Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why Is the Defense So Bad?

Now that we've collectively vented, it's time to turn our attention to the central question of the the 2007 season; Why does Navy's defense suck so much? Well, to attempt to explain this question I thought it apt to look into some of the known contributing factors as well as to explore the possibility of others, with the most notable of these being the job performance of defensive coordinator Buddy Green. As usual (in fact more than usual) I'm interested to hear the opinions of other fans on this assessment, and hope that maybe we can come to a uniform understanding of how the Midshipmen could be giving up 460 yards per game and more than 38 points per game against I-A opposition that has a combined .500 winning percentage.

Injuries- Don't get me wrong, Navy's defense still wouldn't be very good had the Midshipmen not lost Jeff Deliz, Clint Sovie, and Ketric Buffin, but chances are the defense doesn't sink into the depths of the Division 1 ranks had those three veteran players not gone down. Losing Sovie was huge not only because he called the plays and set up the defense, but because he had playmaking ability. With all due respect to Tony Haberer (who will get better with age), the sophomore has been badly exposed in zone coverage and doesn't play with near the same motor Sovie does. Deliz going down took away one of Navy's most sure tacklers, and with respect to Wyatt Middleton put the Navy defense in a bind. Middleton has talent, but he doesn't have the consistency or experience this defense badly needs. The loss of Ketric Buffin to a broken arm against Pitt deprived the defense of yet another good, disciplined tackler and took away maybe the only player on Navy's defense who is capable of jumping routes and picking passes off. Losing any one of those guys hurts enough with an inexperienced defense, but losing all three players virtually deprives the defense of it's most clutch assets. And it's shown too, as Navy has been hard pressed coming up with turnovers and has been absolutely dreadful on third down this season.

Youth- Coming into the year we all realized Navy's inexperienced defense would struggle. That defense, already fairly young to begin with, got a lot younger with the early season injuries to Deliz and Sovie, and continues to be dominated by either young players with no experience, or older players with limited experience. Any way you cut it, the point is that we're playing more underclassman than in previous years. Obviously, this is a problem at any school, but particularly at Navy, where players need the time to physically develop and to learn the scheme and systems. Take away a year or two of that process before a player has to go in, and you're naturally going to have guys learning on the fly and in the process struggling to contain offenses.

Leadership- In the past we've had continuity in terms of class and guys who lead collectively. Even in 2005, when the defense was very much inexperienced, did we see guys step up and take a leadership role. In that case it was the players from the Class of 2006. This year the defense is playing numerous players from all four classes, and although the sophomore class appears to be filled with some talent, no group of players has yet to really assert a leadership role. Irv Spencer and Matt Wimsatt have stepped up with individual efforts and shown flashes of team leadership, but I still don't think they've been able to pull the entire unit together and establish cohesiveness or continuity. Again, part of this comes back to the fact that Coach Green has been playing basically everyone on the three deep at one point or another.

Effort- This is not an opinion call on my part. Not only has Paul Johnson publicly questioned the effort of this Navy defense (after the Ball State loss) but the media and fans has started to wonder whether or not the drive and determination that were hallmarks of previous Navy teams are there at all this season. Theoretically this Navy defense should be the most talented under Coach Green, yet we're learning first hand that the fight and heart given by previous Navy defenses far outweighs any advantage in 40 times or shuttle runs that this defense has. But then again, I guess it's hard to give the maximum amount of effort when there is no unit cohesiveness and your getting pulled out every other series for an underclassman who is just as lost as you are.

Personnel?- Buddy Green did a good job in previous seasons of masking Navy's obvious talent deficiencies on defense with his zone coverages and relatively simple defensive gameplan. This hasn't been the case this year, as Navy's defense has been out-hustled, out-worked, and just plain out-athleted on numerous occasions this season. Part of this has to do with the teams Navy has played this year compared to previous years, but to explain away the problem to just playing better teams with better athletes isn't going to work. Part of the problem, as I've alluded to, is the constant rotating of players in and out. Basically everyone on the three deep has played at some point this year, and aside from rocks like Irv Spencer and Rashawn King, most players have come out in different packages. Also, I'm no recruiting expert and I honestly have no idea what goes on at NAPS, but one has to wonder if the team is just not getting the right kinds of players. David Mahoney, Rob Caldwell, and Tyler Tidwell weren't exactly hot recruits, but they matured into good players who got the job done. Is it simply a case of waiting on players to develop, or is there a problem in the development process? I don't know, but all I'm saying is that from watching this team is seems more apparent then ever that they are just physically being dominated. I'm hoping this goes back to the inexperience issue, because if it doesn't we're in real trouble.

