Word of Muth: Super Bowl Review Part II
by Ben Muth
Welcome to Part II of the Super Bowl breakdown. If you missed it, here’s Part I. There’s a ton of individual plays I want to talk about, so this week’s column is basically going to be a comic book with duller colors and fewer deaths from a direct result of onomatopoeia.
On their first drive after the blackout, the 49ers marched right down the field and scored on a long pass to Michael Crabtree. The drive mainly consisted of long passes and Colin Kaepernick scrambles, two things that don’t really concern us for the time being. We’re going to skip ahead to their next touchdown drive.
After a big punt return from Ted Ginn and a pass to Vernon Davis, San Francisco was inside the 10-yard line. Greg Roman dialed up a counter trey. I don’t know who invented the counter trey, but it was the 80’s Redskins of Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel that perfected it and brought it to widespread use.
Since this is 2012, the 49ers run it a little differently than the Hogs, but the scheme itself is the same. San Francisco ran it from a shotgun trips alignment and faked a sprint out pass or quarterback sweep to the left, bringing Frank Gore across the formation for a counter to the right.
The blocking is a simple down-down-kick scheme. Ideally you create at least one double team on the play side, and here the 49ers get one from tackle Anthony Davis and guard Alex Boone. Mike Iupati pulls and kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage while Delanie Walker comes across and leads up into the hole.
A lot of good stuff happens on this play, but let’s start with the strong double from Davis and Boone. You’ll notice they’re hip-to-hip and driving the three-technique off the ball and inside. They’re widening the hole and giving Terrell Suggs a lot more space to close down before Iupati comes to kick him out.
As they’re double teaming the defensive tackle, Boone sees Dannell Ellerbe trying to run through the A-gap. Just like on a power scheme, the front side double team is working to the backside inside linebacker (Ray Lewis in this case). But the double also is responsible for all run-throughs, meaning if the playside linebacker tries to shoot the gap, you have to come off the double and handle it.
The reason the double-teaming guard has to come off is that the puller probably won’t be there in time to block the playside linebacker if he bursts through the line immediately. Boone sees Ellerbe’s runthrough late, but is able to dive and cut him down in the A-gap (arrowed).
The other key thing from the shot above is that Suggs is trying to work underneath Iupati’s kick-out block. That’s going to force both the lead blocker (Walker) and runner (Gore) outside.
Walker reads Iupati’s block beautifully and gets outside the pile up and onto safety Ed Reed (circled and very blurry) where he throws as pretty of a cut block as you’ll ever see. Gore essentially walks in for the score.
What went wrong for the Ravens? It looks like someone messed up on their run fit, because the game plan to stop this type of play sure wasn’t to have a coverage-first defensive back play off a lead blocker and make an open-field tackle. Either Suggs wasn’t supposed to spill the play, Ellerbe wasn’t supposed to run through, or defensive coordinator Dean Pees wildly overestimated Lewis’ ability to scrape over the top of everything (arrowed).
That last one is my working theory. Considering this is basically the same blocking action as power, a base 49ers run, it makes sense that the Ravens repped the hell out of how they wanted to fit it. A really effective way to stop power is to create a bunch of trash on the front side (by running through with the inside linebacker and wrong-arming with the edge guy) to force the ball carrier lateral. They're then counting on the backside linebacker to scrape over the top of everything. It’s tough for the pulling guard to see the backside player, so he usually goes unblocked and should be able to make the play.
The problem is that power is typically run to the strong side, and counter trey is run to the weak side. So instead of Lewis recognizing the play quickly, running through to plug a hole, and taking the teeth out of a double team while Ellerbe runs over the top to make the play, Lewis is the one that had to do all the running. That’s not what you want Ray Lewis to do during the last game of a very long career.
In the play above, Lewis over-committed to Kaepernick’s initial action and then had no chance to run across the field with Gore. He wasn’t blocked, and still came nowhere close to making the play.
After the Gore touchdown, the 49ers defense made their biggest play of the game by forcing and recovering a fumble in Baltimore territory. San Francisco’s offense failed to pick up a first down though, so the 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal.
On the next possession, San Francisco once again found their way to the red zone, this time thanks to long pass to Randy Moss and a long run by Gore. On second-and-7 from the 15, Baltimore decided to bring a cover-0 pressure at Kaepernick.
