For a fourth straight game, fans were privileged to see the new-look offense of the San Francisco 49ers, led now by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It is a unit that seems to be constantly evolving, as it is still young at its core.
On Sunday, Kaepernick improved to a 3-1 career mark as a starter. In a close game versus the visiting Miami Dolphins and their smash-mouth run defense, the second-year QB was able to close the game with the play of the day.
Kaepernick tied a franchise record, having the longest run for a QB with his 50-yard TD scamper. Before the play, San Francisco was leading Miami 20-13 with time winding down in the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins were very much alive.
The Miami defense had forced San Francisco into a 3rd-and-5, and was in a position to make a stop and get the ball back.
Prior to the run, Kaepernick had five carries for three yards on the day as he was trying to win the game with his arm. Miami’s defense had done a pretty good job of containing him and making sure he didn’t leave the pocket.
On a 3rd-and-5 from midfield with just over two minutes remaining in the game, the 49ers dialed up a read-option. San Francisco came out of the shotgun formation with a three-back set that included Delanie Walker (TE), Garret Celek (TE) and Frank Gore (RB).
The Dolphins responded to this full-house Pistol formation by loading the box, having a single-high safety and going with press man coverage.
Off the snap, Kaepernick faked the handoff to Gore, selling to the right side behind Anthony Davis and Vernon Davis. While doing that, the 49ers QB was able to keep his eyes open and read the field.
Kaepernick was able to quickly identify a running lane to his left.
The option caused the entire Dolphins defense to freeze—clearly thinking the run was going to the right as they committed accordingly. It’s not surprise the defense locked onto Gore, who had been having a very solid day running.
As you can see, the Dolphins defenders are honed in on No. 21. Meanwhile, Kaepernick has his blocker, Walker, one-on-one with LB Jason Trusnik.
This moment of hesitation was enough for Kaepernick to believe he could at least get to the first-down marker.
Kaepernick has found his lane and is hitting it at this point. Jared Odrick and Karlos Dansby are eliminated from this play here, as the second and third initial players that could have made a play on the ball-carrier.
This left No. 93, Jason Trusnik, as the lone man on the left side that maybe has a hope and a prayer to get a hand on Kaepernick. After disengaging from Walker, Trusnik’s feet were planted and his body was not in a position to make a clean tackle right away.
This pulled Trusnik into a footrace with Kaepernick—a QB with 4.53 40 speed. The one missed step by the outside linebacker bought enough time for Kaepernick to break to the perimeter.
This is why San Francisco continues to run the read option; it creates running lanes with misdirection and sleight of hand. With flawless execution, the 49ers were able to trigger a defensive breakdown by the Dolphins, who did a poor job of setting the edge.
At this point, everyone knows it’s a touchdown
As mentioned, Kaepernick ran a 4.5 40 at the NFL combine in 2011, which was second fastest for QBs and put him in the top 10 with the running backs. And since the Dolphins stacked the box, going with a single-high safety, as soon as Kaepernick caught the edge, it was over.
The essential factor to mention here is Michael Crabtree, who was the lone WR on the play, lining up at the split-end position.
the block that made the kaepernick td go has yet to be talked about: michael crabtree on the outside. locked up the cornerback.— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) December 9, 2012
Crabtree had his blue-collar work shirt on in Week 14, as he put forth a phenomenal effort on this game-sealing play. No. 15 drove CB Sean Smith backward, locking him up and allowing Kaepernick to run free. Crabtree’s effort here made this play possible.
Kaepernick put the game away on this read-option play, that is proving to be an effective new wrinkle in San Francisco's offense. This TD made it a two-score differential and put the game out of reach for Miami with time winding down.
This kind of ability makes all the difference for the 49ers, giving them an added dimension they would not have with Alex Smith starting.
It is still very early in Colin Kaepernick's career, so we could see this niche in the offense develop and become more effective. The fact that Kaepernick's record-setting dual-threat ability at the NCAA has transitioned to the pros is a scary thought.