Breaking Down Colin Kaepernick's Role and Future for San Francisco 49ers
After watching Sunday's game against the Jets, it's clear that San Francisco took the loss to the Vikings all too personal. They were determined to get back to do what they do best, and that's run the football.
By game's end, Greg Roman had called a total of 44 run plays. A far cry from the 20 runs he called in Week 3.
An interesting wrinkle was added to the game plan this week. Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick saw his most extensive action of the season this weekend, and it didn't go unnoticed. Up until this week, Kaepernick had only seen one snap all season long, so his increase in playing time against the Jets was one of the bigger surprises. But by game's end, there was no question this could be the norm going forward.
According to my count, I had him down for six official plays. Four of those were impact plays that had a direct impact on the game, and two of them were kneel downs at the end of the game.
The 49ers used him sparingly, yet every packaged seemed to have a different look. With the help of NFL Game Rewind, let's take a look at what kind of dimension he gives San Francisco's offense. At the end, I will also give my thoughts on his future in the Bay Area and what we can expect from him if he does indeed become the starter.
Play No. 1: First Quarter, 7:34 Left to Play
On Kaepernick's first entry into the game, San Francisco is in 12 personnel. Two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back made up his arsenal of weapons.
Tight end Delanie Walker motioned into the backfield so he can get out front and block for Kaepernick. Kendall Hunter is on the left and will fake the handoff and head into the B-gap with the intention of drawing defenders to him.
As No. 7 fakes the handoff to Hunter, he then takes off in the opposite direction (in between the numbers and the inside hashmarks). His speed is on full display here as he outruns his lead blocker, Walker.
However, there are two blockers out in front who set up the long run. In the screenshot above, I have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis circled. Davis sealed off safety LaRon Landry and Crabtree sealed off cornerback Kyle Wilson.
The read option is a play you would think New York's defense would be prepared for considering they practice against Tim Tebow. When Kaepernick turned the play upfield, it was incredible the way the fake just froze outside linebacker Calvin Pace and inside linebacker David Harris.
By play's end, he had covered 17 yards and picked up a first down. It ended up being the longest play of the drive, but unfortunately, the drive stalled due to a hold, and San Fran had to punt five plays later.
Play No. 2: First Quarter, 5:47 Left to Play
This play would end up being his first and only pass of the game. The 49ers are in that same 12 personnel grouping, with the only difference being the alignment of the tight ends. Last play, there was one tight end in the backfield and one in the slot. This time, Davis and Walker are lined up on separate ends in a single back look.
For the second time in as many plays, Kaepernick will fake to the running back. The play-action fake here will try and draw the defensive secondary up, as Randy Moss will be the primary target at left wide receiver.
Moss preceded to run a nine-route down the left sideline, yet not one Jets defender is fooled. Neither Wilson, Landry or Antonio Cromartie go for the fake. Wilson is so confident the ball is going to Moss he abandons his coverage on Mario Manningham to go help out deep.
Even though there is triple coverage, Kaepernick stills tries to force the ball down field. In fairness, he really had no other option considering only two players went out on routes. The linebackers took over on coverage on Manningham when Wilson bailed, so no one was open.
I actually liked the play call because the Niners had been rushing the ball so well that they eventually had to take a shot downfield. The 48-yard pass attempt fell incomplete, yet you could see Moss almost reeled in the bomb. Landry did a nice job of knocking it away at the last second.
Play No. 3: Second Quarter, 13:43 Left to Play
The third play of Kaepernick's day was the most electric; it was a seven-yard touchdown run out of what appeared to be a wildcat set. The set featured a heavy look with two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver.
Moss was split out wide right and used as a decoy. Fullback Bruce Miller was motioned across the face of the formation to seal off the inside. After the ball is snapped, Miller heads right for No. 50, Walker takes on No. 52 and Davis erases No. 30.
Frank Gore's block on Wilson proves to be the most crucial. Wilson is the last line of defense in stopping the touchdown run, but he stood no chance, as Gore ran him over with ease. I circled every key block that needed to be made, and by no one's surprise, every block was made.
San Francisco is so good at winning its one-on-one assignments and holding its blocks. To me there is no better run blocking team in the NFL.
This score was what got San Fran's day kick-started on the ground.
Play No. 4: Fourth Quarter, 2:00 Left to Play
The last play could have been Kaepernick's biggest play of his young career, yet he showed off his class and respect for the game. Roman's offense was in 21 personnel, and they were just looking to keep the clock running. A first down would have also been nice on this third-down play.
A naked bootleg was the call for Kaepernick and the offense. For the third time in four plays, he fakes the ball to the running back. It proves to be the perfect fake, as the Jets defense gets sucked in right up the middle.
With everyone thinking Anthony Dixon has the ball, he is running down the right side of the field like a gazelle. His long stride inches him closer to the end zone, but when he reaches the five-yard line, he slides to keep the clock running.
I couldn't believe he slid. Most young players would trot in for the touchdown so they could celebrate in the spotlight. However, it's clear Harbaugh has him well-trained for certain game situations. Not to mention his defense has to be happy that slide helped preserve a shutout.
After two kneel downs, his final stat-line was five carries for 50 yards and one touchdown. The incomplete pass was only the sixth pass attempt of his career.
At first glance, Kaepernick appears to be a gadget player, but he is so much more than a Pat White or a Tim Tebow. His ability to read and react against an above-average defense really shined through. It played right into his strengths, and the 49ers offense could very well look like this if he ever became the starting quarterback.
I think we all know what we are getting when Alex Smith is in the game. So, it wouldn't surprise me if this season was his last in a Niners uniform. Only $1 million of his 2013 salary is guaranteed, so it's not like they are on the hook for a lot of money if they do cut him.
By letting him go, that doesn't necessarily mean Kaepernick becomes the immediate starter. They could go look for a veteran like they did this past offseason with Manning. I realize I may be in the minority on this, but the kid has a big arm, and they used a second-round draft selection on him. Not many second-round picks ever get the opportunity to start.
At one point or another, he will get a shot at showing off his live arm. Yes, his accuracy does need some work, but I'm sure 49er fans would welcome a quarterback who can make throws downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has only attempted four passes of 20 yards plus.
Regardless, Coach Harbaugh does a great job of playing to the strength of his on field personnel. So, there's no reason to think San Francisco couldn't win with No. 7 under center. In my opinion, he is the quarterback of the future for this franchise.
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