The first thing that strikes you when watching tape of Anquan Boldin in 2015 is that the Detroit Lions are incredibly lucky to have Matthew Stafford as their quarterback. Are there better signal callers in the league? Sure, I don’t think anyone would really argue otherwise, but I just watched every pass of two games from Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert each. Let me tell you that anyone who even mentions a Stafford trade is either not a fan of the team, or just doesn’t watch the league as a whole. I have seen bad quarterback play my friends, and I tell you now that even at his worst last season I wouldn’t trade Stafford for anything short of five first round picks and a competent game managing quarterback. I have stared into the abyss dear readers and I think I have been changed by it. That’s a terrible introduction to an article about Anquan Boldin, but I needed to get it out. I watched four games, two near the beginning of the season, and two near the end. Two in which he had been successful, and two in which he struggled statistically; looking for what it is that makes this player who he is. I watched the 49ers games against the Giants in week five (8 catches 107 yards), Ravens in week six (5 catches, 102 yards), Browns in week 14 (2 catches, 22 yards), and Bengals in week 15 (8 catches, 74 yards). I am not going to bore you with a play by play summary, but instead the general overview of how Boldin plays the game, with specific examples you can watch in the highlights where applicable.
Anquan Boldin Does Not Just Run Routes
A play against the Browns at 7:11 in the third quarter brought to mind exactly how good Anquan Boldin is as a route runner. The defense was man coverage under a two deep safety shell. Nate Orchard lined up with an outside shade on Boldin, as his safety help was to the inside. This means that Orchard’s number one responsibility was to not get beaten outside on the play. He can get beat deep, the safety is there to cover him for that, but if he gets beat to the outside then Boldin is in the clear and it’s likely a completion. Orchard is playing off man coverage, so he is letting Boldin come to him. Boldin runs right at Orchard. If you’ve watched a lot of Boldin, which Orchard has, you know that there’s a pretty good chance that Boldin will essentially truck and throw Orchard about three yards, turn around and catch an eight-yard hook on first down before the safety can do anything about it. What happens in this case, is that Boldin bends his route line slightly outside Orchard’s position, forcing Orchard to take a single step to the outside just as Boldin is about to reach him or risk being beaten outside. As Orchard takes that step Boldin cuts inside, and Orchard’s feet are in no position to go with him. Orchard grabs Boldin and takes the flag, because the other option is to let Boldin make an easy reception at full speed with only a safety between him and a touchdown. That’s a first down that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet granted by the veteran savvy Boldin brings to the table. He read the coverage responsibility of the man in front of him, and ran the route in a way that beat his opponent, drawing a flag.
The Old Man Still Has A Few Tricks Up His Sleeve
The 49ers opened their passing game with two bubble screens against the Giants in week five, for 39 yards. Boldin’s blocking ability was the key to that yardage. He is not a player that is going to earhole opponents in the way that Heinz Ward was known for. What he does is put his big body between the opponent and where they want to go, then push them until they use their quickness to get around him. He isn’t going to hurt anyone but he has pretty good technique for a receiver, getting underneath much smaller men regularly. Pretty much every NFL defensive back is going to be able to get around Boldin eventually but he’s put the work in to make himself a dependable blocker. You’ll see him moving laterally downfield, reading the movement of the defenders on running plays, to determine where the runner behind him is cutting. He rarely just runs past a defender while they make the play, he almost always holds his man up long enough that they can’t make a tackle. It’s the sort of thing that no receiver coach is ever going to focus on with young receivers, but a veteran presence like Boldin may be able to impart to Jay Lee or Quinshad Davis, that will help them make a 53 man roster at some point in the future.
Anquan Boldin Can Still Get It Done
Boldin is still athletic enough to contribute, this is not a fossil or a player that’s lost the things that got him to the NFL in the first place. In the week four game against the Ravens, the 49ers opened with a bubble screen to Boldin. He did not get the same quality of blocking from his fellow receivers as he gives them, but he was able to dance around four Ravens defenders after the play was stuffed. He then took that bubble screen caught well outside the right hash for a fourteen yard gain up the left sideline. Going back to the Giants game first at 11:50 in the first quarter and then 3:48 of the fourth, as the 49ers were driving to seal the game, Boldin was able to get behind the defender tasked with stopping him. While he lacks that extra gear a receiver like Torey Smith will use to get separation, Boldin excels in getting his body between defenders and the ball. He will adjust his stride to get his outstretched hands to where the ball is going to be with the defensive back all but running into Boldin as he slows down. It looks like a perfect throw in the highlights. It’s not until you see the coach’s tape, through an overhead view showing all eleven players on the field at all times, that you really appreciate exactly what Boldin is capable of doing with a terrible throw. He never had that top gear, so losing a little speed as he ages is not a problem. He’s been perfecting the art of being a slow and big bodied receiver for 13 years.
Anquan Boldin Is One Tough Sunuvabitch
Another thing you’ll hear about Anquan Boldin is that he’s tough, and that he lives for the game. Let me tell you about the time I thought I had watched a man die in an internationally televised sporting event. Actually I’m just going to show you the most horrifying hit in the history of the NFL.
It’s a hit so awful that the quarterback who threw the ball was on the sideline crying because he thought he had killed his teammate. Kurt Warner almost retired because of this hit. If you want to see that happen to a player you are about to love in a Lions jersey see the video below.
The fact that this was not the end of Boldin’s career, that he ever got back on a football field, is a testament to the willpower and toughness that he possesses.
Now I wouldn’t want you to think he’s perfect. Father time has most definitely caught up to Boldin. You can see it as you watch the highlight video at the bottom of the page. Every time he changes jerseys, his game gets a little less explosive, a little less flashy. But I am guessing that Boldin’s days as a productive NFL receiver are not done. The biggest problem he had last year was when he ran into big defensive backs that were younger and more athletic than him. The Bengals game was a long one for Boldin. He did manage eight catches against Cincinnati, but less than ten yards per reception as he was not able to impose his will on their secondary. This more than anything is where you see the ravages of time on Boldin. But the Lions did not pay Boldin to be what he once was, at $2.75 million Boldin is being paid like the 50th best WR in the NFL. What that means is that the Lions have paid for something in the vicinity of the 55 catches, and 577 yards that Riley Cooper gave the Eagles last season. Given better quarterback play than he has seen in years, there is no reason to believe that even an aged Boldin will not exceed that value. Since slinging Kool-Aid is what we do here at detroitlionspodcast.com check out this video of Anqan Boldin’s career highlights:
Let’s all hope that if this is his last ride, he goes out with the same bang in Detroit that he came in with.