tp://ajc.com/weblogs/atlanta-falcons/20 ... wide-open/
By D. Orlando Ledbetter
It was one of the burning questions that didn’t get properly or thoroughly answered in the aftermath of the Falcons’ dismissal from the playoffs.
Against Seattle and San Francisco, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme seemingly left to the tight end wide open as they were abused in both games by Seattle’s Zach Miller and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.
We asked Coach Mike Smith about it after both games, but he didn’t want to reveal the scheme or publicly throw a couple of his players under the proverbial football 18-wheeler.
Smith had this to say when asked if using his resources to stop the read-option led to the tight end being wide open in the playoffs:
“I’m not going to talk about our strategy. ...The last two weeks, the tight end was the position that had the most production. We’ve got a plan. We go in with a plan saying that we have to make these things happen and when you do you create a situation where you may not have as much emphasis on something else.”
So, it’s up to us to figure out what happened. Good thing they have Game Rewind on NFL.com with the Coaches all-22 film.
Here’s a breakdown of the seven passes that the 49ers caught for 150 yards and one touchdown:
49ers play 1: 3 down-10-Atlanta 42, 9:08 second quarter: Davis started on the right side and ran a shallow crossing route. Free safety Thomas DeCoud was in man coverage, but lost some valuable ground as he had to run around strong safety William Moore. Davis caught the 7-yard route at the 35. DeCoud missed a tackle at the 25. Davis picked up 20 yards after the catch before being tackled by Chris Hope and William Moore. (27-yard gain. Diagram 1 above)
49ers play 2: 1-10-San Fran 19: Davis caught the pass at the 31. He was 6 yards behind Weatherspoon and 8 yards in front of DeCoud. Linebacker. There was a big void in the zone. Davis and picked up 12 yards after the catch. (24-yard gain was nullified by a holding penalty. Diagram 2 and 3 to the left.)
49ers play 3: 2-16-SF 12, 5:12 second quarter: Davis is flanked out to the left. Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson gave him a 7-yard cushion. He ran a curl route and caught the ball at the 22-yard line. DeCoud missed a tackle and Davis ran for 9 more yards before Robinson made the tackle. (19-yard gain. Diagram 4 and 5 to the left.)
49ers play 4: 1-4-A29, 2:28 second quarter: San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman slipped Davis into the backfield as he lined up as the fullback. He ran out to the flat and when he realized that no one came out with him, he turned his route up field in a void in the zone defense behind linebacker Stephen Nicholas and in front of cornerback Asante Samuel. (25-yard gain. Diagram 6.)
49ers play 5: 1-Goal-A4, 2:00 second quarter: On the next play after the 2:00 warning, the Falcons still seem perplexed about what to do about Davis. The 49ers lined up in a power formation with three tight ends. Davis was on the right and Walker was flanked next to him. The athletic Davis blocked down on defensive end Cliff Matthews, made a spin move and raced out to the flat. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick faked the ball to running back Frank Gore to the left and rolled out to his right. Nicholas let Davis go and went after Kaepernick, who flipped the ball to the wide open Davis for the touchdown. (4-yard gain, touchdown. Diagram 7.)
49ers play 6: 2-10-A42, 12:14 third quarter: Walker was lined up in the backfield on the left and went in motion to the right. He stopped at the hash marks. On the snap, he went straight up the field and got inside of Weatherspoon and angled his way down to the 22 yard line. (20-yard gain. Diagram 8.)
49ers play 7: 1-10-SF47, 7:38 third quarter: Davis is lined up tight left. Defensive end Jonathan Babineaux gives him a bump before he rushes the passer and Nicholas tries to jam Davis, who slides out to the numbers and then motors past Nicholas. The Falcons tried to hold up Davis, but couldn’t run with him. He found the void behind Nicholas and in front of DeCoud. “That’s a mismatch,” Fox analyst Troy Aikman said. (31-yard gain. Diagram 9 and 10.)
BLAME GAME: 1. DeCoud, 2. Penalty, 3. DeCoud, 4. Nicholas, 5. Nicholas, 6. Weatherspoon and 7. Nicholas.
CONCLUSIONS: Looks like the Falcons under estimated the unique speed of Davis. He was too fast for their linebackers (ran a 4:38 in the 40 at the combine) and too big for their safeties (6-3, 250). Also, the Falcons were so concerned about the run (read-option), that they let Davis run just about where ever he wanted. He was met with little resistance except for on the 31-yard gainer when they tried to bum him with a defensive end and a linebacker. “The linebackers are not getting underneath those throws,” Fox analyst Troy Aikman concluded.