Army 2013 Review: How The Defense Can Rest
MEDIUM DISTANCE, MAXIMUM URGENCY
A service academy defense cannot be expected to overwhelm opposing offenses – this isn't 1944 or '45. Army was once a national power, but that's just not the kind of program the Black Knights can realistically aspire to be anymore. Times have changed. Within the constraints provided by the present-day landscape of college football, Army's defense – in this or any season – has to be able to achieve a few basic goals.
One goal is to win every other first down. Good offenses are going to win first down some of the time. Being able to win first down half the time will give Army's defense a reasonable chance of stopping a drive before it can get off the ground. Therefore, having a rushing defense that can limit every other first-down carry to no more than three yards will give the Black Knights opportunities to quickly get off the field.
A second goal on defense must be to limit situational passing efficiency and productivity. Army's not going to outweigh many of its opposing offensive lines, meaning that it can't expect to dominate first down and steer itself into favorable second- and third-down situations with relentless regularity. However, when offenses are almost certain to pass on third down and Army can therefore expect what's coming, the Black Knights must be able to get off the field at precisely those times.
With help from the website cfbstats.com, it is clear that Army didn't get off the field with the consistency it needed in 2013. Even more alarmingly, Army's pass defense faltered when Rich Ellerson needed it to be at its best.
When one examines the splits pertaining to Army's pass defense last season, two stats really jump off the page. First, the Black Knights allowed eight first downs on 16 passing attempts in third downs of four to six yards in length. Third down and four to six yards is what would be referred to in general football parlance as "third down and medium," a distance nestled between "short" and "long." It's true that a pass doesn't have to be as vertical in such a situation, but it's still very realistic to expect a pass and therefore have at least some degree of leverage over and against an offense. The 50-percent conversion rate from opposing pass offenses simply cannot continue to exist if Army is going to improve next season. Army's pass defense on third down and anywhere from seven to nine yards was better. The Black Knights allowed six first downs in 17 attempts. That reflects a solid job of getting off the field. Third and medium, though, has to be better.
The other eye-popping stat from Army's pass defense in 2013 is this: When sorted for scoring margin situations, Army's pass defense was never worse than when the Black Knights were trailing by only a touchdown and PAT or less (1-7 points). When Army trailed by 1 to 7 points, the Black Knights conceded 27 first downs, 15 plays of 15 or more yards, and 11 plays of 25 or more yards. It's true that opponents threw the ball 59 times in this scoreboard situation last season, but opponents still completed nearly 63 percent of those passes, a percentage similar to other scoreboard margins from the season. Why is this package of stats so concerning for Army? Let's compare it to the statistical splits for when Army was leading by 1 to 7 points instead of trailing by that margin. When leading by 1 to 7 points, Army conceded a 65.8 percent completion rate on 38 passes (roughly two-thirds of 59), but the Black Knights gave up only 14 first downs and only 8 plays of 15 or more yards, totals roughly half of what Army surrendered when trailing by 1 to 7 points. That's a big gap, even when adjusted for the difference in the number of pass attempts.
When trailing by one score, any team has to be able to prevent the opposition from going up two scores. Army's pass defense lost ground instead of getting stronger in this scoreboard circumstance in 2013. It's something Jeff Monken can look at as he tries to change things in West Point.
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