Ohio State defense can grow with their young, talented personnel, and develop a defensive identity.  



Northbrook's picture

Defensive Breakdown. Well named.

tcm1968's picture

Great read. Still think "attitude" is such a problem with these coaches on defense. Constantly trying to scheme/trick/stunt other teams instead of lining up 11 guys and saying "we are better than you". Still early in the Urban Meyer era but still hoping that SEC style of "it takes you 4 seconds to throw the ball and my guys are going to hit your QB in three seconds mentality" finds its way to the OSU defensive side of the ball.
And 100000% agree on Pitt Brown. When Bryant went down we had just cleared our one hurdle on the schedule ( Wisconsin ). Garbage games after that until the showdown in Michigan almost two months later. We could have played with 10 guys and won most of those games. Light wasn't suddenly going to come on for Pitt Brown. You knew what you had with him. That was the time to go to Bell or Powell as you suggested. A head scratcher...

Zimmy07's picture

Why did Reeves get in the game over Burrows?  Burrows looked really good against Indiana.  Reeves has not looked really good a lot this year.

cdub4's picture

The answer I have seen to that is Burrows backs up Grant at field corner, and Reeves practices at boundary corner.

extemporary08's picture

First thought when seeing this article was up: "ooh boy, here we go..."

jeremytwoface's picture

So much bad.

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

AltaBuck's picture

Regarding defensive identity, the unit suffered this early in the season last year using multiple schemes and coverages. They finally settled in. Zach Boren from a leadership standpoint made a big difference.

You would think the coaching staff would have learned from last year's issues and would try to keep things simple, especially with such a young D.

I am Groot - Groot

Jdadams01's picture

At the end of the day, the Who Are You section sums up the D this season. No identity, no go to scheme, no consistency. Even great players need consistency in scheme. Those continual reps doing the same coverage are what allows players to move from thinking to reacting.

Earle's picture

Not disputing Reeves' mistake, but what is Barnett's responsibility on that second play?  He looks lost in space, and it seems like he should at least be in the neighborhood of the receiver, since there are no other receivers in the area. 

Your Noble Savage is a Straw Yeti.

jeremytwoface's picture

I think he was cheating a bit towards the screen...
If you watch the MSU line, it looks like they might have been trying to set up the screen (or at least the possibility of a check down to the RB) and Barnett kind of stepped towards that play.
But it is mostly on Reeves honestly. Even if Barnett didn't step towards the screen, the TE still would have gotten behind him. Reeves mistakenly played man.... At the end of the play, there are 3 defenders standing in the middle of the feild around one MSU WR. That shouldn't be happening.

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

Earle's picture

I think we're talking about different plays.  I was referring to the long pass play to #3, and I think you are talking about the shorter TD pass to the TE.  Both mistakes by Reeves, but I think Barnett may share some of the blame on the former.

Your Noble Savage is a Straw Yeti.

jeremytwoface's picture

Oh yeah. I definitely was.
I thought you were talking about the shorter TD pass because Barnett was kind of sitting in the flat covering nobody.
In regards to the play that you're talking about, I think Barnett was covering his zone and thought he had some help behind him in Reeves. Actually, that could be said for both plays...

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

Ross Fulton's picture

Yes, on the long pass play in the 4th quarter, they are playing cover 3.  Barnett is responsible for the underneath hook to curl zone.  So it is not his responsibility to cover a route 20 yards down field.



As to the goal line play, I'm not certain.  It's a complete cluster.  It looks like something that happened to often this year, which is the defense being disorganized and not being set.

Earle's picture

I played D line, so I'll admit to ignorance of coverage techniques, but it just seems to me that with the RB going away from him, CJ ought to get a little more depth in his drop.  It wasn't a long throw, but it was an awfully easy pitch and catch, and if Barnett at least makes the QB drop it over him, the rest of the secondary gets more time to react, in addition to making it a tougher throw.
EDIT:  Just saw your response.  Thanks, Ross.

Your Noble Savage is a Straw Yeti.

Earle's picture

Also, Ross, what's your take on Spence?  Can he get stronger and be a full time DE, or can they maybe move him to SAM in the base defense and then let him put his hand in the dirt in passing situations?

Your Noble Savage is a Straw Yeti.

Ross Fulton's picture

This is a good question. I've seen this bandied about. I guess my issue with it is that a Sam's primary responsibility is also holding the edge at the point of attack. In theory this problem should actually be less at weak end, because he should be away from the tight end. The problem is that a lot of teams have run at OSU to the boundary.

