November 26, 2017 Atlanta: Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu takes the snap at quarterback and throws a touchdown pass to Julio Jones during the first half against the Buccaneers in a NFL football game on Sunday, November 26, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/
Photo: Compton
Photo: Compton

Mohamed Sanu perfect trigger man for Falcons’ ‘12 Gauge’ attack

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu goes to quarterback in the shotgun and has a running back to his side. Quarterback Matt Ryan flanks out to the wide receiver position. 

While Sanu said he can throw a football 75 yards, he didn’t warm up his throwing arm before the game.

“I just go into the game,” Sanu said. “It was called and I was ready.”

Against the Bucs, Sanu, who played quarterback in high school and college, faked a handoff and then launched a 51-yard bomb to wide receiver Julio Jones for a touchdown. 

“It’s something that if we can find a play here or there that can fit into a situation obviously Sanu has a lot of background in operating it all the way back to high school,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “Running the Wildcat at Rutgers and doing it in his early years in Cincinnati.”

The Falcons have used the “12 Gauge” for four plays in four games this season. All of the plays were third downs, and they converted every time.

In the second game of the season, against Green Bay, on a third-and-1 at the Falcons’ 30-yard line in the fourth quarter, Sanu took the direct snap and handed off to Devonta Freeman, who gained 8 yards.

Two games later against the Bills on Oct. 1, on third-and-2 from Buffalo’s 5-yard line, Sanu took the direct snapped and gained four yards. His mad dash was initially was ruled a touchdown, but was overturned on replay. 

The Falcons put up the “12 Gauge” for the next five games and didn’t use it again until facing Seattle on Nov. 20. On third-and-1 from Seattle’s 9-yard line with 12:43 to go in the first quarter, Sanu took the direct snap and ran up the middle for 3 yards.

Before the Bucs game, the Falcons hadn’t shown a pass play. Sanu appeared to catch the Bucs sleeping with single coverage on Jones.

“It’s been effective for us,” Sarkisian said. “We are not trying to major in it. When we can find an area where it can fit, we’ll put it in and they guys can execute it.”

Sanu said reading a defense is second nature to him when goes to quarterback.

“I’m just an athlete,” Sanu said. “There really isn’t much too it. That’s part of football.”

Currently, there are no plans to use the attack more. 

“I think with the Wildcat, there are always wrinkles to it,” Sarkisian said. “We obviously don’t major in it.”

The Wildcat had its day in the NFL. The Dolphins used it during the 2008 season to befuddle Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Running back Ronnie Brown would move to quarterback and his running back was Ricky Williams.  

It was a season after the Dolphins had gone 1-15 and New England went 17-1. 

The Dolphins’ offense leaped from 28th to 12th in the league under coach Tony Sparano. The Dolphins offensive coordinator was Dave Lee, who was quarterbacks coach at Arkansas when they ran the Wild Hog with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis in the SEC.

Defenses eventually caught up to the Wildcat and its mostly been in moth balls.  

Sanu is the perfect player to run the attack. 

“He’s not a selfish guy,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “He goes in and he blocks in the running game. He does it all. He’s a complete player. He throws the ball.”

Sanu is 6-for-6 passing for 228 yards and three touchdowns over his career. He has a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

At Rutgers, Sanu completed 8 of 18 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns. 

Because he does some of the offense’s heavy lifting the coaches don’t mind rewarding him with a play that fits in to the offense.

“That’s one of the things is being a good player in the league and play for a long time in the ability to go block and do things like that and you are going to get rewarded,” Jones said. “Guys want to play with you, want to do things with you and offensive coordinators want to get you the ball.”

When the Falcons were looking to sign Sanu, his quarterback skills were a bonus.

“He had done a really good job there on third downs and winning his man-to-man matchups,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s what we were looking for first.”

He’s thrown touchdown passes to A.J. Green while with the Bengals.

“We had always really liked his physical style,” Quinn said. “In this system, you better be able to block and not have a problem doing that.”

Although the Falcons have used the scheme in just four games, the “12 Gauge” package normally is in the game plan.

“It’s always been up, so sometimes you just need a certain look,” Quinn said. “When the looks are available, that’s an option at that time on that play. 

“The stars have to align correctly to have the look to go. He’s now lobbying to kick. I told him that Jim Brown has all those records.” 

What’s next? A pass to Ryan?

“That’s not one of the options,” Quinn said. “He’s option No. 12.”  

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