Oakland Raiders Film Room Special: Michael Crabtree

3 of 4

Michael in the Middle

One of the major upsides of Michael Crabtree is his ability to find the soft spots in the middle of the defense, make the catch, and take a hit. While Carr was most efficient on the right sideline, most of his completions and yardage came from passes across the middle in the short to medium range. With Crabtree’s ability to dissect the middle zones, we can expect those numbers to grow larger and get more efficient for Carr in 2015.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In Week 3 against Arizona, SF showed the league they were willing to open up the passing game more than in previous years. On this 3rd Quarter play, they go with an empty backfield, shotgun look for Kaepernick. Two receivers line up on the right. Three receivers line up on the left, including Crabtree as the middle receiver on the left (bottom) side. The two outside receivers run go routes while the inside receivers run in-breaking routes to create a triangle in the middle to horizontally and vertically stretch the linebackers in coverage.

With Kaepernick at QB the middle linebacker is given a “spy” assignment, leaving the outside linebacker on the 3 receiver side to make a decision about how to cover the two slot receivers. He normally should have stuck to covering Stevie Johnson (13) on the inside, but he was reading Kaepernick’s eyes and dropped a little deeper. It didn’t matter – Crabtree used that against the linebacker. As soon as he felt the linebacker step outside to help, Crabtree broke inside and right behind the linebacker. Kaepernick had the cannon available to make the throw (something that actually reinforces his bad habits) and Crab made the catch in a fairly tight hole for the first down. Also note the tiny jab step he did on his break to keep the slot corner on his heels.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

This time Crabtree works toward the middle as the #1 receiver (farthest outside) on the right. 3rd & 8 in the 2nd Quarter. He gets inside leverage immediately off the line and reads the Tampa-2 style coverage (note the deep dropping middle linebacker). Crabtree breaks off his route just as it’s time for the defenders to swap responsibilities for him and hits the soft spot in front of the safety but not yet to the linebackers. He makes the catch, covers up to protect himself, and gets the big first down.

Next: Shiftiness for Deep Yardage