I think you leave where he is and let him continue to develop.

jeremytwoface's picture

Reeve's has just not been great all year.
The very next play after Roby came off the field injured, I watched Reeve's and he got burned right off the bat. They were in press man coverage and the WR made a simple move and ran right past him.
Luckily Cook didn't look that direction or it could have been another big play.

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

tussey's picture

My thoughts exactly.  I was watching with a buddy and when Roby got injured and Reeves came in he was like "ugh, he is awful" to which I replied I have faith in him that he can get it done, trying to be optimistic but fully aware of his play throughout the season.  So we watched him the next play.  Afterwards he was like "see what I mean?"  

cdub4's picture

I saw that too, burnt right off the snap...I was thinking it was six.

TilstheHun3's picture

Great write up Ross, like always! Though, depressing...
Like most of you, I've noticed a trend that opposing teams will target our weakest CBs/Safeties and then just abuse them mercilessly and no adjustments are made. The soft zone has been totally exploited. Some of the breakdowns you highlighted are inexcusable. Our starting 11 are solid but it is troubling to see the lack of depth behind them on the field. It just goes to show that sometimes, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. For us, that may have been our bench. When Bryant went down, you could tell that Meyer understood what it meant for this team, leadership wise but probably also for the talent and cohesiveness on the defense. When Roby went down, all hope was lost.
It's great that Meyer has landed talent like Bell, Apple, Conley, Burrows... and now Webb. I know we need to be patient with young talent, I suppose, but it's too bad those first 4 guys mentioned were sitting on the bench when we had guys out there who were clearly in over their heads. I'm being pretty harsh but really, I just want to see a Silver Bullet stout defense at tOSU. It's been a while.
Hoping Mrs. Doubtfire is right when she says, "Help is on the way!"

What is this? A center for ants?!? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?

pannell28's picture

Luke Fickell cannot assess talent properly!  He did not try out the correct personnel during the year and it showed.  Pitt Brown is not a serviceable player at all.  We all knew that Fickell is brain dead when it comes to viewing and properly utilizing talent.  Just look back to when he started Bauserman over Miller and Guiton.  A 5th string high school QB starting over two All BigTen QBs!?!?   

Zimmy07's picture

Guiton was on the kickoff coverage team.  I couldn't believe it when I saw that.

Maestro's picture

Sure that wasn't Eli Apple?

vacuuming sucks

jeremytwoface's picture

Yeah no way it was Guiton lol...
They wouldn't risk him getting hurt because of how many times Braxton has had to leave the game in the past couple years.

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

Zimmy07's picture

Fickell had Guiton playing on the kickoff coverage team - I saw him in a game and my jaw dropped.
"Kenny will get some more reps, and that's a part of it," Fickell said about how Ohio State is addressing its shaky backup situation behind Miller. Senior Joe Bauserman took over when Miller got hurt at Nebraska and the Buckeyes imploded as Bauserman went 1-of-10 passing with a crucial interception.
"Kenny has been getting reps, and some of them have been at the quarterback position, some of them have been on special teams. Kenny has stayed involved a lot and showed the team and everybody how important it is to him. He'll get probably more and more opportunities in the weeks to come."

Maestro's picture

Those quotes are from 2011 as a point of clarification.

vacuuming sucks

Maestro's picture

Oh, and Fickell doesn't coach special teams.

vacuuming sucks

TilstheHun3's picture

Does holding the ball on XPs and FG tries count as special teams? Because I'm pretty sure he was doing that all season.

What is this? A center for ants?!? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?

LeftCoastBuck's picture

Fickell doesn't coach safeties, Withers does.

"Have a Coke and a smile!.....along with $150 in UM football tickets"

KevinJ's picture

Luke Fickell cannot assess talent properly!  He did not try out the correct personnel during the year and it showed.  Pitt Brown is not a serviceable player at all.  We all knew that Fickell is brain dead when it comes to viewing and properly utilizing talent.  Just look back to when he started Bauserman over Miller and Guiton.  A 5th string high school QB starting over two All BigTen QBs!?!?  

I'm not a Fickell apologist, but Brown is a safety and Withers is the one who is responsible for playing and coaching Brown not Fickell. Also Fickell was just a figure head for the team when they fired Tressel he had nothing to do with, and zero input the offense. 