There’s a lot going on up there, but it’s all gap-sound, which is the key when you’re facing a mobile quarterback with cover-0 behind it. Both defensive ends are rushing straight up the field for contain. On the offense’s right, Ellerbe is rushing the A-gap while Courtney Upshaw handles the B-gap. On the other side, Haloti Ngata and Suggs are running a twist, with Ngata going wide to the B-gap and Suggs coming behind into the A-gap. Lewis has Gore man-to-man.
San Francisco looks to be in a 2 jet half-slide protection. That means everyone but right tackle Davis is sliding to the gap on their left, and Gore is coming across the formation to block whichever linebacker comes first. Keapernick is hot if both linebackers on the right side come.
One interesting thing to note is that Alex Boone takes a step-and-a-half in his slide to the left before stopping in his tracks and working back towards Ellerbe. This break from assignment is actually taught because of one very popular blitz.
The most common blitz in both the FBS and the NFL out of a 3-4 is what most people call "strike." It’s so common that other teams even call it the "NCAA blitz" because everyone runs it.
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On strike, the defensive line slants one way, let’s say right, and the linebackers to the other side blitz outside the slant. In this case, imagine Arthur Jones and Ngata slanting hard towards the offense’s left, with Jones coming all the way to the A-gap and Ngata looping out for contain. Upshaw would rush wide and Ellerbe would rush almost straight ahead into the B-gap behind Jones. Teams often will drop the other defensive end into coverage. Defenses love it because you overload one side, forcing teams to throw hot, but you can also run sound coverage behind it.
Because offenses saw so much of that blitz, they started to adjust the rules of the most common protection to account for it. Now, a lot of teams will teach their guards to stop in their tracks if they see the nose tackle working hard away from them in the same direction as the slide. That’s what Boone does here (arrowed). When he sees Ngata slant away, he stops and ends up picking up Ellerbe in the A-gap, leaving Upshaw for Gore. The quarterback will still be hot. You can’t coach him to look to see if both linebackers come, but you’re only hot if the guard can’t come back and pick one of them up.
You’ll notice that because Boone aborts his slide, the 49ers can’t pick up the looping Suggs. The 49ers still have enough bodies to pick up the stunt, but it’s really difficult to do so because of the way the Ravens are running the twist. It’s not ideal, but since Kaepernick is supposed to throw hot anyway, it shouldn’t matter.
Of course, Kaepernick sees hot reads differently from most quarterbacks. Rather than immediately look for his hot receiver, he decides to pull the ball down and run away from the pressure. The Ravens have that accounted for though, because DeAngelo Tyson is already wide for contain. Tyson (circled) is bull rushing straight into Joe Staley. That's a strange choice if you’re trying to keep contain, but I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.
It looks like Tyson is having a hard time changing direction in order to chase down Kaepernick. That’s weird, because most people can push a 320-pound dude one direction, then immediately stop that momentum, reverse field, and get up to top speed instantly. But again, Tyson is a professional I’m sure he has this under control.
This is what drives defensive coaches insane. You dial up a risky-but-fundamentally sound blitz. You get exactly what you want: an unblocked defender and a young quarterback who doesn’t want to throw hot, so he tries to run around and make a play on his own. This is how you create negative plays for the offense. But instead, your idiot defensive end would rather put both hands in the middle of Staley’s chest because this could be the play where his crappy bull rush finally leads to a sack.
It’s amazing to me how often contain rushers fail to keep contain on blitzes. It’s like they don’t know what the rest of the defense is doing. If they just do their job, they can fall ass backwards into cheap sacks that count the same as the ones Dwight Freeney gets with his insane spin move. But Tyson wanted to do his own thing, so instead of being gifted a sack, he’s gifted The X of Great Shame.
Following the Kaepernick touchdown scramble, San Francisco decided to go for two. They lined up in shotgun tight end trips to the right. Baltimore came out with eight men on the line of scrimmage and basically held up a sign that said "we are blitzing everyone we can."
The Ravens rushed everyone straight ahead and played cover-0 behind it. It was a Pop Warner-level blitz, but one clever thing they did do was to have Reed blitz off the edge and Suggs account for Gore man-to-man. Every offense is going to account for Suggs as a blitzer, so by making him a dropper you really increase your chances of freeing somebody up.
