The 49ers will look to target the tight end in the passing game Sunday during Super Bowl XLVII. They will use concepts that attack three-deep coverage to provide opportunities for quarterback Colin Kaepernick to take a shot in the strike zone (20- to 35-yard line).
As shown here, the 49ers have their Ace personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back) on the field in a two-back Pistol alignment with tight end Vernon Davis (Y) shifted into the backfield. The Ravens counter with their base 3-4 personnel playing Cover-3 (three-deep, four-under) in the secondary. The 49ers will run off the top of the defense with Davis as the primary read on the wheel route.
49ers' Pistol offense
The read option (or zone read) out of the Pistol is a hot topic because of Kaepernick's skill set, and there is no question the Ravens will have to play disciplined football to limit the scheme. Watching tape shows Jim Harbaugh's offense is multiple out of the Pistol. Think of the base power run game (Power O, Counter OF, lead, inside trap), play-action and the pro-style route combinations that put stress on both two-deep and single-high coverages. Don't look at the Pistol as a gadget offense at the NFL level.
Occupying top of secondary
The 49ers will run both tight end Delanie Walker (U) and Michael Crabtree (Z) on the deep (double) posts to the open side of the formation. Walker will take an inside release and work his route back across the field to the open side cornerback (RC) with Crabtree on the deep stem to the middle of the field. The idea is to occupy the top of the secondary. Former Bears cornerback Corey Graham (LC) will carry Crabtree's route in Cover-3 and squeeze to the post with free safety Ed Reed (FS) gaining depth in the deep middle of the field. That creates a one-on-one matchup for Davis up the sideline on the wheel route.
Davis vs. Pollard
Bernard Pollard (SS) is one of the most physical defensive backs in the NFL, but this is a tough matchup against Davis. In Cover-3, the curl/flat player has to carry the wheel route. With Davis releasing from the backfield and taking a outside stem, Pollard has to turn, get to the hip of the tight end and match to speed down the field. If Graham doesn't pass off the deep post to Reed, the 49ers now have the matchup they want down the field at a depth of 15 to 20 yards. That's a tough spot for Pollard to run with Davis and find the ball at the point of attack.
Moss underneath target
The Ravens can't forget about Randy Moss in this concept. Moss will align in a reduced (or nasty) split close to the core of the formation and work back across the field as an underneath target for Kaepernick. With Pollard running with Davis on the wheel route, the inside linebacker has to widen his drop to play Moss on the crossing route. If Kaepernick hits Moss in stride the wide receiver can square his pads and get up the field for an explosive gain to set the 49ers up in the red zone.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.