Falcons on Defense: Boldin's Run to Daylight
With the exception of New England's Wes Welker, no NFL receiver put up more yards after catch than Arizona's Anquan Boldin in 2008. His total of 595 yards after catch accounted for more than half of his regular-season total yardage (1038), and the Falcons got a taste of Boldin's skill in making big plays out of short passes with 9:10 left in the first half.
The Cardinals were up, 7-3, and had the ball at their own 29 on third-and-9. They want with a neat formation that head coach Ken Whisenhunt probably put together during his days as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator. No team is more creative with bunch formations, where three receivers are lined up on a side, than the Steelers, and Whisenhunt brought that flavor to this play. The Cards went with a bunch left formation, with Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Breaston trips left. Boldin was bringing up the rear. At the snap, Boldin delayed his release, allowing Fitzgerald and Breaston to clear the initial coverage with their speed.
However, the real killer was that the Falcons dialed up a Cover-0 defense, with a blitzing defensive back (unidentifiable from the tape – it looked like safety Thomas DeCoud, but I can't be 100 percent sure), which gave Boldin a free release to the left flat on a little out route. Kurt Warner's pass went only five yards, and Boldin did the rest, outrunning Lawyer Milloy to the end zone. Arizona's offensive line soaked up the three-man front with Michael Boley playing the fourth at the line.
The play is now seen by some as evidence that Milloy's speed is not at an NFL level anymore, but in truth, the Cards had the advantage before the ball was even snapped. You can't stop a three-man receiver set that talented with no deep safety help. And when Larry Fitzgerald's involved, the deep safety might not matter, either.
Falcons on Offense – Turner's Touchdown Run
That Boldin touchdown put the Cards up by 11, and things looked bleak for the boys in black, However, the Falcons answered with a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Michael Turner. Turner's run was a textbook example of how the Falcons like to get their running backs going against playside, luring defensive lines away with zone blocking.
The Cardinals lined up with nine in the box, and Atlanta responded with a power set of sorts – tight end Jason Rader was lined up outside left tackle, and tight end Justin Peelle was an H-back to the left. Ovie Mughelli was the blocking fullback. At the snap, the entire protection slid to the right, except for Rader, who sealed the end at the left edge, and Peelle, who maintained position at the left tackle area. The Cardinals defensive front is known for playside overpursuit, and they lived up to their reputation – all defenders followed the line slide as Turner cut left with a wide-open lane to the end zone.
We'll be detailing Atlanta's power zone running game several times in this series – this play was but one example of the schemes coached up by offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.