I circled Staley above because he’s tapping his hip. It’s hard to tell that from the picture, but trust me, that is what’s happening. Staley’s doing that to let Gore know that he’s pinching down inside immediately, meaning that Gore has anything off the edge. He essentially turned a half-slide protection into a full-slide protection.
Backs are taught to work inside-out when handling threats off the edge. So Gore goes to Suggs and leaves Reed unblocked. I guess you could hope that Gore would see that Suggs isn’t rushing hard and try to come off on Reed, but that isn’t realistic, particularly with the jump that Reed got. The Ravens forced Kaepernick to throw right away and it wasn’t something he was able to do accurately. Obviously, this would come into play again.
Following the failed two-point attempt and a field-goal drive by the Ravens, San Francisco got the ball back one last time. They were down five and had a chance to win the game. Greg Roman decided to lean on what had been their best play up to that point: the zone-read arc lead. They ran it on the first play of the drive, and called it again a few plays later.
I diagrammed the play in Part I, but there it is again. The reason the play was so successful for San Francisco was that Suggs would see the arc block from Walker and rush wide to take away Kaepernick, leaving a huge hole between the double team and Suggs.
Here though, the Ravens are running a version of the strike blitz I talked about earlier. Ngata (lined up as a three-technique) slants hard inside to the A-gap while Ellerbe blitzes into the B-gap. Staley sees the blitz coming and slows up to gather Ellerbe down inside with him. Notice the super-wide left arm that he uses to club/grab the linebacker.
It’s great awareness by Staley; the key to the play, really. Now, it’s up to Lewis to come across the formation and make a tackle.
Lewis gets there in time, but can’t play off Bruce Miller’s lead block. Walker is also outside and he picks up Bernard Pollard. Gore (arrowed because the picture is so blurry), bounces it outside of Walker’s block and gains 33 yards before being run out at the 7.
The play above was the fifth time San Francisco ran zone-read arc lead in the game. They gained nine, seven, 21, eight, and 33 yards on those snaps. That is incredible production, so it makes sense that they called it again on the very next play, first-and-goal from the 7.
LaMichael James gained two yards on that play.
That’s why I don’t like people blaming the late-game play calling for San Francisco’s loss. On first down they ran the most successful play they had. On second down they got the quarterback out of the pocket and gave him a pass/run option. Then they tried to call a straight Kaepernick run, but couldn’t get the play off. They ended the drive with two pass attempts. I don’t know what else they should’ve tried. Maybe zone-read arc lead again, but that would’ve been the fourth time on that drive, and all from a formation that they didn’t run anything else out of.
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The final play is a bit of a mystery to me. It looks like Gore went the wrong way, but it’s tough to tell without knowing what protection was called. One of the frustrating things about writing this column is that it’s easy to tell the protection when everything goes right, but tough when just one guy does something wrong.
It looks like the offensive line is running 3 jet and Gore is running 2 jet, but it might have been a man-protection scheme where a lineman went to Gore’s guy and that’s what screwed everything up. The shame of it is that San Francisco had enough blockers to pick up the blitz, but just didn’t execute. I’m sure whoever was to blame will have a long offseason full of regrets.
That's a wrap on Word of Muth for the 2012-2013 season. Usually, I would to give a review of the 49ers offensive line as a whole, but I think my thoughts on them are pretty clear: I think they’re the best unit I’ve seen since I started this column three years ago. None of the starting five are free agents, so there's little to talk about. The 49ers are set up front.
I’m going to take a couple of weeks off, but I’ll be back sometime in March with new stuff. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter. If you have any suggestions for offseason columns, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Right now, the plan is to go back and look at teams I didn’t cover this year, but I’m open to doing other things as well if I get some good ideas. See you soon.
20 comments, Last at 21 Feb 2013, 3:04am
#1 by DisplacedPackerFan // Feb 14, 2013 - 2:26pm
The only thing that could make this better that I can think of is if it would be possible to get video/gifs/flash/whatever of the plays that get dissected so that a reader can get a real time sense of the play (or even put some pauses and notes in) and then get a chance to see the stills and the commentary, it would just help people pull it all together a little more.
