Why we play defense the way we do, my humble opinion.

Jhesse17's picture
January 6, 2014 at 3:28a

I think we can all agree that our defense isn't where it needs to be. But before I start you have to understand our coaches are not stupid. They do what they do for a reason, and here is my speculation as to why we do what we do: Our personnel can't do anything else. Having Curtis Grant on the field severely limits what we can do schematically in the pass game thanks to his lack of speed and cover ability. And Pitt Brown (whether at safety or star) is not good. I ask you this 11W readers, would you be comfortable with Curtis Grant alone in space on a back? Didn't think so. How about Pitt Brown man up against a slot receiver? No? Then man coverage is out. That leaves cover 3 and cover 2/2 man under. Let's attack cover 2 first. This defense has the corners bumping receivers on the line then settling in to protect the flats, the safeties playing deep halves and the linebackers/star playing the middle of the field or coming on the blitz. Roby and Doran Grant are both pretty physical, so they could certainly bother WRs at the line. Even Curtis Grant is fast enough to drop into an into a zone that's 5 yards behind where he starts the play, so the linebackers and the star can certainly handle their responsibilities. Then why aren't we doing this, you are probably asking. Well this would be a VERY effective defense for our personnel if not for one thing. Does anyone here trust our safeties not to get beaten deep by every relatively good WR we face? I know I don't. And if you don't trust your safeties to prevent the deep ball you can't play cover 2 or 2 man under. That leaves you with cover 3. This defense has both corners (always) and your free safety/star (changes based on alignment) playing deep thirds with the star/FS (changes on alignment), SS and the star/FS that does not have a deep third playing curl to flat. This means they look for a curl on their side of the field until they are sure there will not be one, then move the cover the flat. The linebackers are then left the middle of the field. I certainly trust Roby and Grant to not get beat deep, and since we are only relying on one safety/star to not get beat we're in better shape there too. The linebackers have basically the same assignment as they did in cover 2, except that we can't blitz them because we would leave the middle of the field wide open. But they should be able to take the middle of the field. So if all of our players are good enough to do their jobs, why do we still get beaten you ask? There are a few reasons. One: to run a cover 3 scheme you need big, aggressive corners that can shed a block and blow up a bubble screen by themselves or at least turn it back inside. Our corners have really struggled to keep contain, shed blocks and make tackles in space. Two: We need our star/safeties to make their curl to flat read quicker so that the help comes to the corners quicker, and 3: straight up blown coverages. Check out this image from the Clemson game. 

This was supposed to be cover 3. Vonn Bell, the guy trailing Sammy Watkins had near deep third, the far corner covering the far deep third, and the guy at the top of the 3 defender bunch (Tyvis Powell?) was supposed to have the middle deep third. Although at first glance it may appear to be Vonn Bells fault, it isn't. Sammy Watkins came off the line and ran a skinny post that started straight at Vonn Bell. Tyvis Powell saw that and jumped the short crosser, a huge mistake. Watkins then broke on his post route and ran directly where Tyvis was supposed to be standing. Vonn Bell realized that Tyvis blew the coverage, but he realized too late and he couldn't catch up to Sammy Watkins. Easy touchdown for Clemson.

Now, don't misconstrue this post as one made in support for our defensive staff or to attack our defensive staff. If our players weren't making crucial mistakes that should have been weeded out the first day they came to campus and/or were confident, effective tacklers and block shedders in space then we wouldn't have these problems. Whether that falls on the coaches or the individual players is for you to decide. 

