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Falcons GIF of the Week: Mohamed Sanu’s season-long run out of the wildcat

The Falcons’ most reliable short-yardage play worked brilliantly against Carolina.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Since signing with them in 2016, Mohamed Sanu has established himself as a fan favorite in Atlanta. The versatile wide receiver plays an integral role in the offense. His huge frame and veteran savvy provides Julio Jones much-needed support, especially in the red zone. Sanu’s route-running gives them a reliable receiving option who can flourish across different areas.

What makes him even more valuable is how he can be used in unorthodox ways. The former Rutgers star is known for his passing credentials. Jaws have been dropped after witnessing his pinpoint accuracy be unleashed. While his wicked right arm is only used once or twice a season, his legs are relied upon on a consistent basis out of the wildcat formation.

In this feature, I’ll be looking at one of the more significant plays from the Falcons’ previous game. It will be left out of my weekly GIF review for the purpose of further assessment on why it should be considered as a meaningful moment. Considering how many times they’ve fallen short on short-yardage situations this season; third down conversions shouldn’t be taken lightly. Combine their extensive woes with an explosive run and this is a noteworthy play that deserves recognition.

The Falcons faced a third-and-one on their first drive of the game. In what every team views as a favorable position, Dan Quinn’s team has failed to capitalize on numerous occasions. Not having a true power back does limit them to some extent. The real issues consist of an over-matched interior line featuring two backup guards, and rarely using a traditional full back. Running up the middle behind a notoriously small offensive line without a fullback leaves Ito Smith, who is the preferred short-yardage back over Tevin Coleman, helpless in trying to push forward toward the first down marker.

For all the criticism Steve Sarkisian has faced this season, he made one major adjustment to alleviate this issue. Turning a seldom-used play into a near-weekly staple is paying off. Kyle Shanahan only ran the wildcat twice in 2016. Once Sarkisian took over the following season, the increase in usage was evident. Sanu was given more freedom between handing the ball off to Devonta Freeman and taking matters into his own hands. They converted almost every short-yardage situation when operating out of the wildcat. Their success has transferred over into 2018.

This is the first time Brian Hill has lined up alongside Sanu. Given his lack of experience, there is a possibility the hand-off (or fake) doesn’t go smoothly and a fumble transpires. Both players know their assignment and perfectly execute them. Bryan Cox Jr. chases Hill on the zone read, which gives Sanu space to operate. Sanu’s quarterback background gives the Falcons an immediate edge in how well he sells the fake. With his play fake, there is only one requirement left for this play to be successful.

Austin Hooper is coming from the backside to make the seal block on Eric Reid. Given how well Reid has played this season, it’s not a routine block for the promising tight end. He opts to make contact with Cox Jr. before making the necessary block on Reid. Although it looks a bit awkward, Hooper manages to pick up his assignment and drive the hard-hitting safety away from the ball. That gives Sanu more than enough room to do what he does best. The all-around playmaker knows how to pick up yards after the catch. That attribute transfers over to running out of the backfield. What is normally a six or eight-yard pickup becomes a 24-yard gain. It puts the Falcons in the red zone on a 13-play drive ending with Jones scoring his seventh touchdown of the season.