Reed has been all over the issues with the QB
controversy disgruntlement. Everyone is frustrated by the continued exploitation of the linebackers. The O-line has its issues. The area that really has me bothered, though, is the secondary. Unlike the O-line and linebackers there is experience, talent and some depth in the secondary.
Antwuan Reed, Buddy Jackson are K’Wuan Williams may not be the absolute best, but they are more than adequate. Williams has been picked on as the youngest player in the secondary. What’s troubling is that they haven’t been aggressive as expected. They have played soft in the coverage and given the receivers in the two games space. This is not part of the aggressive defense we expected. Few if any attempts made to jump routes
The Buffalo game was baffling with that issue even to Coach Graham — other than possibly old instincts from the previous coaching regime kicking in — but the Maine game could at least be explained because the Maine game plan involved using short passes and slants before the Pitt defense could really get coverage. Exploit the weakness in the pass defense with the linebackers.
There was no secret that Maine would keep doing that in the second half, yet there was no adjustment to the defense. No bumping off the line by the corners. More glaring, though, the safeties were not brought up to add congestion to an obvious soft spot in the defense.
Jared Holley, probably Pitt’s best player in the secondary, had only one tackle against Maine. Jason Hendricks only had one tackle (he had one other tackle on punt coverage). Andrew Taglianetti had 3 tackles (and 2 assists on special teams). That shouldn’t happen in a game where the QB threw 46 times (completing 27 of the passes). That really shouldn’t happen when the safety is supposed to be Pitt’s real strength in the secondary.
The safeties have to be more of an element on the defense. They should be playing up more if just to help in pass coverage where the linebackers are a known and exploited weakness.
The haven’t been out there helping K’Wuan Williams. Williams has been picked on by opposing defenses in the first couple of games, yet I saw little from the safeties in shading his way. To give him extra help. To let him try and break on passes and play tighter coverage. Anything. Yet, so far the safeties have been a non-factor.
95 pass attempts in two games (only 69 running plays) to allow 610 yards and 62% completion rate (59-95-1). Coach Graham has expressed his surprise and disappointment over the lack of turnovers. well when the opposing offenses are passing 58% of the time (actually it’s probably closer to 61% when you factor in that 5 of the “running plays” were sacks) and the secondary is playing soft, turnovers are going to be harder to get.
This brings us to the pass defense coordinator/secondary coach, Tony Gibson. I’ve previously stated some wariness about Gibson. Gibson to this point has been every bit as bad as he was under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan. Gibson is a good recruiter, but his secondaries were a source of lamentations in both Ann Arbor and Morgantown. It’s only two games into his time at Pitt, and I hate to jump the gun on any conclusions — but this is not a promising start.
Either he is not actually running the defense expected, or the players aren’t listening to him to this point. My bigger worry, though, is the lack of any adjustments to the secondary so far. Both games saw the opponents pass even more, and little was done to adjust to it. In other phases of the games we at least saw attempts to adjust if not outright differences. But not in the secondary. An area where everyone is healthy and reasonable depth.
And in case you are wondering how bad Gibson was viewed in Michigan?
If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson’s coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was “the worst secondary coach in the country.” Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can’t rule it out.
Now I’m willing to concede that Michigan’s secondary was very thin last year between injuries and players quitting, but he’s not off to a good start.
About the only good news for the secondary at this point is that Iowa is Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. They are a conservative, run first team. 58-42 splits in the first couple of games, with a first year starter at QB now that Ricky Stanzi is gone. If they exploit the hell out of Pitt’s passing defense, then I might be ready to go to panic.