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cuttyrock's picture

It's simply too much on the plate of the defense as far as plays and technique. I really don't like a cb and safety coach I would rather have db coach. I would rather master one scheme and adjust. We play everything but are good at nothing. We you can't stop a screen you have real problems. Cb haven't shed a block all season safeties given up big plays. Shedding a block is about not letting wr get his hands on you. Coombs is a bad cb coach but a great person and recruiter. Db's can't cover, shed a block, recognize plays, and tackle. Safeties coach is already gone so hopefully that will get better. Let's move on to Fickell. I honestly believe he's been calling the defense since Tressel left and that's why we are so bad. That means even Heacock last year here Fickell ran the show. No in game adjustments and I honestly would like to see him leave or be demoted. He can keep the title but the safety/dc should call all plays and scheme and Fickell should just focus on lb. Since Shazier is gone and the lb aren't very good he already has enough on his plate for this off season. After CB we had no leader in the secondary or on defense period. Maybe Vonn Bell can be a leader next year because Powell doesn't wow me. I'm happy Barnett is gone. I'm only happy for him because his best days are ahead. CFL or NFL if in the proper scheme could be a contributor on special teams and a strong safety reserve. When you have no scheme the players will play slow, lackadaisical, confused, and upset and that summarizes the defense this season. I can't see Urban hiring a good cb coach like Springs or others because of Coombs but we may need one. Too many problems but one scheme can fix most if not all.

BuckeyeInOrlando's picture

CJ Barnett was the deep safety on this play, the TE beat his man and CJ had to jump him and cover him up, allowing Watkins to run free. CJ had to pick someone in a split-second, and if he had stayed to help Bell, we probably would have seen a big pass to the tight end... probably not a touchdown, but a big play.
Thanks for your opinion on the defense... probably a lot of truth to it... I'm pretty sure there's a good reason the guys who get the big bucks to coach are coaches and the rest of us aren't... hopefully a lot of the young talent coming in (or already there) allows the defense to play multiple schemes, and to play them effectively... making life harder on opposing offenses and easier on us fans!

buckeye4life050233's picture

Yea and the guy who was supposed to knock the TE out of his route to the middle was guess who......the "most" improved during bowl practice according to Meyer, Joshua Perry.........Too often we allow the receivers to have free releases into their passing patterns doing nothing to disrupt the timing and forcing the opposing QB to hold on to the ball and go through progressions....

chitown buckeye's picture

It's not a split second decision. You stay with Watkins. Don't let the best player on the field beat you. Take your chances that the tight end makes a mistake because you know Watkins won't. Barnett had been jumping routes all season leaving his assignment. He got torched more then he ever made a play.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

buckeyedude's picture

Ultimately, if the players aren't performing, it's on the coaches. They get paid handsomely to make sure the players get it.



andretolstoy's picture

Not necessarily. If players aren't getting it. They aren't getting it. If players understand intellectually, but are freezing up in the game. Then there is only so much you can do.

Statutoryglory's picture

Boom!  A DC can cover up one guy who sucks but add another who sucks or doesn't know his responsibilities and you have big time problems.

Geraffi's picture

That's why our secondary always looks confused. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Matt Millen was right during the Orange Bowl when he said, "this is a tentative defense".  A tentative defense allows the offense to dictate the flow of the game. They wait and respond rather than impose before the ball is snapped. Opposing OCs can call  almost anything and have it be effective.  They're dictating the game. 
Really nice write up!  I wish I understood football this well!

BAR43's picture

Very well stated. I was often getting frustrated with the soft and zone coverage. But when yo really think about it we didn't have the players to play press man. So give up shorter plays and hope you get a stop opposed to giving up one big play for score. I really appreciate the level headed approach, especially compared to most peoples rants of "every player sucks, and every coach is terrible".

dwcbuckeye's picture

Nice article.  I tend to agree with your points and have stated them previously.  Our coaches are NOT stupid.  Just because we have a bunch of 4 star players doesn't mean they are will turn out to be really good even if they are well coached.  We will get much better on defense over the next couple of years is my hunch.  We just have to play the best players and not those with seniority. 

jbirmmd's picture

Good analysis, the point of concern for me is that understanding how deficient certain talents are, why did we redshirt freshmen who should have been getting some on the job training when the older players clearly weren't physically capable of doing their assignments well? 

klfeck's picture

The problem with the "we don't have the right players" train of thought is that the entire team is full of 4 and 5 star players, yet the Defense got burnt in every way imaginable. When you recruit some of the best talent in the country and your players not only fail,  but fail to improve, you are either coaching them poorly, picking the wrong players, or both. To me, the failure comes down to coaching. If certain players can't catch on, its the next man up. If the next man can't catch on, you have to start looking at yourself. While schemed can certainly be complicated, this issue seems fairly simple. Coaching and scheming. Neither have improved all season. Neither was good last year. 
Not trying to be argumentative here, but when I see DB's who never ever ever turn their head and look for the ball, I look directly at the staff and ask WTF.



Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

OSUNEA1986's picture

You can bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink.
Basing on argument on the player's recruiting status coming in holds very little water. Frankly, I think they should rank the HS kids by IQ and ACT/SAT scores as ell as physical talent.
As far as "next man up", we haven't had enough depth for that on defense and it's quite possible that the freshman coming in simply were even less able to manage the football learning curve along with the freshman in college learning curve.
I think it's time our fan base "backs off" the kids and the coaches. While I'm critical of in game calls, I can't see calling for someone's job when one simply has no idea where the problems really exist.
From my observations over the last 2 years, very few schools have had stellar defenses. Is that the result of a decline in physical talent? I doubt it. I t makes me wonder if we're seeing the result of declining educational standards. Defense is much harder intellectually than offense (IMO) and simply takes longer to learn enough and gain enough experience such that performance is as good as we have seen in years past.
It could also be argued that this is a year of highly efficient offenses. It's been fun to watch when highly efficient offense (OSU) meets very smart and well executed defense (MSU). It's OK to lose folks. It's not death. 

OfficerRabbit's picture

Up voted, very well stated. I'm pretty firmly in the "it is bad coaching" camp, but I do see some of the points you are making.
I would counter though that we have depth, it's just young and inexperienced. In my mind, if the guys you have out there can't grasp schemes, or make stupid decisions, why not bring in some new bodies? The defense couldn't get much worse than it was.
While I agree that recruiting rankings are fairly meaningless, it still must be noted that either the coaches are not developing the legitimate talent we have, or they are recruiting the wrong guys. I say its the coaching based on no improvement throughout the year, no in-game adjustments, poor basic football technique, etc. You mentioned MSU, they consistently do more with less talent than we bring in.
I firmly believe it is no coincidence that since Tressel's departure, our D has regressed to a point where most of the fan base is tearing their hair out. It's sad, for years we fielded solid to great defensive units and screamed about our vanilla offense and poor line play. Now we get a dynamic offense, and our defense is a leaky sieve. Ugh!



klfeck's picture

Bingo. Give that man a prize!!!!!!
MSU does more with less, develops more with less or pics better recruits. Any way you slice it, coaching is the culprit. Not really complicated. I remember when Tressel and Heacock used that same formula to turn a lot of 3 and 4 stars into a top notch Defense.



Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

buckeyedude's picture

AJ Hawk       3*
Curtis Grant  5*
I hate to pick on current players, but who would you rather have on your team?



Smithy's picture

At this point in their careers I'd take AJ, but give Grant a few years.

RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

Curtis Grant just finished his Junior year of football. He's got 24 tackles, 0.5 TFL, and 0 sacks in 21 career games.  The only football he's likely to be playing in a few years is Madden. 

OSUNEA1986's picture

I'm simply playing devil's advocate here, cause it's an interesting discussion. I solidly agree that MSU does more with "less", I've made that statement in a prior post. But that then begs the question: What does a coach at tOSU do? Recruit 4&5 star guys and meet your short term job requirements or 2-3 star guys who are more intelligent, have better fundamental learning skills, personality traits and work ethic?
Fan base would be livid, media would be all over us if we weren't in the top 5 nationally of "star rankings".
I would be interested in a head to head comparison of MSU's defense v. OSU defense in physical, academic and personality traits. Won't happen, but could be interesting. So again, let's realize that as a fan base we have conflicting expectations for the coaches and the kids. Gotta take the 5 star, but he may not be able to handle both academics and football at equal levels.

jbirmmd's picture

officerabbit-- You have stated much more completely and eloquently what I was alluding to above. 
I have such defense envy when I watch MSU these days...  sigh.  

