Film Study: Michael Ehrhardt’s fake substitutions

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Aug 30, 2021

From the 2018 World Games to the 2020 semifinals against the Redwoods, Whipsnakes LC long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt has repeatedly proven his ability to take over in big games. He doesn’t just dominate between the arcs -- he dominates from endline to endline.

Ehrhardt is a complete LSM. On the defensive end his range clogs passing lanes, especially on the penalty kill. He is always ready to help the helper. And in classic Whips fashion, he blindsides rollbacks for opportunistic double teams.

His offensive game is more polished than a pole with a 110mph shot. Ehrhardt can stay and play after “THEY’VE GOT NUMBERS!” situations simmer down. Those 5-on-5s and fleeting 6-on-5s are arguably when he’s at his most dangerous.

Ehrhardt as a picker

When Ehrhardt stays on the offensive side of the field, he’ll hunt for picks. At 6-foot-5, Ehrhradt is an enormous road block. Duck under, and you’ll never recover.

Those early shot clock picks are defended differently than picks in settled six-on-six sets. Ehrhardt usually has an offensive midfielder trapped -- or, at least, a two-way midfielder tired from back-to-back possessions. Even defenses that tend to switch between SSDMs and poles won’t want to switch between offensive midfielders and poles.

Because of that confusion -- Are we switching? Fighting through?!?! -- two-man games with :31-:40 remaining on the shot clock produce 38.1% shooting percentages. Way higher than those with :21-:30 remaining (28.5%), :11-:20 (31.9%) or under :10 (28.8%). At their best, two-man games are not tools to change matchups; they are actions to force the defense into second-guessing its scheme.

Ehrhardt is an offensive midfielder’s train ticket to the substitution box. Once he leaves the station, you’re stuck for 52 seconds.

Hedge against those picks, and you’re trailing Ehrhardt by enough space for him to make you pay. He’ll beat you to the midfield line and let John Haus play a give-and-go with Mike Chanenchuk. Or he’ll fake the sub, step back on, and draw in four (!!) defenders with his gravitational pull.

Fake subs

Those fake subs often lead to 2-point shots. Ehrhardt has buried 20.6% of his attempts from beyond the 15-yard arc since 2019 -- not a number you want to leave to chance as an opponent.

Faceoff athlete Joe Nardella is comfortable staying on the field, too. Sometimes he and Ehrhardt will both fake a substitution. Only the Archers are able to regain numbers advantages like this after opponents beat them to the hole.

Ehrhardt as a passer

Most poles will sail a possession shot over the crossbar when they get in trouble. Harmless. Here’s an endline restart.

Not Ehrhardt. He will force slides to commit, and then hit the open man. This skip to Max Tuttle is Schreiberian. Watch the way Ehrhardt waits for this passing lane to open up as defenders converge on him from both sides.

Most of Ehrhardt’s offensive plays won’t show up in the box score. His pick assists. His gravity when he pulls an offensive midfielder into the alley, allowing his teammates to play 5-on-5 offense in space. When he does show up in the box score, it’s usually a momentum-swinging 2-point goal. Opponents spend so much time emphasizing the importance of covering Ehrhardt that when he breaks free for a 2-point try, it can be demoralizing.

Ehrhardt and the Whipsnakes will play the top transition defense in the league on Sunday: Waterdogs LC. Opponents have converted on 20% of their fast break possessions against the Waterdogs. Their two-way midfielders and rope unit rarely lose the race to the hole. The Waterdogs won in Colorado Springs by outrunning the Whipsnakes; can they do it again in the playoffs?

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