The third time the Niners had the ball in the second half, they lined up on the 23 yard-line with both their wide receivers on the right side of the formation, then had Michael Crabtree go back to the left side in motion.
They felt they could attack Nmandi Asomugha as long as they didn’t let him get his hands on the receiver. They also felt they could beat him with a double move because sometimes he looks into the backfield and could fooled with a quarterback pump fake. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh was right on both assumptions as Crabtree came across from the other side and Asomugha came from a free safety position to cover him.
Due to the motion Asomugha was unable to get his hands on Crabtree at the snap of the ball. He had to play off of him. I’ve rarely seen a player become so passive as Asomugha when he’s playing off the ball. Remember how passive he was against the Giants when Eli Manning threw a jump ball to Victor Cruz with Asomugha and safety Jarrad Page right there.
Back to the Niners play, Crabtree came downfield, stutter stepped then headed down the left side line. Alex Smith hit him in stride as safety Jarrad Page came over and missed the tackle. Asomugha then missed the tackle twice. Crabtree would have scored if it weren’t for hustling middle linebacker Jamar Chaney who came over to make the tackle.
It wound up being a 38-yard play to Crabtree, who happens to be one of the slowest receivers in the NFL. I have no idea what is going on with Asomugha. He can’t cover or tackle for some reason.
On the next play from the Eagles 39-yard line, the Niners pitched the ball to Kendall Hunter on a sweep to the Eagle left side and he ran nearly untouched for 12 yards. Do these guys know anything about getting off of a block? Defensive end Phillip Hunt was hooked inside. Hunt looks terrible against the run. He’s definitely only a pass rusher.
Strongside linebacker Moise Fokou came up when he recognized the play, but he didn’t attack the blocker but was easily knocked outside and out of the way. He’s got to learn to use his hands and fight the block. He should be making that play at the line of scrimmage.
Middle linebacker Chaney was late getting there from the inside because he was slowed down by a cut block.
The guy that made the tackle was rookie linebacker Brian Rolle, who was coming from the other side. A reluctant-to-tackle Asante Samuel also had a hand in making the stop. The play equaled 12 easy yards for the Niners.
San Francisco snapped the ball on the next play from the 27-yard line. They ran a simple rub pattern to their left side with the wide receiver coming inside and trying to get in the path of the outside linebacker who was responsible for covering the running back, fullback Bruce Miller. Rookie linebacker Rolle was the target. The running back ran a simple short arrow route outside.
The wide receiver’s route forced Rolle to come inside which was a bad angle to try stop the completion. Rolle had to come underneath of the route, which made it impossible for him to stop Miller from catching the football. On top of doing a poor job on the coverage, Rolle was worse in his job of tackling Miller.
He tried to push him out of bounds like it was a game of two-hand touch. The 250-pound Miller ran through the attempt like it was a slight wind blowing on him. Safety Nate Allen came over and made the tackle, although he absorbed most of the hit from Miller. The play went for 15-yards and took the Niners down to the Eagles 12-yard line.
The rookie linebacker, Rolle, should have recognized that Miller, the running back was lined up extremely wide, which was tipping off that he was going to run a pass route. He could have cheated up before the snap, then on the snap of the ball, gone up and avoided the wide receiver rub pattern then jammed to take away Smith’s option.
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs lined up in the same spot when he ran the wheel route on Casey Matthews. Alignment is always a tipoff of what play the offense is getting ready to run. It’s the reason you study the team you’re getting ready to play.
Right now, this is not a smart defense. They don’t study the formations and the alignments, so that they see the clues of what plays to anticipate. In college ball, many times players just line up and play, but in the NFL you have to be a student and a detective. You must learn to anticipate the play based on the down and distance, the formation, along with the details of where every player is lined up.
The next play the from the twelve-yard line, Frank Gore took the handoff and ran straight up the middle for three yards. Chaney made the tackle on a run which was defended adequately by the Eagles.
The final play of the drive was a pass play to Vernon Davis from the nine-yard line. I don’t know if Chaney understands that standing near a receiver in the red zone isn’t good enough to stop completions and touchdowns. On the play, it looked like Chaney was manned-up on Davis, but he didn’t get over in his face immediately at the snap of the ball. Smith dropped set and threw a quick outside route to a wide-ope Davis, who broke Chaney’s tackle and fell into the end zone.
It was like taking candy from a baby. Does Chaney know that Davis is Smith’s favorite target? Last year the Eagles were the worst red zone defense in the NFL in 25 years, this year they’re trying to break that record. They don’t play like an NFL defense.
Chaney got near Davis without getting so close to him that Alex Smith couldn’t throw the ball to him. Chaney got torched by Tony Gonzalez by being near him but not all over him. You’ve got to be all over the receiver in the red zone or you’re going to watch him catch and touchdown pass.
When I played, our red zone coverage rule used to be you had to be close enough to the receiver to smell his breath. If you’re that close to the receiver, the quarterback isn’t going to throw the football. Being simply near a receiver or in the vicinity isn’t good enough on goalline.
You have to be all over the receiver or you’re simply going to see him catch the football.
This was a five-play drive for 77-yards, after putting together a four-play drive for 80-yards. You could imagine that the Niners were confident that they could move the ball against the Eagles.