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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.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

And the fat lady has sung! Perfectly stated.

Anonymous said...

David,
That's a very good critique. You put out a ton of material, and it is all reasoned and balanced. Best coverage we as Bulldog fans have ever had.

ChicagoDawg said...

Brilliantly stated.

genxdawg said...

Really nice work, David. I believe the following excerpt best states the most immediate problem for the DAWGS defense:

"....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.)...."

These players are who they are and we have to hope they can get it worked out.

David said...

ever think that teams are passing 75% of the time because they like what they see from the passing d?

Anonymous said...

David,

Love the blog. I'd be interested to hear where Marlon Brown's morale is at. I'm sure he wants to gets some opportunities before the Tenn game so he can showcase his talents for the home crowd.

Anonymous said...

After watching Austin Powers, we need a time machine to bring Erk back. Yeah baby

Anonymous said...

David,
Great insight and thought. A couple of points to be considered.

1.Georgia has played 3 exceptional college QB's in their 1st 3 games.

2.Georgia has played 3 exceptional college football coaches in their first 3 games.

3. Petrino chose to pick on the sophomore Boykin through out the game. Boykin's lack of experience showed. Boykin should learn and grow from the Ark. game.

4. Bryan Evans proved speed does not = coverage. TV coverage showed his inability to react to routes.

5. If we stop the turnovers, the defense will look much improved over the next 3 games due to nothing more than the coaches and QB's we will be facing compared to the 1st 3 games. Hopefully these first 3 games prepared us to win the next 3.

Todd said...

David, I think you hit it with " why haven't you don that already"? I mean Garcia and a non-monile qb???? Come on. I have to wonder a couple things. Does Georgia really have the talent that folks think they have? Owens and Atkins have been a non factor. Bryan Evans got burned last year as a corner and he is getting burned this year as a saftey. Reshard Jones is bringing some hits, but has he tried to step in front of a play? Backs coming out of the backfield, not being picked up by a lb is concerning.

I read something today that made sense. Is Willie getting any help from position coaches for scheming defenses? Janzek has been in charge of LBs since BVG left. Willie now has to be coordinator instead of concentrating on the DBS fundamentals. I believe Rodney Garner is here becasue he can recruit and he is not really an x's and o's kind of guy. I believe Willie is flying solo.

On the flip side of making the move to fire Willie, does Garner leave if he is not promoted? If so, who do you get to replace the D-coordinator and have a recruiting guru like Garner?

I personally don't think the problem is Willie's alone. Talent is a factor. Another question, was BVG a better evaluator of high school talent?

Just my opinion, and thanks David for all the great work you do

Corbindawg said...

David,

Very good post as always. However, your stats are a bit misleading in the opening line. We have played 3 BCS opponents and 2 SEC opponents. Our stats would look bad compared to most schools in the conference even if we haven't stunk. Most schools have been playing powder puff teams.

Drew Williams said...

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

At least not as defensive coordinator. He might be back as head coach if we have a couple .500 seasons in the SEC east. By the looks of our defense so far that's where we're headed.

Anonymous said...

David, I think you have hit the nail on the head; however, I now know the real reason for UGA's struggles....If my eyes do not deceive me Uga VII has a brown left ear. When is the last time an Uga was not totally white? Please see if Sonny can purchase some Just For Men before Saturday!

josh said...

so if willie's defense is dependent on a pass rush for success...and we haven't had a consistent pass rush for sometime now...why doesn't he alter our gameplan? it's like he keeps sticking his hand on the stove eye and expecting it to not burn him. MAKE A DAMN ADJUSTMENT!

Anonymous said...

"At least not as defensive coordinator. He might be back as head coach if we have a couple .500 seasons in the SEC east. By the looks of our defense so far that's where we're headed."

Georgia, who is 2-0 in the SEC right now (including 1-0 on the road), would have to go 2-4 the rest of the way to finish .500 in the SEC.

If you're talking about .500 in JUST SEC East games, then Georgia, who is 1-0 in the SEC East right now, would have to go 1-3 to finish under .500 in division play.

In short: Wanna make a bet?

HAWK said...

a positive note on the defense:

Mallet was 1 for 9 passing in the
4th Qtr. And with Cuff's injury and the DB fatigue Blackledge kept talking about, thats a great job in the most important QTR.

Brian said...

David,

Here's the big problem with your defense of Willie's defense - even if it is half-hearted. And , I'll use your quote as the example:

"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."

Willie's defensive philosophy is maddening for some of us who prefer a defense to attack. BUT, it is - BY DESIGN - a philosophy and scheme designed to PREVENT the big play at nearly all costs....Even 10+ play, 5min + drives that are so often witnessed against UGA.

Simply put, Willie has constructed a defensive philosophy designed to take away the big play at all costs, even if it means death by a thousand cuts. Yet, he gives up big play after big play all while dying from the aforementioned thousand cuts in between.

It's awful. And it's indefensible.

Liam said...