BuckeyeMike74's picture

While watching the Rose Bowl, the commentators kept stating how MSU was disguising and delaying their coverage looks to mess up the Stanford offense.  I pay a bit of attention to recruiting, and certainly enough to know the tOSU pulls WAY better athletes consistently then MSU.  How is it possible MSU can do what they do and we struggle to run one or two simple base looks?  Is Narduzzi THAT much of a superior coach?  Is it THAT hard to coach up talented kids?  Or is our coaching staff failing?
Recruiting isn't an exact science for sure, but I believe Curtis Grant was once the top recruit in the country.  Pitt Brown was a 5 star also.  How is it possible that both these guys are such liabilities now?  I tend to think this boils down to coaching, since we have so many guys underachieving all over the field.

klfeck's picture

Agreed, and I have little doubt that UFM will get it all worked out this winter. That man will not accept losses like the last two.



Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

saltybuck61's picture

Good breakdown. The play with Vonn Bell is certainly not all Tyvis' fault either. In a perfect world, Bell can either slow him down/disrupt the route, or he can stick with him the whole time. Like you said, he should have had help, but it was a combination of the two blown coverages.

gm3jones's picture

Not when you play within your scheme. You are taught to never differentiate from your part of the field. In cover 3, you are not going to be pressing WRs most of the time. The issue that most of the people have (including me) is that the secondary is not sound what so ever with their coverage. That play is a prime example. When they practice these plays CJ barnett is supposed to have help over the top, he is taught over and over to stay just under him and expect help over the top-- it wasn't there.

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

buckeyeboy59's picture

Somehow, we keep making too many mental mistakes on defense to be an elite one. I don't know what is responsible and I'm not going to put blame on anyone, but for us to have an elite defense again, these mental mistakes cannot happen. If we get every top defensive recruit and make these mistakes, we won't have an elite defense

Buckeye419er's picture

I think some of it, if not a large portion of it is also on the field leadership. Who is the leader on defense. Yea I don't know either. We've always had vocal leaders (enforcers) on defense at tOSU. As of late, it's like watching a group of kindergartners trying to figure out which crayons to use. Also our linebacking crew has been a one man show with Shazier. One man cannot however do the job alone. Nor do I honestly believe that RDS is a natural born leader. He's good at his position but I don't see him in the faces of the other guys on the team firing them up to follow his lead. Not to mention (and please forgive me) he doesn't seem like he's the brightest guy on the planet. He does what he's assigned to do, no more..no less. 

Imagine the defense as a spoked wheel. Let's say the old wooden type. Now imagine that same wheel where the spokes are all very strong and capable and the hub at the center is cracked or even missing at times. The spokes are worthless and cannot do their job when the hub isn't fully effective. The linebackers are that hub. They are the core of our defense. Do their job and no one has to worry about making up for their mistakes and therefore having to do too much. 
But hey that's just one man's take. We all have our theories and opinions. 

There can be only one

Smithy's picture

Gee, we need better defensive coaching. What a revelation. I think that may be fixed this off season.

Smithy's picture

Another thing I'll say after watching last nights NC, I'm glad we didn't play either team. The speed AND power of Auburn's blitz, early in the game was impressive. Both QBs played well under pressure. The game was played at a level we aren't ready for at this point. 

BuckeyeMike74's picture

Agreed.  And the tackling, for the most part, was much more solid by both of these teams than I had witnessed in most other bowl games.  The biggest missed tackle I noticed was on Auburn's last TD run.

BuckeyeMark's picture

One wonders if that FSU player pulls down Mason there if Aubie doesn't run some more plays/time off the clock before scoring and win the game.  Who ever thought that beating a tackle would be a bad thing?!  Not trying to get into the whole "take a knee" thing - just noting something kind of ironic.  Bad tackling may have served FSU well there!

JAX-FL-BUCKEYE's picture

Missed tackles and mental mistakes can make even the greatest scheme by the best defensive coach in the nation look terrible. Its gotta start in the to the film room and practice field to translate into game. I truly believe once Urban has HIS guys things will be different. Im not a huge Fickell supporter by any means Id just like to see what happens with Urbans recruits!!

andretolstoy's picture

GREAT and sober perspective! Finally someone said it. And said it in a way that doesn't malign the kids playing their hearts out. Some of those guys just weren't on level, most of the rest are just too darn young yet. The few that performed, performed valiantly.
And I give the staff a lot of credit for not throwing their players under the bus. Some coaches out there will do just that to cover their own rear ends. But, the pressure was getting to our staff as was evident in some blow ups during interviews.
Folks keep doing it, but it's not the best idea to keep comparing our Defense MSU's. Narduzzi has had over two years to get the Defense at that level. We expect that from Fickell in a new system, within two years. I'm sorry, but that's not rational thinking. In fact, that's down right lacking any sort of capacity in your chests.
I would expect drastic improvement of our Defense next year. Perhaps, still not at the level of MSU's in 2013/14, but a much bigger difference that we have had in the past two or three years.

