It is certainly no secret to see what the main drawback is on the Pitt football team is this season – it is our pass defense which as it stands today is (still) putrid – we’ll talk about the details of that in a minute.
But it isn’t only the pass defense which is hurting us. We have fielded a stout run defense all season on the whole in giving up only 103 yards per game which is great and lands us 6th nationally.
Yet even with that going for us we been suspect in one of the most important overall defensive areas and that is our Red Zone defense where as you can see we sit dead last in the FBS.
|Team Stats – Through games 10/29/2016|
|Passing Yards Allowed||125||312.3|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||115||145.34|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense||32||0.345|
|4th Down Conversion Pct Defense||T-111||0.667|
|Red Zone Defense||128||0.968|
But wait!! Stats are decieving…
When you drill down into that category you see us doing this:
Our stat is on is the left side and the opponents’ is on the right. So you can see that even with us giving up scores deep in our own territory we do pretty well in holding the other teams to field goals in 35% of their visits.
We saw that writ large in the first 16 minutes of the VT game when we held fast in three red zone series and forced VT to settle for FGs rather than TDs. That happened in three out of the first four times VT had the ball and truly kept us in the game. That is how good our run defense is.
But I wondered why that 65% TD rate happened so I looked back at a bunch of our games. The best I can figure out is that opponent’s have been shredding our pass defense so well they are getting deep into our red zone by the air- by that I mean inside the 10 yard line – and thus felt they could use the run to finish off the drive.
Well in 35 % of those instances it didn’t work out so they had to settle for FGs. None of that is really good news actually, but is just a bit of a silver lining to our defensive work. It is kind of hard to believe that after the first few games we played the opposing DCs would do anything but pass every play on us.
That is the good kind of stubbornness Pitt has going for it. However, the other stubbornness we have is killing us in our losses and hurting us in our wins also.
I find that a contingent of Pitt football fans can’t bring themselves to acknowledge anything that isn’t 100% positive about Pat Narduzzi… or they figure that nothing else matters except Ws in the win column. I love Ws also but as a fan I want to look past just the first level of the scores.
So in watching Pitt play out this season we fans should face the fact that Pat Narduzzi is contributing directly into our lost games.
Even on the surface you see that in our losses to OK State, NC and now VT we have given up a horrendous number of passing yards. Against OK State we gave up 540 passing yards and lost by seven points; against NC we gave up 453 yards and lost by one and against VT we gave up 406 yards and lost by three.
That hurts just to type it – in our three losses we averaged 466 passing yards against us and lost by an average score of 3.3 points. Yet here we are going into the ninth game of the season and Pat Narduzzi and our DC Josh Conklin have stuck with exactly the same defense as we have had all year.
What is the definition of insanity again?
Narduzzi’s insistence, and I think that is exactly what it is as he’s calling the defensive system and tasking Conklin to execute it out on the field, of sticking with the ‘defensive backs on an island‘ (his words) with front four (or front seven) pressure on the QB is contributing to the defense’s failing.
Yet we see them trot out the same pass defense approach game after game after game… and some Pitt fans feel that if he’s doing it then it must either be a good approach or, and I really dislike this opinion, he must have his own players to make it work.
Well hell, if it isn’t working at all with the players you have available to put out there the why in the world is he sticking with it??
After all, isn’t this exactly the same criticism that we fans heaped on Todd Graham with his instance of the ‘pedal to the medal’ offense and having only Tino Sunseri at QB trying to execute it? Every Pitt fan and his brother felt that Graham should have adapted his offense to fit the personnel he had on the roster until he had his recruited players in place to run it.
Let’s all admit it – we criticized the hell out of Graham for that yet are giving Narduzzi a free pass for doing the exact same thing.
Narduzzi could have and still can adapt his defensive system to accommodate his existing personnel – he has a Pitt contract until 2021 so what would be wrong with his adapting his defense in his second year while still recruiting the type of kids he wants to play his favored defense down the road?
This is what is most frustrating to the fans, readers and writers I talk to in the press box … the stubbornness to stick with something that is absolutely not working and is costing us wins at the present moment. The probability is that if we could have kept those three teams we lost to even 100 less yards per game passing we would be 8-0 right now.
8-0 folks and I truly believe we could be there now if Narduzzi could have swallowed enough ego to change his approach to pass defense when he got here and saw what he had to work with. Instead we got another coach who adheres to the square peg in round hole approach.
Look – DBs Webb, Lewis and Mitchell are SRs this year; Maddox is a JR… why not use those guys who will be leaving in an adaptive defense for better effect this year – it ain’t like they are learning Narduzzi’s “on an island” pass defense system for future seasons.
If we completely sucked this year – and I mean throw the season away sucked – then he could have played all his DB recruits as two-deep players from game one and taught them the “island” defense for next year. But we don’t suck and have had a shot at an excellent winning season had he adapted his plans to fit his tools.
Then next year Narduzzi will have a ‘better’ crop of his own recruited DBs to institute his favored defense with the younger, taller and (hopefully) better DBs as his starters.
Instead we have Pitt fans who point to the players themselves for everything wrong with our pass defense in saying they are too short or too slow or whatever… without ever pointing a finger at the coaching staff who is paid well and who is expected to do the best they can with what they have at hand – and that means being smart enough to change their approach when things start to go in the toilet… which was in the second game of this year.