Super Bowl 47 final drive play-calling
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Football
Peter King writes:
In the coming years, when I think about the Super Bowl just played, I know I'll think about the play that might have been: third-and-goal from the Baltimore 5. Colin Kaepernick, at the snap of the ball, took one step back and Frank Gore roared in front of him to clear a hole on what looked for all the world to be a designed counter by the quarterback ... and then the whistle. Timeout, San Francisco; Jim Harbaugh called it, thinking the Niners weren't going to get the play off before the play clock expired.
"There are so many coulda, woulda, shouldas in that game,'' offensive coordinator and play-caller Greg Roman told me. He wouldn't tell me if, as it appeared, the play was a designed run for Kaepernick, and when the timeout was over there was another play call, a pass to Michael Crabtree. Roman didn't have to tell me; the answer was on the tape.
On the first 13 offensive snaps for San Francisco, Roman dialed up 13 different alignments using 12 different combinations of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. In those 13 plays, Roman had four wide receivers in the game, four running backs (two running backs, two fullbacks) and four tight ends. On the fifth play of the game, a no-back look, he spread three receivers left and two to the right, with a fullback (Bruce Miller) and running back (LaMichael James) split the furthest; Kaepernick hit Crabtree, running from the left slot, on a 19-yard incut. On the very next snap, Roman dialed up something Walter Camp invented 140 years ago, the T formation. Kaepernick lined up under center, with three backs tight together behind him -- Gore to the left, fullback Walter Tukuafu in the middle, and fullback Miller to the right. None went in motion. Gore powered ahead for no gain into the teeth of the Ravens' D. Win some, lose some.
In those first 13 plays, Roman ran three wides once, three tight ends twice, and three backs once. For the game, he had Kaepernick in the Pistol 51 times and under center nine plays; and, by my count, he ran 13 plays in the read-option and 47 with Kaepernick not playing option football.
Two other points from watching the tape twice (and individual plays many more times): Kaepernick didn't take a big hit all day, following a trend that runs counter to what football wisdom says -- mobile quarterbacks running a partial-option offense are going to be endangered species because of the punishment they take from running so much. And other than the baffling illegal-formation penalty on the first snap of the game, the Niners executed one of the most complex game plans you'll see symphonically ... at least until the very end.
"That's the one thing people get wrong about this offense,'' Roman told me. "It's all rooted in the fundamentals of football, not like the run-and-shoot. It's not gimmicky. We don't have to run Colin one time for this to be a varied and effective scheme."
Roman elucidates the part of football that many coaches won't. "Sometimes as a play-caller,'' he told me after the NFC title game victory in Atlanta, "the intent is to deceive." In a couple of ways. Sometimes you deceive by running a play no one would expect with the players you have on the field; sometimes you deceive by misdirection and funny business. Take the first two plays of the Niners' final scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. First play: For one of the few plays all game, James and Gore were in the game together, James was in the right slot, with Randy Moss and Crabtree split wide to the left and right, respectively. James ran back as if to take an end-around handoff from Kaepernick. But it was a fake, and Gore ran a counter to the right for five yards.
Next play: Gore behind Kaepernick in the Pistol, Miller to the right as a sidecar protector to the quarterback. Tight end Vernon Davis and Moss tight to the formation, Davis right and Moss left. Crabtree flanked left. Power formation on second-and-five. Moss floated past the line, and past the first wave of pass defense into a hole in front of Ed Reed, and he turned left, and the ball was there. Easy. Gain of 32. Three plays later, the Niners scored to make it 31-29.
As one Ravens official told me after the game with gallows humor: "Good thing that game wasn't five quarters." He's right -- the Niners, after a very slow start, were clicking in the second half, the exact same way they did in the previous game against Atlanta. Until the final four plays of the final series.
49ers didn't lose. We just ran out of time!
I like that he'll use it as motivation:
Down 34-29 with 2:39 to play, Roman called an inside run to James on first-and-goal from the Baltimore 7. Gain of two.
Two-minute warning. Now a Kaepernick rollout right and an incompletion to Crabtree. Third-and-goal from the 5. As the play clock runs down to zero, and just a tick beyond, Kaepernick takes the Pistol snap and takes one step back, then forward, as if to run left, with Gore as his escort. Gore was about to smash into safety Bernard Pollard when the officials all stopped the play.
I'm sure it would have been a run. And I'm almost as sure this play could have come down to left tackle Joe Staley getting a block on the only free Ravens defender in the picture. Ray Lewis.
So what if the play runs? What if Staley gets past the line and hits Lewis but doesn't finish him, and what if it's Lewis, on the last and arguably most important series of his 17-year career, having to stop this new phenom, the way he'd stopped so many young phenoms in his past. Stop him and the Ravens win. Don't stop him, and the Ravens lose.
We'll never know.
But watch that dead play and you can dream of the drama. The only other thing better than that play running would be the play running with the late Steve Sabol able to cut the piece for NFL Films two days later, and the late John Facenda there to narrate it.
The next two plays, stereo incompletions to Crabtree, inflamed Niners fans for their lack of imagination. So ironic given what the Ravens had had to defend all day. I almost wish Kaepernick had gotten the delay of game penalty, so he could have had more room to maneuver from the 10-yard line on the last two plays. But he didn't.
"That's life,'' said Roman. "That's sort of the life of a coach. Will it eat at me? Of course it will. But I'll use it as motivation going forward. To dwell on something that's over is so utterly pointless. Anytime you make a call and the play doesn't work, you think of another play that might have worked. We had a valiant effort, a great comeback, and it wasn't enough. That's life. It's the game we love, the highs, the lows. But it doesn't take away from what we did this year, and how excited I'm going to be to coach these guys next year.''
They came within one play of winning the Super Bowl. That's great progress.
And a great motivator.