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Whither Our Defensive Backs

A couple of recent articles have come out about our struggles in pass coverage.  First, we have a very interesting Times-Picayune piece about the struggles in pass defense. The article makes a good point:

Appalachian State completed a 44-yard pass against the Tigers, and Mississippi State had one go for 41 yards. A ghastly breakdown against Auburn resulted in a 58-yard completion that seemed to doom LSU in the fourth quarter, but a memorable comeback led by quarterback Jarrett Lee and tailback Charles Scott snatched victory in the final minutes on a touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell.

But overall, opponents are connecting on just over 50 percent of their passing attempts against LSU, and the Tigers have more interceptions (four) than they have allowed passing touchdowns (three).

In other words, it is simply a play here and there.

This would suggest the problems are not necessarily chronic, or borne out of poor strategy, but are simply isolated breakdowns caused by some factor.  The article then addresses what that factor creating the breakdowns may be:

"When the offense is sped up, we're having a hard time getting the right personnel on the field and getting the right calls and checks in, because we're still looking to the sideline trying to get the base call," junior safety Harry Coleman said. "By the time we get it straight the ball has been snapped, and so sometimes guys are out there just playing ball and not knowing what the call is."

So the problem is that the players on the field sometimes don't know what they're supposed to be doing on a particular play because of problems in substitution and in communicating the play call.

It's all very sensible, and sounds like it could be correctible.  A few possible corrections:

  • Simplify the substitution schemes.  Be a little hesitant to move players in and out, recognizing that there is a cost associated with pulling players off the field and getting someone else on, especially when the opposing offense is inclined to snap the ball quickly.  Do so only when the down and distance makes it particularly important.
  • Simplify the players' roles.  For example, instead of playing Chad Jones in 4 different positions, play him in only one, so that he is never confused about what mode he should be in on a given play (more on that later).
  • Figure out how to do the same substitution and playcalling more efficiently.  As young players become more experienced, this should come naturally, but it may be hard to force it to happen quickly.

This article makes it clear, with quotes from both players and coaches, that everyone acknowledges an issue of communication and that they're working on correcting it.

Now let's look at the exact same problem from a different perspective, with a little more editorializing:

Part of LSU’s problem with pass defense this season starts on the sidelines, according to safety Chad Jones.

As was often the case on offense last season, the defensive plays are getting to the field late this season because of poor sideline management. Jones and other late substitutes have often seemed confused just before a snap as they look around and frantically question teammates.

Wow, Chad Jones is really pissed.  But let's look at his actual quotes:

“We don’t always get the play in on time because we’ve got so many guys running on and off the field with different formations,” Jones said.

Hmm..  That sounds pretty much exactly like what was said in the other article, as quoted by Harry Coleman above.

“Since I’m a bigger dude at defensive back, I can play linebacker and stop the run in a passing situation or I can cover a fast guy out of the backfield,” Jones said. “It’s not hard to remember the responsibilities. It’s that we need to get the play in faster or get the personnel in faster on the field.”

And so does that.

“Oh yeah, I’ve definitely missed a few coverages,” Jones said. “I miss coverages because I’m running on the field, and my back is toward the coaches while they’re giving the play signal. So I’m running on the field not knowing the play. And the play’s about to go on, and I’m asking somebody else what’s the play. And they don’t have time to give me the play, so it gets mixed up.”

That sounds like he is blaming himself a lot more than the coaches

“I’ve got to learn all four positions, and I’ve got to know which one I’m playing because sometimes it’s difficult,” he said. “I’m at nickel, and I’m thinking dime. Or I’m at safety, and I’m thinking linebacker. I’m at linebacker. I’m thinking safety. I’ve just got to lock in and think what I’m doing.”

And so does that.

I don't see the part about blaming the coaches.  I do see him suggesting that the problem is exactly the same thing that was discussed earlier.  We also see him suggesting or implying possible solutions, including:

  • not substituting as much, or
  • simplifying his role.

Very similar to the solutions suggested above.

The difference is in the spin.  Glenn Guilbeau adds the first two paragraph, saying that the problem "starts on the sideline", which I suppose it does, but the clear implication is that it's a coaching problem.  And the clear other implication is that Chad Jones is blaming the coaches, a group Guilbeau historically maligns.  

The implication is intentional, and the deniability is plausible.  He never actually says that it's Les Miles' fault, nor does he ever actually say that Jones is blaming Les Miles.  He is only saying it starts "on the sidelines".. except when he says that it starts with himself I suppose.

It's a propogandist's trick.  Suggest something very troubling (Chad Jones blames the coaches for coverage breakdowns), but don't actually say it explicitly.  Then back up the suggestion with quotes that don't actually suggest it, but sound like they might if you don't look at them too hard.  Then if you're called on it, say you never suggested what you suggested and blame the reader for misinterpreting you.

Personally, I'm just glad to know that there seems to be widespread consensus between coaches and players on exactly what the problem is, and that they're actively working to correct it.