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September 25, 2008

Saban's Defense: Where the Points Are

(Image: Dawgpost)
If you haven't read Smart Football's opus on Nick Saban's defense yet, you should.  It breaks down Saban's most common defensive calls and gives insight into the way Saban coaches defense.  As I read it, one thing really stuck out to me after seeing Richt's last few games against Saban.  It starts with Chris's quote of Saban's LSU defensive playbook:
"In all situations, we will defend the inside or middle of the field first – defend inside to outside. Against the run, we will not allow the ball to be run inside. We want to force the ball outside. Against the pass, we will not allow the ball to be thrown deep down the middle or inside. We want to force the ball to be thrown short and/or outside."
The 2004 LSU game provided a perfect roadmap to counter the Saban defensive philosophy.  As you will recall, David Greene threw for a school record five TDs that day.  Three of them were on fly patterns down the sidelines as Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson got in single coverage against cornerbacks.  The safety was either coming on a blitz or got looked off by Greene.  Another of those touchdowns was on an out route in the red zone.  All of these plays attacked the edges of the Saban defense instead of the interior, where Saban wants to defend at all costs. 

Last year, on the first play of overtime, Richt and Bobo went right for the edge, hitting Mikey Henderson on a fly route down the sideline in man coverage.  I'm convinced that the only reason we didn't see this more of those throws in Tuscaloosa was because the coaches were still uncertain about the ability of our offensive line to protect.  That's also why we saw so many screens and quick slants in Tuscaloosa. 

In short, the edges of Saban's defense are where the points are.  Saban sets out to take the easy stuff off the table and force the other team to execute the most difficult runs and throws.  In 2004, Greene was almost perfect on those throws and Gibson and Brown made great catches when Greene laid it out there.  Look for the same thing Saturday, if the line can protect.  In fact, I think Stafford is more capable of attacking the edges than Greene was.  Staff has shown he can hit deep throws down the sidelines, but because of his arm strength, he can also hit a more difficult throw: the deep out.  We've already thrown a number of these routes this year and I expect to see more Saturday. Again, attack the edges where Saban's defense is most vunerable.  Stafford and the receivers just need to execute because the openings will be there.

As for the running game, I don't see us running right at the Bama front seven.  I expect a number of screens of all variety in the first half because 1) they've worked well all year, 2) we'll need to slow down the pass rush, and 3) we need to move Terrence Cody and get him in space. Once those screens slow down the rush, look for those throws to the edge.

So there's a sketch of a game plan. What do you think?



Anonymous said...

Don't know if you care to hear from an Alabama fan, but I think what you've sketched out is pretty solid. Our secondary is decent, especially on an individual level, but they haven't really been tested yet by a QB who could make accurate deep throws. My biggest fear going into the Clemson game was big plays, although it was a little more focused on big runs from their supposedly great RBs. Our front 7 has turned out to be stronger than what I had hoped going into that game, so the fear really should've been on big plays from Clemson's passing game. Thankfully, that didn't materialize - their only big pass play was a short pass with a lot of YAC - but now we know what to be afraid of.

I think you're right that Saban's defensive philosophy demands a lot out of the DBs. The problem with that, even if you've got good ones, is that it only takes 1 or 2 screwups or simply perfect, indefensible passes (see: last year in OT) to determine the outcome. A 95% success rate by the secondary really isn't good enough, and when the margin for error is so slim you just have to pray that the deep balls never work out.

Some of that will depend on the pressure we can get on Stafford, but he's good enough to come back even if we're getting after him and make a few good throws. So I'll cede you about a 5.5 point head start (which would be higher if I could be more objective) due to the success you'll almost surely have on a few deep throws.

Here's to a better game than either of us wants.

Anonymous said...

It's strange that you've posted this now (for me,anyhow).
I was just discussing this with some Bama guys today.They were asking how UGA will play it and I gave them my opinion that we would use screens,dump offs,a little toss sweep,and some long balls down the sidelines.IMO we won't get much down the middle,although if we can run them to death we might do some of that later on...Bama is talented.They are good,but at this time I think we take them.They have weapons.We have more.Simple as that.
Now when this series rolls around again,it may be a different story,who knows.

Anonymous said...

I too like the calls on attacking his defenses..but I also want to make sure we dont out-think ourselves..stick to what WE DO BEST and when they find the answer ..change the question! No doubt it will be a chess match and the screens will always be in play against Saban's defenses..he loves aggressive defenses and those offer somewhat of a remedy..think Tyson Browning the last time we played in BR..anyway I see this coming down to Tripp Chandler and Bruce Figgens and to some degree Kris Durham..I can easily see Bama doubling both Mo Mass and Slim ( A.J.) and that leaves the front 7 trying to keep the run game in check so I FULLY expect the tight ends and the 3rd receiver to be there for the taking ALL night..if those guys can look the ball in and force some attention to be paid to them then it will truly be.. OK Saban..Pick Your Poison! And even if they do double cover someone..I can trust Stafford to at least test them and put the ball where ONLY our guy can make a play on it or it falls incomplete!
But you are all right..the line has to hold long enough for Stafford!

Anonymous said...

I see two statistical categories determining this game: our number of 1st downs attained (not merely 3rd down conversion but maybe) and thier total rush yards. They have a good defense but big, especially in the front seven (I think their Lb's out weigh Aub's by 15-20 lb avg.). We need to keep them on the field. Yes the deep ball is what Saban gambles on and bc it is so low %. Successful or not, either way it also doesn't keep their d on the field. By stopping their run O, we force them into passing situations, not their strength and also doesn't eat up clock forcing our D on the field for sustained drives. Therefore, I argue for two prime goals A) Load the box and stop their run B)Unless we prove successful early on the fly's to the sideline, minimize the high reward low % and stay high %, pursuing first downs and ball control.

dean said...

I would also like to submit the '05 SECC as another example to your already great analysis. I seem to recall Shockley hitting Bailey on a couple of deep balls in that game as well.

C. Paul said...

Very good read - thanks Quinton.

mike b! is on to something with the TE's and KD being key as well as the idea that we need to not overthink ourselves too much.

We've got enough empirical data to know what we do well on O and what Bama wants to do on D. They key is finding the right balance between the two.

A couple of early big catches for Tripp or Kris Durham will go a long way....

Go Dawgs!!

Smitty said...

Tripp just needs to stay in and block.

Anonymous said...

With you Smitty. Releasing him infrequently enough to keep the lbs honest.

Anonymous said...

Lok at return yards given up in all of AL games this year

Anonymous said...


Saban wasn't LSU's coach in 2005. It was Miles' first season.

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