Looking closer at the secondary's problems

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It’s not breaking news to say that the Irish secondary has struggled covering the pass. But after watching the past few games and seeing some of the problems that the Irish have been having, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to break down some tape and see if we could diagnose some of the problems.

First and foremost, are the problems that have been coming from covering the flag pattern, or seven route as we’re all calling it right now. (Here’s a quick breakdown of a basic route tree if you’re interested.) Coach Weis addressed this issue on Sunday after hearing Sergio Brown talk about some problems the defense was having.

“As a safety when you’re playing two deep with some of those situations
were when they hit these corner routes, a part of the responsibility is
for the corner to sink and get a little deeper, but the biggest part of
the responsibility is for the safety to get off the numbers and go make
a play on the ball.”

As you can see in this video’s first play, the seven route burns the corner and safety with a combination pattern. The safety is late to react and the corner jumps the hitch. That’s a pretty basic combo route and it’s got to just kill Corwin Brown to see his guys falling for that, but it’s a product of low confidence and a corner worrying that he’s getting beat on a short route, and a safety slow to diagnose a play.

When Corwin was asked about the big plays coming on that pattern, he acknowledged that it all comes down to recognition.

“The first thing is realizing that you’ve given it up once before and teams are going to continue to throw it. Individually, if you’ve given up a couple, you’ve got to see what it is you’re doing.”

The play midway through the video is a great illustration of needing to recognize a pattern. Sergio Brown gets caught in his backpedal as USC receiver Damian Williams is running full speed at him, and Sergio lets Williams eat him alive, corkscrewing his hips into the ground before breaking to the flag for an easy completion. You can see Darrin Walls beat on the pattern, but Sergio’s inability to see the pattern develop, along with Gary Gray not getting any depth in his zone all factor into a big gain by the offense.

(Interestingly, this play is a perfect example of what CW was talking about when coaching his tight ends. There’s nothing more dangerous than a receiver running right at someone. Williams does a great job of driving on Sergio, putting him in a tough spot and turning a great route into a big gain.)

Lastly, the hesitation in the secondary is contributing to some mediocre ball skills. As Jon Tenuta said today, and has said for 30 years, “If you think you stink.”  Too often the secondary is thinking before reacting. Kyle McCarthy is late to break on a few of these passes, and opportunities to make a play on balls are missed because people are late recognizing what’s happening.