After having a fairly quiet start to the season, Mohamed Sanu had his best game of the season against the Green Bay Packers. Julio Jones got dinged up early in the game and Mohamed Sanu stepped up with clutch catches to close the game including the game winning touchdown with a few seconds left on the clock.
Sanu's been a hot topic recently, as some fans have been upset with his production through the first half of the season, but those complaints should go away for at least a week with his performance against the Packers. He was the cog for Atlanta's final drive of the game where he caught 5 balls for 50 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Let's take a look at Sanu's performance on that drive.
Sanu is lined up on the right side of the field out of the Falcons' empty set (no running backs or tight ends in the backfield). He's lined up almost directly behind Taylor Gabriel, which would protect him from a potential jam if Green Bay decided to play press coverage.
Notice the route concepts on both sides of the field. They're mirrored routes. Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper are running vertical routes and coming back to the quarterback based on the depth of the safeties over top of them. Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are running hitches on the outside. This clears out the middle of the field for Sanu to catch the ball on a slant against a linebacker. Sanu has his limitations, but he can handle a vast majority of linebackers in coverage. Nice, easy playcall by Kyle Shanahan to get the offense rolling on the final drive.
Again, the Falcons have a set of mirrored routes on Sanu's second catch of the drive. Atlanta has two receiving threats to each side of Matt Ryan. Sanu is in the slot to Ryan's left and Austin Hooper is in the slot to Ryan's right. Julio Jones is outside of Sanu and Taylor Gabriel is outside of Hooper.
Hooper and Sanu both run out breaking routes to the flats while Gabriel and Jones run vertical stems up the seam. The receivers tight alignment to the line of scrimmage perfectly counteracts the Packers Cover 2 Man look (two safeties over the top, everyone else in man).
Julio's vertical stem obstructs the linebacker with man coverage responsibilities on Sanu just long enough for him to get open near the sideline. Easy throw for Matt Ryan and it allows Sanu to get about three yards after the catch as they inched towards the endzone.
Atlanta motions from a trips set to a doubles set with Sanu as the receiver in motion. The Packers come out with two high safeties, rotate to one high safety after the motion, then play with two high safeties at the snap of the ball.
Julio Jones is at the bottom of the screen and runs a corner route, drawing the attention of three Green Bay defenders. This clears up plenty of space for Sanu's whip route back towards the middle of the field. After catching the ball he turned up field and earned about seven extra yards.
Atlanta is lined up in a trips set as they get closer and closer to the endzone. The Packers are once again aligned in a Cover 2 Man look. Sanu is the second receiver from the right in the trips set. An easy way to gain quick separation against man coverage as the inside receiver is to run a quick out route.
Sanu's burst and release off the line of scrimmage is a bit slow, but he does a great job at exploding towards the sideline at the top of his break to get separation from the cornerback. Ryan shows great timing on the route throwing the ball as soon as Sanu breaks towards the sideline. The ball is arriving as Sanu turns his head towards the quarterback which gives him plenty of space to turn up field and get yards after the catch.
The touchdown to Mohamed Sanu was a brilliant playcall by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who's been on fire this season after heavy offseason scrutiny. The Falcons have Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in a tight alignment to the left side of the formation. Julio is in the slot while Sanu is about a yard outside of him.
Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu run a switch verticals look up the seam. Switch verticals is the same thing as regular vertical routes, but the receivers switch positions at the snap of the ball. Julio runs outside and Sanu runs inside. What this does is clear out the safety sitting over top of Julio Jones in the endzone and it gets Sanu matched up against a linebacker in man coverage.
Jake Ryan, the linebacker covering Sanu, is forced to flip his hips and turn around to chase Sanu after taking his zone drops. Obviously, this is a disadvantageous situation for the second year linebacker as he gets roasted up the seam.
There's been a bit of discussion on the quality of the throw, but I thought the placement and timing was fantastic. The linebacker chasing Sanu was positioned to the inside; if the ball simply went right over the top of the linebacker it could have been deflected or intercepted (though that would've been an extremely difficult play to make). Ryan threw the ball away from the linebacker and trusted his receiver to make a great back shoulder catch for the game winning score.
With Julio hobbled for the majority of the game, it was encouraging to see Atlanta get a return on their big free agent investment with the game on the line. Kyle Shanahan also called an incredible drive using Julio Jones as a decoy to get Sanu open against linebackers and soft underneath coverage. This should instill some faith in the fanbase that Sanu can shoulder a larger portion of the workload in a situation where Jones can't go 100%.
The offense, particularly the passing game, is rolling on all cylinders right now. If the Falcons want to be taken seriously as a title contender they'll need help from everyone on the offense. Sunday's game against the Packers was a nice step in that direction.