Barnsey69's picture

"In all likelihood, Ohio State's defensive was not championship caliber and the Buckeyes were living on borrowed time"
All that needs to be said.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

TilstheHun3's picture

That can be said too...

What is this? A center for ants?!? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?

OSUBias's picture

Our secondary without all of the starters could aptly be described as a clown show full of giggle-f&%#s.
I don't know what staff changes may happen on that side of the ball, but if we don't see development in the off season of those young guys like we did last year to this with the WR's, it's going to be a rough season in 2014.

Shitter's full

gobucks96's picture

I really wanted to find something to disagree with you on this, but I can't. And that sucks.

Oneida54's picture

On field Leadership( Ownership)  Who  is it on the D? The O is full of them?

Maestro's picture

The game winning touchdown was enough to put me into a near catatonic state for the rest of the game.

vacuuming sucks

faux_maestro's picture

I was sitting at Gallo's on Bethel Rd. and you could feel the energy sucked out of that place as MSU went right down the field. That touchdown felt a lot like the INT. Joe Germaine threw in 1998. I was without words. Often after a loss I'm pissed off, but when the RB went in for that TD/Germaine threw that INT I was numb and speechless. 

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

Maestro's picture

I know the secondary is the focus of the breakdowns, but I have to say I was very disappointed by the lack of pressure put on Cook by Spence in particular.

vacuuming sucks

Maestro's picture

Reeves and Cam Williams, what a coup from PSU????
Sure hope they prove me wrong as upperclassmen.

vacuuming sucks

TilstheHun3's picture

Yeah, I thought these guys were a bit of a reach... They are from Massachusetts and perhaps they looked better in high school against lesser competition than they actually were. Not saying talent can't come from anywhere but 2 guys from Mass on Ohio State's roster seems a bit much. However, Meyer usually has a good eye for talent so maybe they will develop or have not yet developed for whatever reason (ie, being coached up)
Hoping they prove me wrong as upperclassmen as well Maestro.

What is this? A center for ants?!? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?

GregB's picture

All is 100% true in the article and in the comments but I want to add one thing.
Our offense had the chance, TWICE, in the fourth quarter to start at our 45 or better after the blocked punt and the onside kick. Either time if we had eaten up some minutes and given our D a rest while adding a FG, we likely go to OT at worst. We had our best unit on the field, the one we would want on the field in crunch time, TWICE, and came away with zero first downs let alone points.  We never broke their offensive momentum with some offensive momentum of our own in the 4th.  Their D gets props for that but our offense NEEDED to be the one to seize the momentum, we did it all year except then and that was the difference.

Dublin68's picture

Thank you Ross for the great breakdown even though you broke our heart :)

"The defensive weaknesses were only magnified without Roby. Ohio State is in the same position at corner as at safety. After their starters, the Buckeyes had only freshman and/or players unprepared to play.

A question for you Ross. Who is responsible for these players unprepared to play??????Florida State is playing 2 true freshmen at safety!!!!!!!

ABrown07's picture

I'm gonna say the D needs to be kept vanilla because it's apparent either these guys don't know how to run a zone coverage or whomever is coaching it isn't coaching it very well. I'm not sure which it is but maybe they should keep it cover 1 with over top safety help (God, or Christian Bryant, be with them)

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

Smanpoint10's picture

Ross, do you think these mistakes come from Fickell calling the base play and Withers calling the coverage?

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

I find it interesting that our offensive line does well by employing a small set of blocking schemes that a large number of packaged plays can be run from.  This maximizes practice reps and gives them experience that allows them to succeed.  The running game we had this year shows how effective this technique is.  Michigan, on the other hand, continuously changed personnel and scheme on their offensive line and it was largely ineffective this year (except, of course, when we played them).
Our defense, apparently, more resembled the Michigan offensive line this year rather than the proven method we employed in our offense.  I really cannot understand why this has been the same problem two years in a row.  Do Withers and Fickell disagree on an effective scheme?  Do they keep changing it to adapt to personnel or specific opponents?  Is on-field leadership more to blame after Christian Bryant's injury?  What is the answer here?
I think that Urban Meyer needs to get with his coaches and come to a decision on what their defensive identity should be and then live and die by it.  

Nutinpa's picture

My guess is....Fickell and Withers do more than just disagree.....and I think the product on the field proves it.