David: Excellent work in having the courage to print the facts and not give in to the spin. For several years our tackling has been atrocious. We rarely wrap-up, instead going for the knockout hit. Our safeties are routinely nowhere to be seen- receivers just running free. Our linebackers rarely knock down a pass or cover anyone until after the catch. We have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, the turnovers by the O are killing us. Yes, we have faced good offensive coordinators. Mallet is probably headed for the NFL. Regardless, it still comes down to coaching. Saban, Charlie Strong, Monty Kiffen, et al know how to scheme to put heat on the QB. Their blitz packages work, they disrupt the QB's timing and they force the issue. Martinez philosophy is "bend,don't break". Unfortunately, we not only bend, we break easily. Case in point, Tennessee 51- Dawgs 33 in 2006. Ainge was too good to leave standing in the pocket and so are the QBs of today. Without pressure UGA cannot simply wait for the opponent to make a mistake in a drive and stop themselves, as in the old days. The Peter Principle is in play- Willie has reached the level of his incompetence and then some. Our recruiting has been top drawer, but our inability to use the talent effectively is woefully evident on the defensive side of the ball. One last thing- if a player consistently blows coverage, fails to wrap-up, etc bench him and put in the younger guys. They may be raw and they will make mistakes but it would be tough for them to look worse than some of our veterans look at times. Do you really believe Tennessee has better defenders than Georgia this year, with the exception of Eric Berry? If so, which of our players would you trade for which of their players? The difference is coaching, period, end of story.

Anonymous said...

Yeah the stats about being last in every defensive category don't really do anything for me. If we had played Charleston Southern, Troy, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Southeastern Louisiana, etc, the stats would look MUCH different. I've mentioned this before on a different one of your blogs but I think it's worth mentioning again: these 3 teams that we've played are teams who have based the success of their entire season on whether or not they beat us. We've played 3 teams who have probably played some of the best football they'll play all year against us. I think it says a lot of that we came out 2-1.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...
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Dawg4Life said...

David,
A few questions, what is your take on Martinez and second half adjustments. I feel like he really does not make any at all. These past two shootouts that we got into went right into the fourth quarter?

Also, I know that Richt will not fire Martinez during the middle of season? Hopefully if Richt does decide t fire Martinez at the end of the season. Who should they go after. I was thinking that we should do three things?
1. Promote Rodney Gardner
2. Go after Dick Bumpas from TCU
3. Go after Norm Parker from Iowa

Muckbeast said...

I hope someone deletes the comments saying Prince Miller is "a Gay." Prince Miller may not be Champ Bailey, but he's a Georgia Bulldog and he's OUR Georgia Bulldog. Unless he's firing off AK-47s in parking lots or beating up girlfriends, he deserves our respect and consideration - even if we are critical if his play.

DAVID: I don't think people bring up Brian Van Gorder or Erk as an argument that we need them back. It is for sake of comparison because that is the type of defense Georgia wants, needs, and deserves. The stats are also pointed to in order to show that our expectations are totally realistic.

To the person who said they don't put much stock in our stats from the first 3 games, how about these stats:

Brian Van Gorder – DC for 52 games (including both of our SEC titles this decade). Opponent scored 30 or more points only 1 time (34 points by LSU in 2003 SEC title game, the year LSU won the national title).

Willie Martinez (current) – DC for 55 games. Opponent has scored 30 or more points 13 times. (Auburn 31 pts. and West Virginia 38 pts. in 2005); (Tenn. 51 pts in 2006); (Tenn. 35 pts, Florida 30 pts., and Troy 34 pts in 2007); (Alabama 41 pts., LSU 38 pts., Florida 49 pts., Kentucky 38 pts., Georgia Tech 45 pts. in 2008); (South Carolina 37 pts., Arkansas 41 points in 2009).

Todd said...

Define bend but don't break. Now what would be a defense that is broke. What people fail to see is how Cox reacts to pressure in the pocket after he has been sacked a couple of times. I say this because, the only reason Georgia has won a game this year is because Cox has won the shootout with the other team. A team with a goo defense may not allow that. What will it take for ALL people to say Willie needs to go? People seem to forget last year's Kentucky (freshman wr playing qb) and Auburn (fired O-coordinator mid season). They were a shootout as well. And to think people want national respect???? You make coaching changes to get over the "hump". Remember, Donnan could beat those teams too....he just couldn't beat Florida and Tennessee. Willie is in over his head. He would be great at Central Florida or something like that.

Zachary said...

I'm a big fan of FOOTBALL, especially Georgia bulldawg football. But I also know that when it comes to coaching there is a phylosophy (belief) that coaches have. Offensive coordinators and Defensive coordinators are raised or groomed under other coordinators. They take those schemes and belief and when given the opportunity, they use it to coach their own team. Look at the coaching tree of the 49ers and the west coast offense. I'm only saying this to say Willie was groomed under VanGorder who is now the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. If any true Bulldawg fan knows their history then you will remember the type of defense we had under Brian VanGorder from 2001-2004. Back then the news was all about the Bulldawgs offense giving our defense a break. VanGorder believed in zone blitzing, man to man coverage with safety help over the top, zone defense while sending an extra linebacker. True we had an awesome pass rusher like David Pollock but never the less we pressured the QB and didn't allow the recievers easy access into their routes. The question now is why did Willie's phylosophy change after VanGorder left. As the saying goes if it's not broke don't fix it. Now it's BROKE. Time to fix it.