Mostly though I'm commenting to say again how much I enjoy your articles. You get in depth enough to pass on a lot of great information, but don't lose the reader in concepts they may not have ever seen before or had the daily exposure to that a player would have. I know you get positive feedback, like most other authors on this site get, but it never hurts to keep giving it. I play offensive line at lower levels, so I knew some of this stuff, but I still learn from these and get a better appreciation for what teams are doing.
Of course as a homer I would love to see a breakdown of the Packers, especially what the line doesn't do and maybe could do in the running game that has been so poor for so many years now that I can't put it all on the backs.
#2 by Dean // Feb 14, 2013 - 3:28pm
Admit it, Ben, you took a little extra enjoyment this week in putting the X of shame on a defensive player.
Fantastic stuff, as always.
For the offseason, maybe you could talk about the draft process and how it relates to an offensive lineman? We know bigger is better, and agile is better, and long arms are better, and strong is better, but I'm sure you could go into great detail on that. What separates the first round pick from the mid round pick from the late round project? What teams/systems value what attributes and why?
#3 by Bill (not verified) // Feb 14, 2013 - 3:40pm
Sir - Thanks again, you've been a blessing here since you first arrived.
In terms of future articles, I think we are all still getting our heads around the SF / Sea / Wash / Caro variations of QB-inclusive running attacks, and would welcome compare / contrast examinations of them.
#4 by RavensJimbo (not verified) // Feb 14, 2013 - 4:19pm
What an outstanding article. It really enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of football - especially little things like pointing out the Staley hip tap as a signal to Gore. Could you maybe take a look at the Ravens' O Line, pre- and post-McKinnie? They went from crap to very good. In particular, Osemele at Left Guard looked freakishly athletic for an interior lineman of his size.
#5 by SeahawksMatt (not verified) // Feb 14, 2013 - 4:35pm
Awesome column, as usual. I especially loved your dissection of the Gore touchdown on the counter trey. It was really impressive to watch live, but your analysis of it gives me an even deeper appreciation of it.
#6 by James-London // Feb 14, 2013 - 7:00pm
The Great X of Shame is just freakin' awesome.
FO has had any number of great columns over the last 10 years and Word of Muth is as good as any of them.
Any chance of a breakdown of Jake Long and what he's actually worth?
Phil Simms is a Cretin.
#8 by dryheat // Feb 14, 2013 - 9:41pm
I like this idea for a column -- extended to all top free agents -- who's worth more, Long, Vollmer, Clady, etc.
#10 by Independent George // Feb 14, 2013 - 10:16pm
Does anybody else scan through Word of Muth looking for the X of Great Shame before reading the actual article?
#13 by DEW (not verified) // Feb 15, 2013 - 8:39am
Generally I do exactly that. This article, because Ben identified who got it in the preamble, for some reason I was content to wait until I got to Tyson to find out exactly why it had been awarded.
(I'm actually surprised the Super Bowl review never mentioned the one SF sack where Bryant McKinnie stood like a statue, apparently thinking he was supposed to block the same guy the guard did, and let the defender run by him to sack Flacco. I suppose that's got a lot to do with the fact there's very little to actually write about other than "McKinnie tried to block the wrong guy and a sack happened." Unless McKinnie blocked the right guy and somebody called the wrong protection, which I somehow doubt.)
#7 by BK (not verified) // Feb 14, 2013 - 7:37pm
Love the column and enjoy it every week.
One beef in this one though, Ngata got hurt at the end of the 3rd quarter, so he's not the 3-technique slanting on the long Gore run from the final drive. I believe it's Tyson again.
#9 by Will Allen // Feb 14, 2013 - 10:11pm
If some coaching staff all lose their voices on some Monday morning, they could hire you to fill in with the film room denunciations/humiliations. Great stuff.
I need to replay the Niners last sequence in the red zone, to see if my initial impression was right, that the play they did not get off was a perfect call leading to a touchdown.
#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 15, 2013 - 9:48am
Keep in mind the play started in the context of a bunch of Ravens defenders who weren't actively playing, as they had seen the play clock hit zero and heard the whistle blown.
A lot of plays look amazing when run against 6 defenders.
#11 by MJK // Feb 15, 2013 - 12:00am
Awesome column. Thanks, Ben.
