The San Francisco 49ers made a wise choice to trade for former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. At this point a sixth-round pick for Boldin looks like highway robbery, and probably should have been considered highway robbery the entire time.
Boldin didn't take long to mesh with budding superstar quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick finished the season opener 27-of-39 for 412 yards and three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers, while Boldin finished with 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown.
Because it's just one game, it's hard to determine too much regarding the way in which the 49ers plan to use Boldin. It could easily change from week to week.
But one thing is for sure, if the 49ers face teams that want to play the same zone coverages that Boldin saw for much of the game against the Packers, that trade may end up going down as one of the best in recent 49ers history.
With so much attention being paid to the read option and Kaepernick's running ability, the Packers were forced to make a decision. Get after Kaepernick and send the pressure, thus only speeding up the time in which the read is to be made, not actually stopping it completely, or sit back in a zone and allow everyone's eyes to be in the back field.
For much of the game the Packers decided to play zone and keep the majority of the eyes in the back field.
It that sense it worked because the Packers held Kaepernick to just seven rushes for 22 yards, good for a measly 3.1 yards per carry.
The problem the Packers ran into was Boldin's ability to find the soft spot in the zone coverage, and make tough catches in traffic. He's a perfect fit for what that offense needed when they lost Michael Crabtree, who is a solid player himself, but schematically Boldin provides more issues to the defense because of his physicality and the zone coverages they'd like to play.
This first play is fairly basic in what the 49ers were doing against the zone coverage they were seeing from the Packers.
After the tight end had motioned out right (bottom of screen), set in the Pistol formation Kaepernick immediately looked left after the snap and gave a little shoulder fake as if he was throwing the curl or quick out that way.
This caused the cornerback to try and jump the route, and in his defense, they're playing a Cover 2 defense so he knew he had got help over the top.
But Boldin found the soft spot in the zone and Kaepernick threw an accurate enough pass that with a little acrobatics Boldin could come down with the ball.
These are the kinds of plays the 49ers were running against the Packers defense, which was so predicated on stopping the read option and running game that it became vulnerable to a physical player with a knack for making tough catches in traffic and down the field.
This next collage of pictures shows one of the more impressive catches you'll see all season from a wide receiver.
The pass was thrown into double-coverage and even with two defensive backs sandwiching Boldin, and with the ball being thrown in the only place he'd be able to catch it, somehow Boldin still managed to come down with it.
It was truly an amazing catch and throw by Kaepernick and Boldin on this play, which came early in the third quarter and set the tone for the 49ers in the second half.
This next one illustrates one of those plays that always seem to look bad when the referees call an illegal "pick play," but when the defender doesn't make enough contact it looks perfectly legal. But it shows another way the 49ers were trying to get Boldin the ball.
Boldin was lined up as the slot receiver and as soon as the ball was snapped, he and the outside receiver will cross down the field.
The outside receiver's responsibility looked to be occupying the defensive back that was spying Boldin once they get to the top of their routes. He would cut back inside and just alter the defensive back's path enough that Boldin was able to break off his route and create some separation.
It worked and the 49ers picked up a fairly easy nine yards.
Will Anquan Boldin finish 2013 with more than 1,300 receiving yards?
These don't look to be intricate passing schemes the 49ers were using to get Boldin the ball. He's not the fastest receiver or even the best route runner out there, but he was perfectly set up to have a big game for the Packers' defense and the offense they were trying to stop.
That's not to say that Boldin couldn't do well against man-coverage either; we've seen that from him throughout his career. His ability to make tough catches with guys draped all over him has been widely documented.
But if you're conceding a free release off the line of scrimmage because you're afraid your defensive backs have no idea what's happening in the back field when their attention is turned in man coverage, well, you better have a backup plan in case that starts to fail.
The Packers never figured out an answer for Boldin. Who knows? Maybe they'll get another shot down the road.