By now the San Francisco 49ers loss in the 2012 NFC Championship Game is the stuff of legend, both in New York and San Francisco. Giants fans remember the game as a launching point to their second Super Bowl since the 2007 season, while 49ers fans almost throw up when thinking about what might have been.
Fans and players in San Francisco want revenge, and they'll get their chance for it against the Giants this week.
The 49ers lost in last year's NFC Championship Game because of two lost fumbles and an offense that didn't have the weapons or attitude to dominate and take over games. We're seeing a different team in 2012.
Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke beefed up the offense and brought back all 11 starters on defense for this season, and now they're ready to exact their revenge on the Giants. But how?
One of the toughest routes in the NFL to defend this season has been the wheel route the 49ers are running with Vernon Davis. With the Giants' overaggressive safeties, this play should result in big gains.
The 49ers do a great job utilizing their two tight ends, and here we see Davis and Delanie Walker in a jumbo set on the bottom of the picture (formation-right). This poses a problem for the Giants, as this can signify a heavy run formation or a pass set. The Bills adjusted by walking up their strong safety into the box and leaving one deep safety.
At the snap, the two tight ends run almost parallel, but by doing this they flood the zone. The Bills' defenders play this pretty well, but the two players moving simultaneously through the zone causes confusion—and separation. We still see the free safety playing deep thirds, but he's far from the action.
The result is that a cornerback picks up Delanie Walker, but Vernon Davis runs away from his coverage. This gives Alex Smith a monster window to throw through, and a 50-yard gain for Davis.
Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree
The addition of Mario Manningham has been big for the 49ers' passing game, as his explosive speed on the edge causes defenses to give San Francisco more zone looks. When a defense runs a zone look, Harbaugh dials up combination routes to give Alex Smith easy reads and easy throws.
Again we see the 49ers in a double-tight offense, with the two wide receivers alone at the top of the formation. The Bills are giving a man look, but the 49ers have motioned the outside receiver to see how the Bills shift.
This is a two-man route, and that's all the 49ers need thanks to the play design and call against the Bills' defense. Smith recognizes zone coverage and knows that a large passing window (shown in white) will open up. Now it's as easy as dropping the pass in the bucket for a 19-yard gain.
The addition of Colin Kaepernick into the lineup since the 49ers' loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3 has added another dangerous layer to the team's offensive firepower. Expect to see plenty of Kaepernick this weekend, just please stop calling it the "Wildcat."
What makes the 49ers so dangerous with Kaepernick in? They start the formation with four spread wide receivers (two of them tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker) and third-down back Kendall Hunter in the backfield. Everything about this formation screams pass.
Kaepernick motions Walker from the formation right slot into the backfield, giving San Francisco a "pistol" look with Hunter beside Kaepernick and Walker behind the quarterback. From this the 49ers can run inside, run outside or pass.
Kaepernick runs a simple, but effective, triple option. Kendall Hunter is the "dive back" into the two hole, and Kaepernick has the option to hand it off there. Behind that action, Walker begins to arc out and prepare to shadow Kaepernick as they carry out the option.
The beauty of this play is that the 49ers have so many options, and the New York Jets played this terribly on defense. The goal of the option is to isolate a defender and then play off his read. In this case the outside linebacker was isolated, and the 49ers were left with options. In the end, Kaepernick keeps the ball for a 17-yard gain.
The 49ers won't have an easy walk to a victory, and a bit of revenge, but the table is set for the San Francisco offense to open up the playbook and attack the New York Giants in a way they could not during the 2012 NFC Championship Game. With the additions of Kaepernick and Manningham into the lineup, plus more two-tight end sets, San Francisco's offensive versatility will be the perfect match to its aggressive defense.