Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shafer's improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 at WMU: My Apologies to Scott Shafer...for now

So I just put a post up pretty much ripping our defensive schemes to shreds. And for the normal football fan's eye, like mine, they have appeared to be terrible. The rushing two or 3 guys on third down, what has looked like zone coverage due to some terrible safeties, and terrible giving up of big plays has made Shafer the main spot of criticism for me this year on the staff.
But I am not an expert on football schemes right now and will readily admit that. Having just read Brian on mgoblog and GSimmons, a football coach's analysis of Michigan's defense in the Michigan State game, my opinion of Scott Shafer is not as bad as it has been.

While it appears Michigan gets burned on zone coverage alot, they did actually play alot of man coverage in the State game. Simmons also pointed out that they are blitzing a good amount as well. After reading the breakdowns though, it seems to me that I underestimated the importance of at least having one great linebacker and safety on the team. The linebackers and safeties were responsible for all of the big plays given up in that game and much of the season. Thompson, Ezeh, and Mouton are not good right now. Ezeh, I believe, does have potential, but he's still young. Thompson and Mouton are just not good. Having a weak, slow to react linebacking crew has left holes at the line for opponents in the running game and has left the middle of the field open on many pass plays with terrible reads and reactions on the field.

I now think even Shafer's schemes might have been a more dramatic shift than fans might recognize. While he talks simple saying they are an "attack-react" defense as opposed to a "read-react" maybe that is a big time change from what these guys were used to. That could explain the poor angles, mis-reads, and late reads in coverage and against the run. This made me look back at Shafer's job at Western Michigan, the only place he's been for multiple years as a coordinator.

In 2005, Shafer's first season, Shafer's defense gave up a lot of points. Shafer's first year Bronco's gave up 29.8 points per game, eerily close to this year's 28.8. This year's team has already eclipsed that team's sack total of 17 by having 19 sacks, and Michigan has 9 INT's to that team's 15 on the year. So, the numbers are very similar to that other first year for Shafer. That defense was not very good and ended up losing their top tackler for the next season.

But the improvement from year one to year two for Shafer's defense was astounding. Despite losing that top tackler, the 2006 Broncos gave up just 19 points per game and led the nation in sacks jumping from 17 to 46 in one year, and going from 15 interceptions to 24. That team also was 6th in the country in run defense surrendering only 76 yards per game, and 11th in the country in total defense. They were 105th in total defense the year before; worse than this year's Michigan squad. To turn around that much in one year, suggests to me that maybe Shafer's schemes and mentality just take a while to get used to.

The one thing Shafer seems to need for success, is a great (do everything) linebacker. Shafer had one in Ameer Ismail at Western, who put up an absolutely mindboggling stat line of 90 tackles, 25.5 TFL's, 17 SACKS, 2 Ints, 2 recovered fumbles, and a forced fumble. Michigan is currently lacking a linebacker who can put up anywhere near those numbers. Ezeh can be good, but is definitely taking his good sweet time in developing and is still slow to react. But if Michigan gets any linebacker to step it up next season, maybe one of the freshman like Fitzgerald, Michigan could see a dramatic improvement in year two with Shafer.

But the fact remains for this season that Michigan is stuck in a scheme that takes some getting used to and quite frankly has safeties and linebackers who are not good. Coming into the year I thought Michigan could mitigate their lack of good safeties and linebackers by blitzing and using their talented corners in press coverage. I vastly oversimplified the weaknesses on the defense and oversimplified what could be done to mitigate those weaknesses.

I still believe that, for this season, Shafer and company could have done a better job covering up the weaknesses of this team by putting more pressure on the QB's and not running those 3 man rushes and fronts so much. This defense is more talented than the numbers indicate this season.

But if Shafer is installing a defense that will be anything like Western Michigan's was in 2006, I will most certainly be patient.

Scott Shafer, I owe you and everyone else who has heard what I have said about you an apology. You need another year or two, just like everyone else on this staff, before a judgement is made. And while this year looks terrible, hopefully the team can develop or recruit some linebackers and safeties to help out next year.

Jelani Jenkins? Do you want to put up numbers like Ismail did for Shafer? I suggest you come to Michigan and you will be rewarded.

Go Blue!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot and your blog sucks