But even without forcing a ton of turnovers, Navy's defense could be playing better than it currently is. Case in point, take a look at the 2005 season, in which an inexperienced Navy team went -6 in the turnover department and still went 8-4 with a bowl victory over Colorado State. So, if forcing turnovers aren't the issue, what's so different about this year's defense that has caused all the panic?
Obviously, the answer at this point is Navy's run defense, which let's face it, sucks. But it's not like this has been a reoccurring problem, at leats not in the recent past. Let's go back again to last season and explore this facet of the game. Last year the Mids ranked 32nd in the country against the run, due largely to two separate dynamics. The first, or the cynics view as I like to say, has to do with the relative ranking of the pass defense (the aforementioned 100th in the country, leading other team's to throw more.) The other reason, however, has to do with how Navy's personnel understood the scheme and executed their proper assignments. This is the part where I throw out terms that make me look like I know what I'm talking about, namely gap responsibility and containment, something that the Midshipmen excelled at last year and struggle with this year.
So, what exactly is the problem this year which has caused Navy's defense to give up large amounts of rushing yards and fail to do the things last year's defense did? Obviously, we have to start with personnel, even though I'm usually not huge on emphasising the role of individual players. The reality is that this year to date, we have seen a considerable drop-off in ability at the linebacker position, specifically the outside backer position that was vacated by David Mahoney and Tyler Tidwell after the Care Car Bowl. I don't know if this is so much a referendum on how good the Matt's are (Humiston, Wimsatt, Nechak) so much as it demonstrates just how special David Mahoney and Tyler Tidwell were. Dave was seriously one of the most dynamic defensive players to ever play at the Academy, and just had the raw athletic ability and omnipresent football sense to come off blocks and fly to the ballcarrier. Tyler had similar ability, although not to the level Mahoney had, but most importantly these guys were smart and understood their roles. When I see the defense missing tackles in the backfield and failing to bring down the quarterback in blitz situations, I can't help but think that Mahoney or Tidwell would have made at least some of those plays. This was especially a problem against Ball State and Temple, as we saw Nate Davis and Adam DiMichele extend drives by using their feet to either buy time or rush for the first down in third down situations.
The other main problem has to do with defensive alignment. I could try to explain what exactly is going wrong, but because I'm no expert on the subject and because Phelix already has it covered, I'm going to refer you to the Bird Dog for a more thorough explanation. Below, Phelix takes over for Bill Wagner when discussing defense alignment:
PJ is referring to how the defensive line and down linebackers are supposed to line up across from the offensive line. These assignments are the fundamentals of pass rushing and gap control in the running game. For example, in the five technique that PJ is talking about, the lineman/LB is lined up on the outside eye of the tackle . His responsibility would be the C gap, between the tackle and tight end. In the nine technique, the lineman/LB is lined up on the outside eye of the tight end and is responsible for outside containment. Now, multiply missed assignments like this by each down lineman or LB and it’s obvious how there can be such wide running lanes for opposing RBs, and why opposing offensive lines have no problem handling our pass rush.
So there you have it. In a nutshell Navy's defensive lineman and linebackers are not keeping gap responsibility, and because of this are getting blown up on running plays and basically taking themselves out of plays because of where they are lined up pre-snap. This is largely due, I presume, to the loss of Clint Sovie at the middle linebacker position, a point which has forced Coach Green and Coach Johnson to try to simplify the defensive shceme. What I don't understand is why exactly Irv Spencer couldn't make the calls, and despite the question being brought up in a previous presser, I don't remember hearing a straight answer (anyone?) In any case, this may be slow and trying process, but at some point this year either Pospisil or Haberer are going to have to step up and take responsibility for lining up the defense. This concept also goes hand in hand with the personnel argument, and if we explore the issue we can see how last year's defensive linemen understood their gap responsibilities and for the most part were where they needed to be. John Chan was especially disciplined in this regard, as well as being an underrated player against the run. While the Midshipmen defense last year may not have been as fast as this year's, they were more often in position to make plays because they had been groomed in the scheme and understood their responsibilities, something Navy's young defense this year has struggled to do without the likes of Clint Sovie and Jeff Deliz. This is why it drives me crazy to hear the talking heads on ESPN and the like go on all day talking about size, speed, etc, because at the basic core of defensive football, you're not going to succeed if you don't play smart and know your assignments.
I genuinely believe that our offense is good enough this year to score on everyone we play, but obviously that's the least of the team's concerns right now. Still, if the defense can find something of an identity and perhaps correct some of these problems with alignment and scheme, Navy will still have a good shot at the postseason, and could be well on the way to achieving the ultimate goal of the CINC trophy.