In this week's chalkboard session, we break down the critical play late in Sunday's Falcons-Panthers game, when Atlanta pulled out a last-minute victory.
Here's the situation.
The Falcons trail 28-27 with 59 seconds remaining. Carolina just downed a punt at the Atlanta one-yard line. Situation: desperate.
Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons come out in a formation with only three wideouts. This probably gives Panthers defensive coaches the impression the Falcons either will run it, to give themselves a bit of breathing room, or start passing it up the field piecemeal.
The Panthers thus stick to their standard 4-3 defence for this play, dropping only two deep safeties.
Mistake. The Falcons intend to go deep.
Before the snap, WR Harry Douglas motions across formation to the right, where he sets up just behind TE Tony Gonzalez. Both will stay home and max-protect Ryan.
Because the conservative Panthers seldom blitz, and don't on this play, Atlanta has seven blockers against only four pass rushers, as the short-side linebacker doesn’t rush until far too late, what with nothing to do on this play.
The play calls for RB Jacquizz Rodgers to merely roll left as a safety-valve, while both of Atlanta's star wideouts lined up to the left – Roddy White (84) and Julio Jones (11) – fly downfield: Jones up the middle, White down left the side.
The Panthers cornerbacks and safeties double on each WR, with CB Josh Norman (24) and FS Haruki Nakamura (43) taking White.
Back in the pocket, Ryan has tons of time to throw. He waits for White to get deep. From five yards deep in the end zone, Ryan finally winds up and heaves a pass 60 yards in the air toward White.
At about midfield, safety Nakamura makes a critical mistake. He turns around and starts backpedalling, wrongly presuming he has reached the limit of Ryan’s range. As Nakamura realizes the error, he keeps backpedalling and loses all his speed. White is still flying though, and he hauls in the pass a couple yards past Nakamura, at the Carolina 45.
White has to hesitate an instant on the catch, which allows both Nakamura and Norman to catch up and tackle him at the 40.
A 59-yard gain.
Just like that, the Falcons are near field goal range. A few short gains later, Matt Bryant boots the game-winning 40-yard field goal. Final score: Atlanta 30, Carolina 28.
No pass pressure whatsoever plus terrible coverage in a standard defence on a Hail Mary thrown by Matt Ryan to Roddy White … equals trouble.
Blunders like this are why pass-prevent defences were invented.