I love the anguish on that defender's face. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
If you can't beat 'em, double team 'em.
That was the defensive philosophy employed by the 49ers on Sunday, when they clamped down hard on Roddy White. Teams are well aware that Matt Ryan loves throwing to the gifted wide receiver, so they've become hellbent on taking that option away. This is not the last time you'll see White suffocating under a cornerback and a safety, two corners, two linebackers or a partridge in a pear tree.
We all know that after the first half, White freed himself and turned in a dominant performance on the last couple of drives. It's exceedingly difficult to hold him in check for an entire game, though I wouldn't be shocked to see the Browns try it. The important thing is that it didn't work near the end. We won the game, Roddy got his catches, we all went home delirious and happy. End of story....or not.
The Niners' strategy actually hit at the heart of what the Falcons do in the passing game. If Roddy White is open, Ryan's going to give him the ball and let him work his dark sorcery on the turf. If Ryan's under pressure, he's going to look to White to bail him out. That's a habit he's only slowly weaning himself off of, with Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas and even Michael Turner available as safety nets. The 49ers went to great lengths to both cover White and blitz constantly, turning Ryan into an ineffective quarterback for long stretches of the game.
If you don't think teams are going to be furiously chalking that defensive solution on their locker room boards in coming weeks, you haven't noticed what an alarmingly copycat league the NFL has become.
The solutions are simple to find, difficult to execute. First and foremost, the Falcons' offensive line has to give Ice more time back there. When he has a few seconds to find the open man, Ryan plants his feet, throws beautiful spirals and generally just picks the defense apart. There's growing concern that this line is simply getting outmuscled at the point of attack, and I'm not brilliant enough to produce a solution to that. I would suggest the Falcons identify weak spots—Sam Baker springs readily to mind this season—and use two tight ends sets or Ovie Mughelli to serve as a second line of defense.
The second involves Ryan making quick reads and not lingering on Roddy as though they were reenacting scenes from Casablanca. He's been better about this already, but it will certainly help to have Michael Jenkins back, looming over all the mighty mite defensive backs the Browns and Eagles will offer up. Not that I expect him to make a huge difference, but if you can run sets with White, Jenkins, Douglas and Gonzo on the field, Ryan has plenty of options. He seems to be building trust with Douglas, in particular, but he needs to stop dropping passes to keep it.
The third solution is just to have Roddy White continue to be otherworldly, zapping past cornerbacks and blasting them into individual atoms. While that's certainly the most attractive solution, it's probably not realistic to expect him to be able to do so for four quarters straight.
So those are my thoughts. Please add yours to the comment stew below.