Despite Colin Kaepernick experiencing his first start as a pro, the Niners came out firing.
It didn’t take long to recognize the incredible range he has as a thrower. One of his best features coming out of the NCAA was his powerful arm, which was on full display.
But Kaepernick enlightened us in regards to a few more things he can do.
For a second-year player that’s relatively new to a pro-style offense, his execution was nearly flawless. He definitely surprised some people—especially the Bears—with his pocket awareness. He could be seen evading pressure and making great decisions with the ball.
Kaepernick was making pre-snap reads followed by the proper adjustments. Well into his second year in this offense, he was comfortable and assertive enough to make corrections.
After the snap, Kaepernick was going through progressions and executing with play-intent. His motions were this genuine blend of being tranquil yet time-based. He never looked stiff—he was calm and appeared to have complete faith his receivers would be on point and that his line would hold up.
The second-year man out of Nevada-Reno got everyone involved, seeming very keen on ball distribution. Kaepernick finished having connected with seven different receivers on 16 completions.
He also looked off defenders and made quick decisions. Kaepernick’s ability to progress through his reads and make rapid decisions will become a huge asset as his career develops. And that asset is supported by another: his willingness to pull the trigger on tight-window throws.
Throughout the evening, Kaepernick gave his receivers opportunities to make plays on the football. He seemed like the root of all things positive for the 49ers. In the following breakdown, we'll take a look at what made San Francisco's new starting QB so effective on Monday night.
BREAKING: Jim Harbaugh has informed Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick will start Sunday, per source. Said decision not based on health.
— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) November 22, 2012
Play #1: Kaepernick 57-yarder to K. Williams
On a 3rd-and-7, San Francisco is clearly showing pass by coming out of the shotgun with a three-wide receiver set. You'll be able to identify Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams (bottom) lined up to the right and Mario Manningham (top) split out left.
Vernon Davis was also an eligible receiver on the play.
The Bears are stacked up front and go man-to-man the rest of the way. Their intent was to pressure the 49ers quarterback and force a quick throw.
The matchup in the trenches is key on this play.
Upon the snap, the 49ers' offensive line connected with the Bears and provided a clean pocket for Kaepernick. With great protection up front and everyone accounted for, No. 7 had a cushioned pocket to throw from on this play.
From this position, Kaepernick could have drilled a completion to Davis who had a defensive back in the trail position on his deep crosser. Manningham also wound up with one-on-one coverage down the left sideline. But after assessed options, Kaepernick committed to the fly-pattern that Williams was taking near the right sideline.
While Kaep potentially had a man open across the middle with Davis' crosser, he used his arm strength to take a bigger bite out of this play.
Manningham and Williams took the defense deep from the split-end and slot position, but it was Williams that got behind the coverage.
Kaepernick is well aware of his abilities and knew he had the arm strength to deliver the ball when his receiver beat the two safeties. Even with two players near his target—Major Wright and Chris Conte—Kaepernick took his shot to Williams.
The 49ers QB put so much air under it that at the last minute, he was able to skew the trajectory so it would be near the sideline, thereby making it catchable by his receiver but no one else. It was a ball that traveled 44 yards in the air, and ultimately gashed the Bears for nearly 60 yards.
It was nothing but open space ahead of Williams.
Play #2: Kaepernick 3-yard TD to V. Davis
Following the bomb to Kyle Williams, the 49ers found themselves in a red-zone situation, three yards away from the goal.
At first glance, this play looked like a possible fade or slant to Randy Moss. He is the lone 6'4" receiver with one-on-one coverage since San Francisco's jumbo packaged lured 10 of Chicago's defenders to the box.
So, the Bears defense is likely thinking run blitz and/or jam Moss at the line and they'll live to see another down. Unfortunately for Chicago, that's not the way it went down.
In the 49ers' first red-zone attempt on this series, Greg Roman dialed up a play-action pass. However, there aren't many receiving options—it's more about isolating the defense. What the Niners did so well on this play was win their one-on-one matchups while executing misdirection.
From left to right, it's visible that the 49ers blockers have all won their matchups. The defenders are isolated and Frank Gore stepped up in the pocket to pass-protect. The two free roaming players were Lance Briggs, who took a shot from Gore, and Conte who was spying Kaepernick over the middle.
San Francisco only needed a couple receiving targets on this play because there was no one around to defend them.
To the left of your screen, you'll see Vernon Davis engaged with a defender, but that is just a moment before he releases and leaks out behind the coverage.
Kaepernick sold the fake and created a passing lane for himself. With all of the Chicago defenders still engaged with the offensive line, the first-time starter had an enormous pocket to throw from again.
The only hope for Chicago is that Israel Idonije can get a fingertip on this ball, but at this point, Kaepernick knows it's a touchdown.
After hanging in to block, Davis located a soft spot in the defense and got parallel with his quarterback. Kaepernick fired a laser high and away where Davis could reel it in for six points, but no defender could make a play on it.
A great play to finish off a statement drive by Colin Kaepernick.
Play #3: Kaepernick 10-yard TD to M. Crabtree
On this play, Kaepernick really had a chance to display his athleticism, as well as the ability to extend the play and go through his reads.
It made sense that San Francisco has a number of receiving targets on this play. On a 3rd-and-6 from the CHI-10, the 49ers needed to score a TD or at least convert. By the third quarter, the Niners were more than confident going to the air.
A big reason for that was because the first-rate blocking by the 49ers' offensive line was a constant throughout this game. Against very good Chicago defenders, the 49ers were winning their individual matchups.
With a cushioned pocket, Kaepernick began to go through his reads, while feeling the pressure around him.
After not liking the look, Kaepernick abandoned his first read and went to his second. The changing direction of his helmet is a clear sign of him surveying the field.
Luckily, Kaepernick had a clean pocket on this play, because there was a lot of congestion in the secondary. Kaepernick was able to stand tall, feel pressure, adjust accordingly and continue to look for options.
In this third screen-grab, we can see Kaepernick finally identify his target. Unfortunately, the pocket is beginning to close and Kaep is being forced to his left.
For any other quarterback, this would be a really awkward throw to try and make. However, this was something that Kaepernick excelled at during his time at Nevada. Coupled with his uncanny mobility, Kaepernick can throw accurately from unorthodox positions.
What NFL defenses are going to find out real quick is that Kaepernick can throw precisely across his body. As if his upper body and lower body are not connected, Kaepernick can rely on the familiarity of motions generated by his torso and shoulder to deliver the ball accurately.
With Kaepernick having been able to extend the play, things have now broken down for the Chicago defense.