One thought on the final play-calling:
"LaMichael James gained two yards on that play. "
I think the problem is the first two words there. Nothing against James, but he is not as good as Gore. I bet the other four successes you mentioned were with Gore taking the ball. If Gore was tired/banged up to be in the game on the next play, then call something else. Since you've run it so many times and the defense is probably expecting it, line up in a formation that looks like it and do something else. Or put Gore back in to run it.
#12 by dmb // Feb 15, 2013 - 7:25am
"... so this week’s column is basically going to be a comic book with duller colors and fewer deaths from a direct result of onomatopoeia."
That's the kind of line that makes Tanier my favorite sportswriter. The analysis in this column has always been informative and accessible, but the development of creativity in your writing has really put it over the top.
#14 by Douglas Schulz (not verified) // Feb 15, 2013 - 9:35am
Great stuff as always.
#16 by Sifter // Feb 15, 2013 - 3:12pm
One idea for an off-season article would just be to compile some of the concepts you've mentioned and taught throughout the year into one easy to find glossary of blocking eg. the different slide protections, jet 2/3 etc. Just so readers don't have to look through your other articles to remind themselves of them. Sounds a bit dull I guess, but you could find some fresh film to illustrate I'm sure.
Otherwise, you could look at lines that have a reputation that's a lot different from their performance. eg. look at lines that have done well/poorly in the adjusted line yards, and pick the ones that are most surprising on first glance. Try and pinpoint why they impressed/underwhelmed.
Or just look at individual players like dryheat's suggesting. The big name free agents, maybe some draftees, anyone who gets a large contract extension, or who gets unexpectedly cut. Anyone that's being talked about really, so we can get a true opinion of their abilities.
#17 by silm // Feb 15, 2013 - 5:49pm
Ngata was out of the game by 11:00 into the 3rd (on the Gore counter TD) so the times you're referencing him in the later drives like Kap's TD, he isn't in the game. That would be 93 Tyson, a 7th round rookie. It was obvious to us watching the game that Gore's two long runs late in their last drive of 24 and 33 yards were in part due to missing Ngata. Tyson definitely screwed up in allowing that Kap rushing TD and it drove all of us insane. But he's a 7th rd rookie playing limited snaps for a reason. I think if Ngata doesn't go down, the game doesn't become as close as it became. But at least in hindsight its now going down as one of the better SB's so there's that!
#18 by Hurt Bones // Feb 15, 2013 - 7:27pm
Yes, Ngata was out and not in for any of these plays, specifically:
“On the offense’s right, Ellerbe is rushing the A-gap while Courtney Upshaw handles the B-gap. On the other side, Haloti Ngata [not Ngata but Terrence Cody] and Suggs are running a twist, with Ngata [Cody] going wide to the B-gap and Suggs coming behind into the A-gap. Lewis has Gore man-to-man.”
"On strike, the defensive line slants one way, let’s say right, and the linebackers to the other side blitz outside the slant. In this case, imagine Arthur Jones and Ngata [Cody] slanting hard towards the offense’s left, with Jones coming all the way to the A-gap and Ngata [Cody] looping out for contain. Upshaw would rush wide and Ellerbe would rush almost straight ahead into the B-gap behind Jones. Teams often will drop the other defensive end into coverage. Defenses love it because you overload one side, forcing teams to throw hot, but you can also run sound coverage behind it."
“Here though, the Ravens are running a version of the strike blitz I talked about earlier. Ngata (lined up as a three-technique) [not Ngata but DeAngelo Tyson]. slants hard inside to the A-gap while Ellerbe blitzes into the B-gap. Staley sees the blitz coming and slows up to gather Ellerbe down inside with him. Notice the super-wide left arm that he uses to club/grab the linebacker.”
The analysis is great though except for the Ngata error. I'm with you about the impact of Ngata's absence in the second half.
#19 by theslothook // Feb 17, 2013 - 5:16am
I wish ben would breakdown a vintage chiefs line from the early 2000s and do a comparison between this 49er o line and that chiefs o line. I'm not sure who would grade out better.
That one had name recognition to it, with hall of famers(or soon to be), Willie Roaf and Will shields, combined with perennial probowler brian waters and a pretty good john tate at right tackle.
#20 by Raven (not verified) // Feb 21, 2013 - 3:04am
What did the Ravens change in the last few weeks of the regular season ? Was it simply the line-up change with McKinney, play calling or execution ?