In yesterday's installment of our look at the Alabama defensive strategy by the numbers we noted that opposing teams have tended to throw the ball more against the Crimson Tide and how Coach Saban's defense used that to impact opponents' offensive productivity. But do the numbers tell us anything about how it works?
Lets start where we did yesterday with opponents' pass percentage per down. We already noted that teams facing the Alabama defense are choosing to pass more on first and second down. Yet on the most obvious passing situation, third down, the numbers haven't jumped that much.
In fact, opposing offenses passed 128 times against the Crimson Tide last year -- the exact same number of times they did in 2007. Proportionally, that is just 2% more. Not an overwhelming uptick by any means. (Tables 1, 2 and 3).
While the number of third-down passes may not be dramatically increased, what seems to have changed is the certainty on the part of the defense as to what is coming. The logic here isn't revolutionary. By stopping the run on first and second down (which we looked at yesterday), you know the pass is coming on third.
And Coach Saban isn't exactly secretive about what he has in store when that happens.
"On third down, we will primarily play man-to-man and mix-in some zone and blitzes. We will occasionally play man-to-man and blitz in this situation... We will rush four or more players versus the pass about ninety-percent of the time."
So while the percentage of third down passes Alabama defenses faced last season wasn't a dramatic change from the past few years there was a pretty significant difference in the Crimson Tide's ability to deny opposing offenses to succeed in that situation. Third down conversions are down by almost 30% since 2007 (Table 4).
By forcing teams into situations where it is more likely they will pass, the Alabama defense can better prepare to stop the play. This chart is the real world equivalent of Spencer Hall's humorous one done in the wake of the SEC Championship Game last December.
So when we look at the increasing numbers of passes on early downs and the increased certainty of the coming throws on later downs the outcome is what you might expect. Not only are Alabama defensive backs more likely to get opportunities to wreck their particular style of havoc, they are getting it where they want it and when they are expecting it.
The details of what then ensues are after the jump...
The most dramatic result is that Alabama was No. 1 in the nation for Passes Defended and No. 2 for Passes Broken Up last year (trading spots with Nebraska in the categories). Chart-wise, you get exactly what you might expect (Table 5 & 6).
So, while YPR numbers took a spike last year. I assume this could be attributed to teams playing from behind and forced to the passing game in hopes of catching up. That means more desperation passes and that means more opportunities for the Alabama secondary to instill The Fear in opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks.
With that kind of pressure its no it's no wonder that Mark Barron led the SEC in interceptions last year and was tied for fourth in the nation in the category (Table 6). And, given that he says he's mastered Coach Saban's defense, in all likelihood he'll have a sensational 2010 as well.
"I feel like I can play any position they put me in right now. I know pretty much all of them," he said. "If they felt like they needed to put me in at Money, I can play that, Star, I can play that, safety, left, right, strong or free. I feel like I'm ready for whatever they need me for."
While the massive amount of talent Coach Saban has had at his disposal has been important, they've been able to produce because the system is designed to help them succeed. This is something that should be of some relief to Crimson Tide fans harboring concerns over the lack of experience in the secondary (outside of Mr. Barron, of course).
Still, while opposing offenses may be able to take advantage of the opportunity early in the season, it's highly doubtful the trend to reduced passing productivity against the Alabama defense is going to experience a dramatic turnaround in 2010.
Tomorrow: Catering the Offense for the Opportunity
Tables and Statistics
Table 1: Alabama Opponent First Down Plays
Table 2: Alabama Opponent Second Down Plays
Table 3: Alabama Opponent Third Down Plays
Table 4: Alabama Opponent Third Down Conversions
Table 5: Alabama Opponent Receptions
Table 6: Alabama Defensive Secondary (Passes Broken Up & Interceptions)
Chris Brown, Smart Football
- Repost: Preview of Nick Saban's Alabama Defense, June 29, 2009
Brophy, Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals
- Nick Saban: Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles (part I); Oct. 5, 2009
- Nick Saban: Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles (part II - Cover 3); Oct. 5 2009
- Nick Saban: Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles (part III - Cover 1); Oct. 8, 2009
- LSU Defense 2001 (pdf)
- 2010 Coach of the Year Clinic Football Manual
- College Football Statistics (cfbstats.com)