The San Francisco 49ers’ acquisition of Stevie Johnson gives them three very difficult wide receivers to cover. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Johnson will give opposing defensive backs a lot of trouble. Johnson relies primarily on his footwork in routes while Boldin relies on strength and the ability to overpower cornerbacks. Crabtree is a nice blend of the two.
We will be doing a three part series called: 49ers Wide Receiver Film Room Study. Each of these articles will highlight how the 49ers’ top receivers are able to work against opposing defenses to get open for their quarterback.
The first up is Michael Crabtree. We are going to take a look at a particular play in which he is able to beat Patrick Peterson, one of the best corners in the game. Crabrtree has been able to consistently excel against Peterson because of his thorough understanding of how to set up a defensive back. Let’s take a look at a play taken from the 49ers 23-20 win over the Cardinals in the last game of the season.
Here you see the 49ers in a 3rd & 8 situation early in the third quarter. The 49ers are in 11 personnel with Vernon Davis lined up in a flex position on the strong side. Boldin is in the slot and Crabtree is lined up out wide. The 49ers are in a trips right formation with Quinton Patton on the weak side of the formation. Patrick Peterson is manned up on Crabtree.
The screen shot above shows where Crabtree wants to go but Peterson is in man coverage which means he will want to use the sideline as an additional defender. He does not want Crabtree to be able to cross his face and get to the middle of the field.
Davis runs a post while Boldin runs a corner. Both of these routes clear out the middle of the field for Crabtree on the slant. Crabtree is able to get Peterson to turn his hips to the outside with a hard stem up field. He then drives back inside and across Peterson’s body.
Peterson is already committed to covering an out breaking or up field route and it is almost impossible for him to reverse his direction while keeping up with Crabtree as he goes to the slant. His whole body is turned to the outside. As a result, Peterson falls down. Crabtree is wide open on the slant in the middle of the field which was vacated by the Boldin and Davis clear outs.
This is a very good play design by Greg Roman. He has the deep options by Davis and Boldin for Colin Kaepernick along with a high – low route combo in the middle of the field by Crabtree on the slant and Patton on the dig. This play relies on Crabtree’s ability to beat the corner and get inside along with Boldin and Davis to threaten the defenders on vertical routes to clear out the middle.
Unfortunately, Kaepernick was flushed out of the pocket and didn’t make the throw to the slant across his body like he is normally capable of doing.
Crabtree still had a chance at making a big catch as he turned up field to reemerge as a target for his quarterback. Peterson knows that Crabtree is about to turn his route up field and he begins to scramble. Boldin turns his route up as well.
Peterson is still discombobulated from how he was spun around and falls down once again. The play resulted in an incomplete pass intended for Boldin.
Peterson was fortunate that Kaepernick was not able to connect with Crabtree for a big gain. This play does however show how Crabtree can beat Peterson in one on one coverage. It is rare that a top level corner such as Peterson is made to fall while covering a receiver. Crabtree made this happen twice in one play. The NFL is all about match ups. In this case, Crabtree’s ability to sell his routes and understanding of how to set up a defensive back allows him to beat Peterson early in the route.
It has been pretty evident that Crabtree has won the majority of the match-ups between he and Peterson. However, the same can’t be said for his match-ups against Richard Sherman. This leads us to the next part of the series which will feature a 49ers receiver that has found success against Sherman. Be sure to lookout for the next film room study which will breakdown Stevie Johnson vs Richard Sherman.
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