The San Francisco 49ers made another steal of a deal for a wide receiver this year. They acquired Anquan Boldin for a sixth round pick in 2013 and Boldin proceeded to become the second 49er to post a 1000 yard receiving season in eleven years. The acquisition of Stevie Johnson for a conditional pick could prove to be another big time heist.
The NFC West is the home for two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. We already took a look at how Michael Crabtree can beat Patrick Peterson. Now we will take a look at how Stevie Johnson can beat Richard Sherman in our 49ers wide receiver film room study part II.
The 49ers have had some trouble scoring in the red zone. This was evident in their loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship. Here is one way that Stevie Johnson could be an immediate fix to that problem. Let’s take a look at a play that has been on the social media pages of many 49ers fans and media since the Johnson trade.
The Buffalo Bills have the ball on Seattle’s 20 yard line. It is a 3rd & 7 situation. They come out in a tight end trips right formation out of 11 personnel. C.J. Spiller is the running back and Stevie Johnson is on the weak side but has a tight split. The idea here is to give him the space to have a two way go against Richard Sherman who is in man coverage.
The Bills want to be sure to get the best match-up for Stevie Johnson and want to be certain that Sherman is locked in man coverage on Johnson. They motion C.J. Spiller out of the backfield and outside of Johnson. Sherman stays on Johnson and they have the exact situation that they want. It’s not often that teams will invite Sherman to cover their receiver one on one but Stevie Johnson isn’t just any receiver. His footwork and body control on second to none. He fully understands how to set up a corner as you will see in the next few slides.
Here you see Johnson give Sherman a hard move to the outside. This is done to make him respect the outside routes and to create space to get inside so that he can set up his next move. A lot of young receivers would just use an outside release when they want to run a corner route. Johnson instead uses an inside one to avoid the jam and threaten the safety over top.
Now you see that Johnson has inside leverage. Sherman is threatened because he got beat inside. He knows that he has safety help over top but being in the trail position is not good for a corner that doesn’t have the make up speed. Johnson is clearly in control now. He sees that there is safety help and is now driving towards the safety to make him think that he is running a post route. His head is even looking in the direction of the post. It’s not just the quarterbacks that can move a safety with their eyes!
Johnson can take his pick what route he wants to run. He can run the bang eight or a corner route. The safety has a decision to make. He knows that Sherman is beat as shown by his being behind Johnson. There is no way that the safety can get to the corner of the end zone before Johnson and the throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick can. Johnson and the safety both know this.
X marks the spot. Johnson has Sherman in the trail position and gives him a hard stick to the post then breaks to the corner. It takes a lot of body control to do this full speed and not lose a single beat. The hard move to the post cause Sherman to go inside while Johnson breaks outside. Sherman is fooled by the fake. That fake also froze the safety. Johnson used one move to throw off both the corner and the safety which in turn gave him an easy touchdown in the red zone.
Here you can see how much space Johnson created by being a route technician and selling the post. John Lynch was in the booth for the game. Here is what he said while he watched the replay of the touchdown: “See Stevie Johnson, he’s going to come on this corner route and come inside, sell the post, and that’s where he gets them—at the top of the stem of that route, he sells the post. That gets Sherman to think inside. An easy throw for Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
Here is a a high end zone view that will really show you how much separation Johnson was able to create.
There aren’t many defenders that can beat the Seahawks secondary this badly, especially in the red zone. Many think that the best way to go against Sherman is with brute strength. That is not the case. Stevie Johnson used supreme footwork to reroute Sherman and completely avoid any contact. He beat Sherman at the line of scrimmage and that set up the rest of the play. Sherman has to get contact on receivers, he thrives on getting a jam and throwing off the timing of the route.
There was no chance for him to do so because Johnson set him up perfectly. The real win was during the route when he looked off the safety and gave him a move towards the post. It got Sherman turned around and gave Fitzpatrick all kinds of space to drop the ball into the corner of the end zone.
There is a reason why Stevie Johnson excels against the top corners. He is so sound technique wise. Technique and fundamentals will often beat athleticism. The problem for defensive backs that go against Johnson is that he has both. His presence on the 49ers will be a major part of their attempt to dethrone the Seattle Seahawks.
The next film study will take a look at how Anquan Boldin was able to beat the zone coverage of the Green Bay Packers.
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