Playbook: How did Vernon Davis beat the Saints?

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Back in January, I broke down Vernon Davis’ TD catch on the chalkboard vs. the Saints Cover 2 shell in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. A Smash-Seam route (out of a stack look) thrown in front of the deep half safety.

Today, let’s check out the play on video (along with the great hometown radio call) to get a closer look at the route, coverage scheme and defensive technique that led to the Niners' last second win.

Offensive Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: “Orange” (2x2 spread) Slot Exchange
Route: Smash-Seam (Skinny Post)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

- Check out the Niners’ pre-snap alignment here. Because of the “stack” look to the closed (strong) side of the formation, Davis gets a free release off the line of scrimmage and can work vertically (without a re-route) into the route stem.

- The Saints are only rushing three on this play and dropping eight into coverage (same idea as “Ruby Tent Robber”). In Cover 2, the Mike will open his hips to the passing strength (open side of the formation in this situation), carry any inside vertical route and read the QB. However, with a Smash-7 (corner) combo to the open side, there is no need for the Mike to sink with this much depth. Slow down, know where you are on the field and don’t take yourself out of the play.

- You won’t see a better throw than this vs. Cover 2 in the red zone. The Sam Backer will sink to play the “Seam-Hook” technique with the SS playing over the top. Smith had to thread this pass over the Sam and in front of safety Roman Harper (driving at a downhill angle). Big time play from the 49ers QB.

- Think leverage at the point of attack. Harper takes a good angle here and delivers some force on contact. However, with Davis bending this route to the inside at the top of the stem (Skinny Post stem), Harper has to play through the TE. Not an easy spot to be in when you have to separate the ball from a receiver.

-I have no issue with the Saints dropping back and playing Cover 2. Given the game situation, you want to limit the vertical passing game and force the QB to throw the Smash route. But give the credit to Smith and Davis—because this is how you finish on the playoff stage.

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