Ebvine96's picture

Why do we need a co-DC, can't we just name one guy

Brutenley69's picture

I also think we play defense with the lack of toughness, players are soft, on both sides of the ball, in my opinion.
Personally, I'd rather have a kick ass defense than an offense that has to score 42 points to win the game. I also wish the offense was more of a pro-style, like bama or Stanford, etc. It just seems when a team plays that type of offense, their teams and players are more aggressive and an edge.
GO BUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

GO BUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Indy_Buck87's picture

The main problem is that we are not athletic enough but rather we do not execute and play great fundamental football.  Missed tackles, poor angles, busted coverages, ect, ect, ect. This is OHIO STATE.  You know whose fault that is folks? The coaches! Not good enough and the tape speaks for itself on that front.  

I know of only two things that are infinite, space and human stupidity.....and I'm not sure about space". Albert Einstein.

Ebvine96's picture

Once we lost the quarterback of our defense in the 4th against wisco our defense went to pieces, hope Bryant finds his way back to us for another year

Humbuck's picture

Pitt Brown is gone.  We never have to mention his name again.  5th year senior bust, career over. Please stop discussing him as if he might be a future problem for us.  Thank God it is over...
It is funny, I was listening to Kurt Warner today talk about cover 3 being a very difficult scheme for most defenses to run.  He said teams who use it in the NFL have a hard time making it work and they get picked apart in the short passing game because the LB's fail to force receivers to come back towards the ball or cut inside. They generally use it because it works well against the run.  QB's who don't check out of run plays fall into the trap. If they diagnose the coverage and check to a short pass to the outside it beats the zone quickly. It requires a D group that is so in sync and collectively aware that one guy being off will make the whole unit look bad.  Sounds like our problem.
To hear college fans talk about cover 3 they make it sound like soft coverage for teams who cannot do anything else.  The reality is that while it allows teams to mask problems with their LB's ability to cover in a Tampa 2, it opens up all kinds of problems if receivers can find the soft spot in the zone.  The WLB has to force a lot of stuff inside and if he fails then the zone is broken and the CBs are so deep the receiver will get YAC every time.  The FS is the lynchpin of cover 3 on the deeper side and when he blows it the corners get exposed.  We saw both things happen over and over.
Warner said when executed properly it is very hard for QB's to pick it apart but over his career he only saw a few teams run it at a level that made it difficult for him to beat it.  He said he made a living on short outs and picked on WLB's. 

BuckeyeinExile's picture

Kinda harsh on Pitt Brown isn't it Humbuck? I agree he didn't live up to his expectations but the guy tried to for five years of his life. Not every five star will turn out. They can have injury issues like Mike D'Andrea, or just not live up to hype like Justin Zwick.
Very few of us on here have any idea of the stress and sacrifices these guys go under to go out on that field and win for us. Hours in the weight room and on the practice field, media hounding you 24/7/365. We all get a kick out of seeing Coombs yell, but have you ever thought for a moment what it is like to get screamed at by him or Urban Meyer, or Mike Vrabel? I played four years of High School football in a pretty intense program and its probably not a  hint of a glimpse of what these guys go through.
It makes me sick to see people on here criticizing 18-22 year olds for a mistake they make in a GAME. I live and die OSU like most on here, but its about time we stop getting on the case of players just because they fail to meet the hype and expectations - jumping all over them isn't going to help their confidence moving forward for the rest of the season, or in the case of Pitt Brown or any other player in his situation its an extremely crappy way to thank a guy for doing his best to entertain us for four or five years of his life.
Instead of trashing a guy while he is down perhaps just wish him well, congratulate him on his degree, and look forward to the next man up.