Crossing routes help 49ers/Smith alleviate pressure and get ball to play-makers

Posted: December 19, 2011 in 49ers, Coaching Chronicles, Pro Football
Tags: , ,

I’d like to take a closer look at an element of the 49ers passing attack that I feel will help them contend with the blitzing scheme of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football – the shallow cross.

The 49ers have run several versions of this play, getting the ball to Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker in different situations.  I would look for more underneath crossing routes by all 49ers WR’s tonight.  They seemed to have some success with them early against Arizona (and Giants also), but went away from them late.  They are good against the blitz and the WR’s can settle vs zones and run away against man-to-man.

Let’s look at the following diagram as an example:












On this particular pass play against the Cardinals, the offensive line protected and Smith got the ball out to a crossing Vernon Davis.  There was a void in the Cardinals zone blitz scheme and Davis turned it into a 32-yard gain to put them inside the 10 yard line, setting up a go ahead score (field goal) late in the first half.

Here is the NFL video of the play:


A few coaching points to note on this play:

1) The offensive line protected the gut blitz by sliding 4 men to the right; they effectively passed off the inside gap stunts and linebacker exchange by keeping their shoulders square and getting depth off of the line of scrimmage.  RB Kendall Hunter stepped up to take the inside linebacker who initially came from depth and was able to slide underneath Smith’s drop to mirror the linebackers path.  The line ended up collecting Hunter’s assignment in their slide, so he committed to helping secure the pocket for Smith.

2) Smith takes a 5-step drop and reads the weak-side outside linebacker’s drop as he gets depth with Walker.  Smith delivers a pass on-time to Davis on the shallow cross as he hits a void in the underneath zone and has room to run after the catch.

3) The play has a high value in it’s versatility against both zone and man coverages.  If it were man to man, Walker would break his route off flat across the field and Davis would essentially look to “rub” his defender into Walker or his trailing defender to create separation.

4) The post/wheel combination with Tedd Ginn and Kyle Williams outside effectively clears out 3 defenders on the play as well.  The strong safety makes the mistake of not looking back to find the crossing Davis.  If he had done this Davis would have had to make a more distinct effort to “settle” in the zone rather than to keep running.  Likewise, Smith would have been forced to make a more precise throw to Davis’ back shoulder, away from the would-be flat defender.  But, for some reason the Cards all-pro safety decided to keep his eyes outside and sink to provide underneath help for the deeper route combination.  Smith and Davis took advantage of this and turned what should have been a routine 8-10 yard pass play into a 32 yard catch and run.

Look for more of this tonight as the 49ers attempt to counter the Steelers’ blitzing strategies.  The shallow cross is another staple of the west coast offense and provides Smith and the 49ers offense with the opportunity to get the ball out quickly to their play-makers with room to run after the catch.  It also allows for picks and rubs against man coverage and can be a viable way to get WR’s Crabtree, Ginn and Williams more involved as they employ different versions of the same play.

  1. […] Crossing routes help 49ers/Smith alleviate pressure and get ball to play-makers […]

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