Nutinpa's picture

I'd be interested in Ross's comments (and others) and opinion as follows:
To what degree are the woes with this secondary, traced all the way back to 2011 for when run support was such a key issue.  Even last year until Boren laced together the middle of the Defense (since Grant could not after a wasted year with Vrabel as his LB coach) run support was a key issue for the secondary.  Look how often Roby, Grant and Barnett are making tackles at the LOS. So, I ask again, while every secondary has to be multi-dimensional to stop both the run and the you see evidence that this secondary has been so heavily coached for run support that they, in the process, were inept to stop the pass?  I think there is more than coincidental evidence to support this.  
Hey, just a question for thought.

d5k's picture

Ross, I would only add there were a couple huge plays where Roby blitzed and got picked up easily which led to touchdowns where Barnett literally looked incapable of ever contesting the throw.  But blitzing is necessary with our coverage problems even when you have enough guys to cover someone is wide open.  I have said for a long time that Barnett is basically just an in-the-box guy (he did get the INT playing robber coverage I believe) and after last year I was looking forward to Pitt Brown never playing another meaningful snap after making so many mistakes with a young guy beating him out on the 2 deep.  As you said you want a consistent identity but mixing up cover 2 and cover 3 could be a relatively simple identity.  Unless you have tons of alterations like Narduzzi has in his base cover 4 you need to mix up coverages.

Maestro's picture

The corner blitz with Roby has worked on occasion, but man it makes me nervous when I see it.  
Roby is credited with 0 sacks this year FWIW.

vacuuming sucks

Nutinpa's picture

It should make us nervous.  Because when Roby does not get to the QB - or if no one else does, it usually results in a huge, breakaway play for the offense.  When I see Roby blitzing, I cringe, cuz I know someone is left on an island with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

45OH4IO's picture

I was disappointed by the DB's lack of technique while watching the game real time. Doran Grant not looking back for the ball, for example. Tons of guys turning their hips and watching receivers that had gotten by them jump over them for the ball....Pitt Brown's terrible angle on that TD catch.
Then Ross breaks down where DBs missed their coverage responsibilities!
I mean, it's bad enough to be in the wrong place OR use bad technique. But when it's BOTH, that is frustrating.
I believe this is a mental problem more than a physical problem. Recruiting has provided Ohio State with plenty of potential. I'm not sure if it is a practice issue or a confidence issue once game time arrives, but this is THE #1 question to be answered next season.

Crimson's picture

So many problems, where to begin!
In the short term, I hope that we bench Brown.  When he was named starter at S after Bryant went down, my first thought was, "Oh god, I hope he plays safety better than Star."  Not so much.  I hope we'll be better next year, because then the staff can just pick out the best underclassmen in the secondary and play them, without worrying about upperclassmen like Brown who are proven non-starters.
There are obviously multiple problems with the scheme.  We don't have any cover safeties that are currently starting, so blitzing Roby just isn't worth it.  We're still having huge problems with LB play, and Shazier is the only one who seems to be able to play well against the pass, so I hope we switch to blitzing Grant and Perry.
Starting with next season, I hope we get Bell and Burrows involved at safety, supposing they are the two best (maybe Jayme will be ready to step in).  I wasn't a huge fan of moving Burrows to safety, and I think he could be a starting/two-deep corner next year, but with as much as we need coverage safeties, I would support him moving to allow more flexibility with coverage.  We're going to need our safeties to be more like our traditional star/nickel if we have any hope of using the safety in pass coverage, and Burrows has already been in in the dime.
With linebackers, Trey Johnson is next up when Shazier leaves; I'm okay with this from what I've seen so far, which isn't much.  However, unless Grant and Perry pick it up, I hope the coaches give everyone a shot at playing.  We really need competition, especially for Grant (Mitchell and hopefully McMillan).
Lastly, echoing many above, I hope that we pick out 2 defensive schemes.  I don't really care what they are, although I'm sure one will be cover 4.  Have the whole back 7 learn those two schemes pretty well, and then we can have some consistency.  Make the schemes look the same, so the other team doesn't know what's coming at them, the same way we do it for offense.
I know one of the criticisms is personnel, so if we don't improve dramatically against the pass next year, I hope to see some turnover.  I have no idea what needs to change.  Maybe we need to let Withers take over with Fickell helping with game planning and focusing more on LBs.  Maybe we need to let Fickell take over with Withers focusing more on safeties.  I'm getting tired of making excuses for why the defense is bad though, one way or another.