Last Thanksgiving, two men arrived at M&T Bank Stadium sporting Fu Manchus. Dennis Pitta caught his first of many touchdowns from good friend Joe Flacco and the Ravens beat the 49ers. On that night, it became clear that Flacco and Pitta had chemistry that could carry their team far.
The connection between the Ravens QB and tight end will be ever important on Super Bowl Sunday. I expect the Ravens offense to use 11 personnel (1 Back, 1 Tight End) to try and spread out the San Francisco Defense. The 49ers like to play man defense and Patrick Willis is often asked to cover the opposing tight end. In the NFC Championship Tony Gonzalez was able to get open on Willis as he recorded 8 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Pitta is underrated around the league and is very similar to Gonzalez at this point.
The Ravens will use short timing routes against Patrick Willis to move the ball down the field.
On this play, Patrick Willis is manned up on Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is off the line and lined up in the slot, a position that Pitta is often utilized in. Gonzalez will run a simple out route.
Gonzalez gets tremendous separation and catches the ball for a moderate gain.
Here is an almost identical play where Gonzalez takes advantage of Willis’ shaky coverage.
Willis looks uncomfortable in man coverage and often tries to muscle his assignment instead of playing great technique.
You can see that Willis is refusing to allow Gonzalez to get inside position and the Falcons continue to call outs that will exploit that coverage.
Gonzalez gets wide open and catches another pass.
Gonzalez again lines up in the slot for Atlanta in the red zone.
Willis is manned up on Gonzalez with a safety over the top. The Falcons recognize that Willis is starting to sit on the short routes and they decide to go with a stick and go route.
Willis appears to have Gonzalez well covered but he doesn’t anticipate Gonzalez breaking towards the end zone.
Willis is left in the dust and the safety is late to make a play on the diving TD catch.
The 49ers don’t play man exclusively though. Here, Gonzalez is split outside and the 49ers call a zone blitz.
Matt Ryan sees the blitz and the Falcons line picks up the rushing Willis. The play side safety buzzes underneath Gonzalez into the flat zone while the corner bails into his deep third zone.
Gonzalez runs to the open space vacated by Willis and catches the pass for a nice gain.
Willis is a great player, especially in the run game, but he can be had in the passing game. The Ravens must use his aggressiveness to their advantage by letting Flacco look for Pitta. Here’s hoping these friends will get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.