Coaching?- All throughout this season, I've defended Buddy Green and explained away the defenses lack of production to injuries, youth, and bad fortune. But if your not at least entertaining the thought that Buddy Green has done a less than impressive job at the helm of the defense, than your probably smoking something illegal. I thought John Feinstein made a great point on the postgame show yesterday when he said that nobody expects Navy's defense to be good, but that we should have expected it to be showing at least some improvement by now. The mere fact that Navy's defense has progressively gotten worse, coupled with the idea that their is no unit cohesiveness and the aforementioned questionable effort, lead me to think that some of the blame could, and perhaps should, be leveled at Coach Green. Obviously there are factors like injuries he can't control, but then again there are other factors, like play calls and personnel packages, which are entirely in his control. Of certain concern is the issue of blitzing, in particular when to blitz and who to blitz. Has anyone else questioned why Ram Vela is constantly blitzing from the edge, only to run into a tackle who easily redirects him out of the play? I sure have. In addition to questions over scheme, there are also questions regarding personnel. Why, can someone explain to me, was Greg Thrasher playing free safety yesterday? Not only is he a cornerback by nature, but he isn't a very good tackler and has barely played since his decent 2005 season. I know Keven Snyder is no Josh Smith, but it makes more sense to stick with the guy who went in when Ketric went down and has shown some promise in run support. After all, he's going to be around in the offseason when the team is trying to get better, as opposed to Thrasher, who will graduate in May. Now, I want to be careful with the implications of all this, as I'm not by any means advocating the firing of Coach Green that I've heard some fans at games call for. To often in today's sporting environment do we assign all the blame on the coach or coaches, and are quick to dismiss them without giving them a chance to adjust. And adjust is exactly what Coach Green needs to do. This defense needs to show some improvement by seasons end, and, once more, needs to be better next season. We've afforded him and factored in the excuses, but after a certain amount of time I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the play of the entire unit to be raised and for improvement to be made.

The scary part of all of this is that we're witnessing these defensive deficiencies through the eyes of the 16th ranked offense in Division I-A (nomenclature back by popular demand.) Could you imagine the course of events had the offense not played so well up to this point, and if, God forbid, we'd had to punt more than once per game? Even more pressing is the question of whether or not their is any silver lining to be taken from this, or if we're in line for further digression and struggles both this year and next year. I don't have the answers, but if the above problems cannot be addressed at some point, then I fear that even games against Northern Illinois and North Texas will come down to the wire.


Anonymous said...

Your poll question should be do you think a Navy opponent will score 100 on them ?

Turnovers are part luck and part being in position to either cause them or recover them. There were a few tips and dropped balls yesterday but we were no where near them. The rest of the day was spent just chasing Blue Hens - mostly from behind.

This defense is in chaos right now and I think the coaches should just pick their team, find what the kids can do well and let them learn how to play together. I'm sure each of these players had success in high school - it's not like they just started playing the game. It just looks that way.

Gary said...

We never expect the D to be the carrying force of the team but we always expect a servicable defense that will at leat allow our 40 points to be enough.
This year is a travesty and you have to hold the D Coach accountable-and he should expect and accept it.
What happened to everyone who was saying during the spring about those Buddy Green "fly to and attack" defenses?
Well there seems to be none of that -in fact these guys seem to shy away from contact and there is no gang tackling that I see.
It was if PJ saw it in the spring saying-yeah we have a guy with size and all of that but lets see how they respond when punched in the nose?
Well now we know- they have run and hid.
While my HS still would not score on them- most of the local NJ high schools in this area would trample them.
But it was a nice crowd there yesterday and I am wondering how many from Delaware were there?
BTW dont you think that Army will spank this D too by standing in the pocket and passing on it all day too?

Anonymous said...

In the past several years a win over Army has almost been a foregone conclusion. Based on what we’ve seen from the defense this year, comparing common opponents and the strength of schedule between the two teams it is hard for me to see any reason why Army won’t be favored by a least a touchdown over Navy when they meet in December.

I hope they can get the D to a functional point by the time the game rolls around. It would be crushing to have an offense like we’ve got this year and not, at least, retain the CIC trophy.

Anyway, this seems to be the elephant in the room that no one wants to touch.

Any thoughts out there?

Anonymous said...

The biggest reason the defense is so bad is poor coaching management last year in grooming replacements for departing seniors. It takes some game time exposure to do a good job on that and we kept Chan, Mahoney etc in the games when we were 30 or more points ahead. When we did give them a breather it was with seniors. Poor planning. We're paying the price.

We have young inexperienced defensive players who had impressive performance records in high school. We get a 2.0 for development.

Shack's Daddy said...

Great points from Adam and the gang.

football dad dan said...

I've been saying this for well over a year now ---> It's true on both sides of the ball, ... but obviously with the large percentage of senior(class of 2007)players making up the defense last year, a huge impact this season. Even with 20+ point leads in the 2nd half of games last season, guys like Tidwell, Mahoney, Caldwell, Chan, etc... played over 95% of the game. Totally UNSAT!

goalielax said...

yay for 1-A!

Melinda said...

I think this is a case of a lot of small things adding up and equating a big problem. Some crucial injuries combined with a lack of experience and size has created a big problem for Buddy Green. He has coached well at Navy for 6 years and I don't think the problem lies with him. I think it is circumstance. Scheming on defense is much harder than offense in terms of overcoming key injuries. It is much harder to make up for the size and speed differential for a small defense like Navy's.... so this problems individually don't seem like backbreakers, but collectively, they really turn the tide against the midshipmen. I feel like the stars have not aligned correctly for Navy to win against Notre Dame Saturday and I hate that. This so could have been THE year. But Navy's particular weaknesses this year are going to be the easiest ones for the Irish to exploit. Most of them doing with the difference in the calibre of the athletes. :-(

How horrible is it that the offense is REALLY clicking and the defense can't get stops?? If you could only combine last year's defense with this year's offense!!

bigrich said...

I agree with u melinda I said the same thing on another page it is not Buddy Green's fault they r young and will get better !! from what I am hearing they have a GREAT CLASS OF DB'S AND LB'S COMING IN FROM naps they will get better by the way no one was pointing fingers last year when they where kicking BC'S BUTT AND IT WAS A STUPID CALL BUY PJ THAT LOST THE GAME FOR THEM !! defence over Buddy Green's time here at NAVY HAS NOT BEEN A PROBLEM THEY WILL GET BETTER !!