The Falcons' offense is explosive, as it showed last week in a 45-10 rout of San Francisco. Atlanta systematically dismantled one of the hottest defenses in the league with a brilliant game plan crafted by second-year offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
Mularkey attacked every inch of the field, while utilizing the "22" personnel package often.
The "22" personnel package consists of two backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver. There's not a team in the league with more big-play potential out of this package than the Falcons, and Mularkey took advantage of it on Sunday.
The package is typically used when a team wants to run the ball. They bring in a fullback, an extra tight end and they tighten up the formation, forcing the defense to account for extra gaps in the run game.
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If you have an elite No. 1 wide receiver, play-action passing out of 22 personnel can be a nice wrinkle. If you have an elite No. 1 wide receiver AND a future Hall of Fame tight end, the 22 package can be your entire offense.
Among the plays Atlanta has executed out of the "22": Tony Gonzalez's 24-yard touchdown in the Falcons' Week 2 win over the Panthers, and Roddy White's 31-yard touchdown against the 49ers this past Sunday.
When Atlanta lines up with Gonzalez on the right, Peelle as a wing outside of him, and the two backs in an I-formation, the defense must first concern itself with a running play to the Falcons' right. It's just basic, sound, defensive football. You can't be outnumbered in the running game, or you will lose.
The fact that the defense must have enough bodies to account for the run, limits its schematic options, and provides very predictable fronts and coverages for the offense.
San Francisco played what is called "quarter/quarter/half" coverage. It's Cover-4, or quarters, to one side of the field and Cover-2, or halves, to the other. The 49ers played Cover-4 to the side of Gonzalez and Peelle, and Cover-2 to the side of White.
As a Cover-4 safety, Michael Lewis had a run/pass read. If a run came to his side, he would be forced to come up and fill quickly. If it was a pass, he would have to defend any vertical route in his zone.
On the other side, Cover-2 safety Dashon Goldson had no initial responsibility in the run defense, but had a tall task in covering half of the field against Roddy White.
The design of Atlanta's play broke down the quarter/quarter/half defense.
There were three key elements. First, quarterback Matt Ryan faked a handoff to Turner to the right, in the direction of Lewis. Second, Gonzalez attacked vertically, entering Lewis' zone. Third, White sprinted 15 yards downfield, made a break inside, and ran across the field deep behind Lewis.
It was a well-conceived scheme that broke down the 49ers' defense. Lewis was focused solely on Gonzalez, Goldson had no chance to cover White and all Ryan had to do was lay the ball out into the end zone for the touchdown. With the big-play ability of Turner, Gonzalez and White, expect to see a lot more of the "22" personnel package from Atlanta this season.