By John Harris
September 21, 2011
Texas A&M (2-0), beat Idaho 37-7
Oklahoma State (3-0), beat Tulsa 59-33
Inside linebacker inability to decipher plays.
Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Against SMU, the two inside linebackers couldn't play this simple zone run more differently. Unfortunately, the backside linebacker plays it perfectly. The playside linebacker, not so much.
Here's the setup: Ags in four man front (in an old school split six alignment inside) and the Mustangs are in traditional one back in the gun with SMU RB Zach Line to the left of SMU QB JJ McDermott. On the snap, Line takes a direct handoff and starts to run an outside zone to the right.
Backside linebacker #8 Garrick Williams plays it perfectly and reads it properly, but gets caught in the wash. If the defense is played properly, Line would've had to cut it right back into him. Unfortunately, it's not.
Playside linebacker #9 Charlie Thomas, I'm not sure what he reads or sees. He panics and doesn't move at all on handoff action. The thing is if the Aggies are cross-keying or gap exchanging on the play, he would've sprinted right to the hole that Line finds for a big gain. He freezes, gets caught in the wash and Line runs free to the one yard line.
On a scale of 1 to 10 with one being the simplest linebacker read on the field and ten being the most complex read, this one is a 0.005. No excuse for this to happen and it happened earlier in the game as well. What makes this miss more egregiously is that A&M ran safety Trent Hunter to the three wide receiver side late to "rob" any short route across the middle. So, you'll see him run to the wide side of the field late and then have to double back after the linebackers play this run so poorly.
Oklahoma State has a better offensive line and will attack the Aggies with the run game, especially out of the Cowboys' pistol and diamond formations, if those inside linebackers aren't even making these simplistic reads.
Open side blitz on 2nd and 3rd and short.
This clip is a three play sequence in the first half against SMU on 2nd and 3rd and less than 4 yards.
Each time early in this game, DeRutyer dialed up wide side of the field pressure, whether it was a corner in the slot (#7 Frederick) or an OLB (#10 Porter) bringing the heat off the edge. The philosophy is that by bringing that edge pressure, the quarterback sees it, can't find his receiver in the flat, and then goes to the short side where the options are a little more limited.
The only problem with this approach (you can see on the clip that the pressure does the trick) is that a linebacker is dropping to try to cover #2 and that's trouble. If Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden reads this blitz, his #2 receiver is going to be wide open on a 12-yard dig route over the middle of the field.
Check out the first of the three plays in the clip. The #2 receiver doesn't read the blitz and break off his route to the middle of the field, back across the face of the dropping linebacker. If he darts back across the middle on a short dig/slant, the linebacker has no way of covering that route. Keep an eye on Oklahoma State looking up #2 on this wide side blitz in the middle of the field. It could be a massive play for the Cowboys…if the pressure doesn't get to Weeden first.
How does Oklahoma State beat the Aggie defense?
The Aggies will take what you give them and QB Ryan Tannehill is one of the best I've seen at making a pass read on a run play.
For years, I've seen the Texans have an automatic to a WR off of any zone run, especially if the DB is 7 to 9 yards off in coverage. Mike Sherman, the Texans former offensive coordinator, has taken that concept and handed it off to Tannehill who understands the right way to apply it.
In the clip, you see one fade route on the goal line and two quick bubble screen throws. The first two are reads off of a zone or isolation play (watch the OL run blocking). The third one was a pass called, but what I like about all of them is that the use of the bubble screen quick throw to uncovered receiver set up the last play of the four, a throw to Jeff Fuller in the hole after a quick fake to the bubble screen receiver. Tannehill has such a control of this offense and the confidence to decide to make that throw.
How does Oklahoma State beat the Aggie offense?
The diamond formation
Teams have to decide if you want to stack the box with eight, but if you do, more than likely you're leaving Justin Blackmon one-on-one. OSU has run power, obviously out of it, but also a counter with the two diamond backs acting as the pulling guard and the guard turning up in the hole. Interesting concept and tough to stop. Real tough.
The Aggies are going to have to make sure they check personnel groupings in the diamond. If Joseph Randle or Jeremy Smith is at one of the diamond backs, you can expect a sweep to the side opposite that back. If Randle/Smith is the lone running back behind Weeden, expect power or inside counter.
This is a great formation for the Cowboys to use because they don't use a tight end, so you have Blackmon split out on the edge and you can't man cover him. So, if you take a safety and roll to that side, it's going to be hard to stop the power game inside out of the diamond with Blackmon on the perimeter and only 6 to 7 guys committed to stopping the run.
Case in point, on 3rd and 1 against Arizona, the Cowboys stay in the diamond near the goal line. Weeden sees Arizona has left Blackmon one-on-one near the end zone as they've put 8 guys in the box. I can't say it's a mistake by Arizona, but the Cats had to pick their poison. Weeden, as Tannehill did with Fuller against SMU on the goal line, throws the fade to Blackmon for six points (on a play that was originally a power run).
Man coverage and the blitz vs. Weeden
If you play man against the Cowboys, Weeden is fantastic at reading that on the run and finding the right matchup for the right situation. This play below is a great example of that. I'm convinced that this is a read play.
You can tell Justin Blackmon knows this one isn't going to him, but he knows his responsibility is to clear out and let Joseph Randle get down the sideline matched up on a linebacker. Mismatch is more like it.
How does Texas A&M beat the Cowboy offense?
Most teams currently are using a mix of odd and even fronts. Oklahoma State didn't have the personnel, in my opinion, in the last few years to play a multiple front defense (being a base 4-3 defense). But this group has the potential to do it and has done it through the first part of the season.
DC Bill Young doesn't change things up too much and wants his defense to execute, tackle and turn the ball over more than he wants it to be a "tricky" defense. However, when the Cowboys went to a three man front against Arizona, Young was a bit more aggressive with his zone dog/blitzes out of that three man front so keep an eye on whether Young will go to his three man front with 5 or 6 DBs to confuse Tannehill with various coverages Young can throw at the Aggie quarterback.
Understanding Aggie tendencies
Stopping the Aggies is going to be difficult no question, but by understanding the Aggies personnel packages, the Cowboys will be much further ahead of the game. Here's what I mean.
Know who's in the game and it might take you to the football. If Tannehill is under center with a tight end in the game it's zone to the tight end or bootleg. A&M doesn't trick teams, it out executes teams with this myriad of personnel groupings and Tannehill's ability to handle it all.
How does Texas A&M beat the Cowboy defense?
When it comes down to it, these two offenses are potent and led by tremendously intelligent signal callers. It does come down to tackling in space and not blowing coverages or assignment responsibilities. Regardless, the Ags can control the line of scrimmage in the run game and frustrate the OSU defense, a group that must decide to stay base 4-3 or go to a 4-2-5 look to "win" on the perimeter. Tannehill redeems himself for the Aggie QB performance in last year's game and leads the Aggies to a big win in the pursuit of a Big 12 ring in the Aggies last year in the Big 12.