After watching the tape of Thursday night’s game, it’s clear the San Francisco 49ers have to think long and hard about making a change at quarterback.
Blaine Gabbert is not executing the pass offense effectively. When the coaching staff dials up route concepts that beat the defense and the quarterback regularly doesn’t execute it, either with bad throws or not turning it loose, you have to consider a change. There has already been media discussion that a change might be afoot, either to Colin Kaepernick or maybe even Christian Ponder, and you can see why the coaching staff would consider it.
Gabbert’s issues against the Arizona Cardinals started from the first play of the game. The 49ers called a well-executed route concept to the boundary. Tight end Garrett Celek’s corner route beat “Cover 3” zone coverage. Gabbert threw it too high and too far outside. It wasn’t even close, and Celek was wide open.
The 49ers often did a nice job with three-man route concepts out of 3×1 sets (three receivers on one side, one on the other), knowing the Cardinals’ tendency is to play man against a trips set. Chip Kelly and his staff understood that and dialed up combinations to beat it, but Gabbert just missed on some of those plays when they were open. That drives a coaching staff crazy. Think about it: The coaches spend the week devising ways to beat a certain defense, get the defensive look they want and the route combination works as they intend, and then the play isn’t executed by the quarterback. That’s tough.
Gabbert had another very inaccurate throw on the third possession. It was another well-designed three-man route concept that got Rod Streater open to the post. Gabbert, from a totally clean pocket, air-mailed it well over Streater’s head.
Here’s another miss, late in the second quarter. Torrey Smith ran a post route against Patrick Peterson, and another good three-man route concept got Smith to the post against Peterson, who had outside leverage. Gabbert — as has been his problem all season — threw the post too far outside when he had the whole field to work with. Another incompletion on a play that could have gone for a big gain.
Here’s an example of Gabbert not eliminating what wasn’t there quickly enough. He had Quinton Patton wide open in the middle for a first down. But he never got to him in his progressions and was sacked by Markus Golden.
Gabbert remains inconsistent as a passer. On Thursday he would make some excellent throws with velocity and precise ball placement, but then he would also miss open receivers with scattershot accuracy. You can’t be that inconsistent in the NFL and keep your job very long.
Seahawks offense design
The Seattle Seahawks had a good offensive game against the New York Jets last week. The Jets didn’t put a ton of pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson, who was coming off a knee injury. I was surprised Jets coach Todd Bowles didn’t blitz more, considering that’s his preference, Wilson was hurt and the Seahawks offensive line has struggled with the blitz before. The Jets did not look like a Todd Bowles defense. It was not as aggressive with blitzes and used softer secondary coverages.
One play that stood out from the Seahawks was a fantastic design. If you’ve ever wondered why coaches spend so many hours trying to understand an opponent’s tendencies, this play is why.
The Seahawks came out 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) with Tanner McEvoy in the slot inside of Jermaine Kearse. With power run action to the slot side, and Wilson on a seven-step stop with eight-man protection, Kearse and McEvoy were the only receivers running routes. The Jets had “Cover 3” zone out of a base 3-4 — it’s very likely the Seahawks knew they were getting this look and coverage based on their personnel and formation, from studying the Jets’ tendencies. Buster Skrine was the cornerback to the closed side of the formation, away from McEvoy, and when tight end Jimmy Graham stayed in to block Skrine’s eyes went into the backfield, watching the run action. In “Cover 3,” three defensive backs are each responsible for a deep third of the field. Skrine wasn’t aware of McEvoy from the back side slot running the deep over route across the field into his zone. McEvoy was wide open in the deep third of the field that Skrine was responsible for in the Jets’ coverage.
Maybe you saw this play and wondered how McEvoy was so open for a 42-yard touchdown. It was because of a lot of coaching preparation that worked exactly how the Seahawks hoped it would.
Falcons in man coverage
One thing I noticed watching the Atlanta Falcons’ defense against the Carolina Panthers was that they used more man coverage than I’m used to seeing from a Dan Quinn defense. They challenged the Panthers with man coverage and blitzes, and had success with it.
It’s tough to say if it was because they thought they had an advantage covering the Panthers’ receivers with man coverage, if they just wanted to give a division rival something extra to game plan for when they meet again, or if this is a bit of a philosophical shift for Quinn. But it was clear they came in with a game plan against the Panthers to play much more man defense than usual. It’s something to watch going forward, starting with the Falcons’ game against the Denver Broncos this week.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.