Nick Mullens is a player who most die-hard football fans hadn’t heard of. He doesn’t exist on Madden, and before Thursday he wasn’t even verified on Twitter. But over the course of his game against Oakland, twitter verified him, and his play verified that he belongs in this league. But was it him playing great? Kyle Shanahan just having a good game plan? or was he just fortunate to play against Oakland’s defense?
Without a doubt, this play was just a defensive breakdown by the Raiders. Oakland’s running a Safety Fire out of a 5-2. This is a man coverage play, however there appeared to be some confusion on Oakland’s end. If you look at the top of the screen, Raiders Linebacker Tahir Whitehead says something to Raider’s safety, Reggie Nelson. It appears that they’re trying to figure out what the play is, Whitehead’s still turned around as the ball is snapped. Despite that, the real problem with this plays was between Daryl Worley and Marcus Gilchrist. Since this is a man coverage play, one of them are assigned to cover the fullback, and the other is tasked with the job of covering Pierre Garcon.
Instead, neither of them cover Garcon, as he’s able to run straight through them. There’s two explanations for this, one is that there was just a miscommunication. What could’ve also happened was one of them simply got fooled. This is a play action pass, and as you can see in the picture above, everyone was expecting a run play. It’s possible that whoever was covering Garcon thought the play was a run, and abandoned his assignment.
As a whole, it’s never a good thing when you have 6 defenders covering one section of the field. Although it’s even worse when you let a receiver go right behind you to be wide open in the endzone, and it was too easy for Mullens.
That last touchdown was clearly just a bad job by Oakland, but I think this play ends up being a good read by Mullens. As you see above, the Raiders are running a Cover 1 Hole out of a nickel. This is a play designed to take away from the middle of the field.
As you see here, San Francisco’s routes are all heading towards the middle of the field, meaning Oakland should be in good shape.
Tahir Whitehead has an impact in this play as well. Mullens is looking to the top of the screen, however nobody’s open. Since Whitehead sees Mullens looking to the top of the screen, he takes a few steps that way. Mullens notices it, and now knows that he’ll have a clear window to Kendrick Bourne, and makes a quick throw there for a touchdown.
This is another cover 1 hole scheme for Oakland, however it’s out of a big nickel. San Francisco’s playing 5 wide, and you can tell before the ball’s even snapped that the Raiders are playing man coverage. In fact, Oakland’s not even really trying to hide it. They have a safety and linebacker (the two in the yellow circles) are both lined up pretty far outside, if it was zone they’d probably be closer to the middle.
Much like the last play, San Francisco has multiple receivers running routes to the middle of the field. Raiders linebacker Marquel Lee now has to cover who he feels is more open, which in this case is Marquise Goodwin. Meanwhile George Kittle makes a quick move and gets just open enough for Mullens to get the ball to him.
Typically this play would’ve just gone for a first down, however Erik Harris rushes in to try to make a quick tackle, and potentially stop Kittle short of the first down. However that turned out to be a big mistake, as he missed the tackle, and and nobody was past Kittle who was then able to make a big gain.
Oakland’s running a cover 3 zone package out of a nickel. The 49ers have a man in motion, and since no Raider followed him, they can be pretty sure it’s zone coverage.
Here, San Francisco runs a play action pass, and once again Oakland falls for it badly. Play action really killed the Raiders all night. As you can see, the three Raiders I’ve circled all step in to stop a run. One of them is Marcus Gilchrist, who’s assignment was to cover the flat on the top of the screen. George Kittle’s running a flat route, and Mullens instantly notices Gilchrist is out of position, and hits Kittle for another touchdown.
I’ve talked about several plays where Oakland bit on a play action, but none worse than this one in my opinion. Oakland’s playing a cover 2 man, and San Francisco’s essentially running a reverse Yankee route concept. When playing a team who’s struggling against play action, this is the perfect play to run. The receivers are running to the top of the screen, which would take several Raiders out of the play if it were a run.
With San Francisco faking a run to the right, Mullens would have to completely turn his body around to make a pass. The victim of this play is going to be Raiders Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. He has to run to the bottom of the screen in case San Francisco’s running the ball, and when he realizes it’s a passing play, he’s out of position.
Lamur ends up getting his ankles broken. Not by a juke, or by him being clumsy, but by a good play design. So to answer the question many have been asking, did San Francisco have success because Nick Mullens played well, because Kyle Shanahan’s game planned well, or because Oakland’s defense isn’t very good? The answer is yes.