NFL Films’ Greg Cosell watches a lot of film. A LOT. He has a segment with Colin Cowherd weekly during the football season as well as regular appearances on KNBR in the Bay Area. As part of the Super Bowl week, he spent some time with Colin Cowherd and was asked what the Falcon’s offense does exceptionally well. Here is his answer and you can listen to the full podcast here. The segment with Cosell starts at the 1:04 mark.
A couple of things. Number one, I think their use of personnel and formations is really, really multiple and that puts a lot of pressure on defenses and that’s one I think, Colin, I absolutely think you’ll see in this game from Kyle Shanahan.
I would bet the first 12-15 plays plays you’ll see a different personnel package on every play and a different formation on every play to probe Bill Belichick, to research Bill Belichick’s defensive approach to all of these personnel groups and formations. So that maybe you get to the third quarter and Kyle Shanahan then knows how Bill Belichick will play and I think that’s going to be critical to their game.
The other thing they do really, really well is what I call their run-pass fusion. The run game, which is built on the outside zone, and the pass game often look exactly alike in the start of the play, and that makes it difficult defensively.
What is very interesting about his answers is the creativity involved in setting up both the running game and the passing game to look entirely similar in formation and then having multiple formations and personnel to disguise it further. This sounds much different from former head coach Chip Kelly’s approach to an offense, whose system was highly criticized for being too simple.
Mark Saltveit wrote about some of these disguises especially the using 13 personnel, a three tight end set, which is usually a “run tell.”
Even more surprising is that Atlanta ran 13 personnel more often on passing plays (41 to 36), and many of those were on first down and/or showed an empty backfield with the running back split wide or in the slot. This reshapes 13 from a heavy run package to a flexible and deceptive spread formation.
What will be important for the San Francisco 49ers offensive players will be having the right people to not only be able to execute this system, but to digest it and remember it. Christian Ponder’s post season interview came to mind, when he called out a few unnamed teammates that could have spent a little more time in the playbook. Sounds like there will be a little bit of study time involved.