‘Playbook’: 49ers, Giants win down the seam

The Saints and Packers seemed to possess the two highest-powered offenses in the league entering the divisional round of the playoffs.

And one area of the field that every high-flying offense loves to attack is the seam. However, when the Giants and 49ers walked off the field last weekend and into the NFC Championship Game, they had won on the scoreboard – and down the seam. But why?

Packers’ plight

If you watch the Packers’ offense on film, you’ll see that they rotate all of their receivers — Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley – into the slot to put them into a position to be a quick-strike threat for QB Aaron Rodgers.

But after playing catch up with Rodgers in Week 13, the Giants found a way to slow him with a Cover 3 look designed to take those seam routes away. Instead of having their slot defenders play under basic Cover 3 rules – buzzing to the flat – the Giants had their nickel corner and safety carry their receiver vertically down the seam. That allowed the Giants’ monster pass rush more time to get to Rodgers. 

The Giants ran their Cover 3 a total of 21 times (19 times out of nickel) and held Rodgers to 10-of-20 passing for 115 yards and an interception on those plays, including 0-for-4 on third down.

At the same time, give credit to the Giants’ defensive backs. They manned-up on the Packers (with two safeties over the top) on 15 plays, holding Rodgers to 4.56 yards per attempt on 5-of-9 passing for 41 yards with two sacks.

Green Bay couldn’t attack vertically, and never really tried to attack the flat.

Saints’ stunted

The 49ers practically dared the Saints to throw deep — but to the sideline — by playing mostly man-to-man with a single-high safety. On 62 percent of passing downs (66 plays), the Niners rolled one of their deep safeties into the box while the other sat in the middle of the field and took away the seam.

The Saints, on the other hand, have a threat in the flat with RB Darren Sproles. He made the role of the safety in the box just as important.

For the most part, the 49ers’ safety in the box was able to limit the amount of space in which Sproles had to work. He ended up with 15 catches for 119 yards, but if you take away his 44 yard touchdown – where the safety didn’t roll down in time – Sproles averaged 5.35 yards per catch.

The 49ers also had their share of success down the seam on offense, burning New Orleans’ man-to-man defenders in the slot, thanks to a huge day from Vernon Davis.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show – airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC Championship Game preview) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC Championship Game preview) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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