Mack’s New Strategy: Defense
Posted by Nickel Rover
Mack maintained his new policy of finding fresh, young blood for the program with the Manny Diaz hire that everyone seems to be in love with. I love that he’s another up and coming coach, I love that he has a track record of improving defenses at a comparable level, but I don’t love this hire.
In his press conference Manny Diaz laid out his first principles and philosophy very simply and clearly as follows:
Value no. 1: To lead the nation in wins.
He doesn’t really elaborate this point with any complicated or in depth explanation of what defensive measures lead to victories, not even a nod to scoring defense, instead he uses a different criterion.
Criterion: What annoys offensive coordinators the most?
To me this is a terrible foundation for a philosophy. Is the point to annoy your opponent or to defeat them? It doubtlessly annoyed Michael Jordan a great deal when he would be struck down upon entry to the lane but fouling him in the act of scoring guaranteed efficient offense for the Bulls.
He defines this as securing turnovers and negative plays, the drive-killers. If those are your highest values you will tend to embrace an all-or-nothing approach that helps the offense secure either a quick score or total failure. I’m sure Diaz will use some sound principles and not usher in Carl Reese 201 this spring, or mimic how we would telegraph our blitzes in 2007. Nevertheless, I’m not a huge fan of pressure defense in this era of football.
The Plan: He sums up his strategy for creating the most frustration for Offensive coordinators with the phrase “Stop the run, hit the quarterback.” This is the common wisdom for winning games in the NFL right now and I will readily agree that good things will happen when you achieve these things. Don’t get me wrong, I think Texas can have effective defense under this man, but I’m suspicious of the driving principles.
Judging by his press conference we can probably expect
-multiple fronts, like Muschamp used with players like Jackson Jeffcoat playing DE/LB roles.
-Zone blitzing, it’s at least a more sound means of applying pressure than…others. Every team should have some overload zone blitz packages to use in 3rd and long or to periodically shake things up.
-1 gap fronts, if we ask anyone to 2-gap it will just be Randall. I’m definitely okay with this, finding 3 defensive lineman who can handle that kind of responsibility at the college level is a daunting task. Hopefully we do 2-gap Randall though, why not take advantage of this skill?
-Stunts and shifts, we’ll want to field some versatile players in the front 7 that can handle stunting or dropping into zone coverage. Fortunately we already do this and the players we’ve recruited at defensive end and linebacker under Muschamp are perfectly suited for this task.
In fact, there is little discernible difference between what Diaz is proposing and what Muschamp implemented and preached here, except that Muschamp was wise enough to look for ways to get pressure with 4 and avoid committing defensive backs to purposes other than scoring prevention.
Were I a defensive coordinator at a place like Texas where premier talent is practically knocking on the door, I would install Gary Patterson’s plan.
Number 1 goal of Nickel Rover’s defense? Make scoring as difficult as possible. Play sound schemes geared around limiting an opponents strengths and limiting explosive play opportunities. Goal number 2 is turnovers, attack from a position of strength like Oklahoma does. You can aggressively attack team’s tendencies from 2-deep coverages and teach ball-stripping drills. The best bend-don’t-break defenses don’t struggle to create turnovers.
If you can effectively teach zone the way Patterson does it frees up a lot of practice time for locking down an opponents tendencies, tackling drills, playing with leverage, ball-stripping, etc. Even with Muschamp we would see defenseman thinking and diagnosing on the field slowly at times. Watch the 2010 RRS and see how quickly our guys close on screens compared to what the Sooners achieve…I know that reading the Texas offense was a simpler task but still, OU does that to everyone.
It’s not necessary to manufacture pressure in the backfield if you play sound zone defense and allow the defensive ends to fly up-field, as TCU does, or if you have NFL defensive tackles on your roster. Kheeston Randall is worth a negative play about every game and I anticipate similar production from Okafor and other young players on the roster in their futures here. Control the middle of the field and let your speedy defensive backfield destroy plays in pursuit.
That said, this can help a great deal as we’ve replaced a very strong defensive backs coach with perhaps an even stronger teacher who is likely to have more aptitude for installing zone-principles. He’ll be busy early I suspect, as Diaz’s preferred schemes are likely to emulate the Rex Ryan system and require corners who can play on an island from time to time.
All in all, Mack has paired a careful, yet explosive offense gameplan with a defensive scheme that will seek to maximize the number of possessions and opportunities the offense has to score. I was ready to embrace a new era of Texas Football geared around defensive excellence but I think this is closer to Mack’s comfort zone and is certainly a sensible way to win football games.
I’m just hoping that in year one Diaz leaves a couple of guys deep.