5 Ways the Green Bay Packers Can Counter Colin Kaepernick
A lot of people will point out to pundits and Niners fans that the Packers team heading to San Francisco this week is very different than the one who lost in Week 1.
The same is actually true of the 49ers as well, because it's second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is under center now, not Alex Smith.
You probably know Kaepernick because of the tattoo flap a month or so ago, or maybe because of his SportsCenter highlights.
He's going to be a handful for the Packers defense, make no mistake.
Kaepernick's not unstoppable though and some of his success comes at a cost.
There are five ways for the Packers to counter Kaepernick.
1) Pressure Early and Often
Don't let Kaepernick get comfortable, inside or outside of the pocket. He needs to be hit early and often if for no other reason than to throw his rhythm off. While Kaepernick is no rookie, he's still a young player and a "new" starter with little playoff experience.
Get after him early and throw him off his game. Make him rush his throws and most importantly, don't give him any time for deep routes to develop.
Kaepernick is far more dangerous on the vertical routes than Alex Smith ever was and while his accuracy can be streaky, there's no reason to chance it.
Make him throw short, where he occasionally overpowers his receivers with balls thrown way too hard. Finesse takes time for some young quarterbacks—I believe he will get there, but it's not the case right now.
There are two players who need to be factors here.
Obviously, Clay Matthews needs to have a good game. He had 2.5 sacks in Week 1, but again, this is a different offense. Besides, Matthews' impact need not—indeed should not—be limited to just sacks.
As we've talked about before, him bringing pressure from one side, forcing the quarterback in the opposite direction creates chances for the other defenders to get a hit in on Kaepernick.
Other than Matthews though, I expect a lot from Charles Woodson. Against the Vikings—and especially Adrian Peterson—Woodson stepped up to close running lanes and gaps many times, but also hung back as sort of what I term a "containment safety."
In other words, Woodson made sure that if the running back broke through the line, he was there to grate him before he really hit the second level.
Woodson needs to do this not only with Frank Gore, but to contain Kaepernick as well.
The "pistol" formation is one the Packers could most struggle with, though they will always want to make sure they have containment on the Niners quarterback.
When Kaepernick lines up in the "pistol"—which is less than half the time according to Dave Fucillo of Niners Nation (follow him here for the scoop)—the Packers will have to be very alert for him to tuck the ball in and run.
He'll also run when he sees his receivers covered too well and tries to take advantage of an empty second level.
Like Aaron Rodgers, Kaepernick is dangerous with his feet outside of the pocket.
Woodson (and to an extent the rest of the secondary) has to be ready for Kaepernick to break free and be there to stop him.
Of course, Kaepernick doesn't just run when he scrambles.
2) Give Kaepernick No Downfield Options
While I haven't seen nearly as much of Kaepernick as I have NFC North quarterbacks, when I got the chance I noticed he often keeps his eyes downfield as he scrambles and looks for somewhere to throw. Not always, but often.
So when he pulls the ball down, the secondary can't totally abandon coverage.
Now, sometimes Kaepernick will pull the ball down early—as soon as he sees nothing downfield—and run. Other times he'll pull it down but still look to pass.
The key for the Packers is to figure out which is which.
That's only going to come through massive tape sessions which, I can only imagine, started right after the game Saturday night. They'll have to become very familiar with his tendencies so they aren't guessing—or at least are making the most educated guess possible.
That way they'll know when they can break, and when they have to be extra cautious of a last-minute long ball.
3) Watch the Middle of the Field
Since Kaepernick became the starter, Vernon Davis hasn't seen much work. I have a feeling that might change a bit this week, as his size and physicality make him a problem for the Packers' linebackers.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, Kaepernick sometimes throws a bit hard on the shorter routes and his receivers can have problems handling the ball.
That said, the Niners have multiple weapons who could be useful in the short and middle of the field, and to me, Davis is the most dangerous.
The Packers have to be very aware of who is crossing or running short routes to the middle.
As with balancing containing Kaepernick's running and the long ball, the Packers will also have to decide how much they want to protect the center of the field.
Does Morgan Burnett sneak up on occasion to help out? How many linebackers drop into coverage? Does one of the corners creep over to help cover the middle?
While this doesn't seem to be a huge part of the playbook, it's another thing to keep in mind when countering Kaepernick.
I'd rank it as lower on the list but still relatively vital.
4) Do Not Over-pursue
It's so easy to get sucked in while pass-rushing in the NFL. It's even easier to get suckered when you have a quarterback who can run.
The Packers cannot get too over-aggressive and sucked into the backfield, suddenly out of position. If they do, Kaepernick will get past them and into the open field.
Then, oh my.
Last week, the Packers were able to slow Adrian Peterson down and part of the way they did that was staying home and not letting him get a clear shot at the second level and open field.
Often when teams stack eight or even nine men in the box, the downside is that if the running back (or in this case, quarterback) gets past the first line of defense, he has open field enough to at least put a move on the next defender.
The Packers did a good job of—for the most part—staying home and being there when Peterson arrived.
That's why he didn't break any of the soul-crushing 25-30 yard runs he normally does.
Now granted, not having Christian Ponder under center makes life easier, but let's be honest—who really was scared by Ponder going into the last game?
Show of hands? Anyone?
The Packers face a quarterback who will always be a threat to throw, but who is very dangerous in the open field as well.
If they get pulled out of position, he will hurt them running.
5) "The name is Woodson. Charles Woodson."
In case the subhead here is too esoteric, Woodson should spend most of his night spying on Kaepernick.
I've already talk about his responsibilities overall, but this is one I believe to be vital enough to get its own section.
Watching his game against the Vikings, it looked like Woodson did a lot of this already when it came to Peterson.
Woodson would often hesitate briefly—almost a flinch—and read where the play was going before moving.
Now, this is no easy task and I imagine won't be the majority of what he does.
That said, his experience is perfect for this. He's seen it all and done it all at a high level.
If you want to contain Kaepernick, you need an edge.
If you want an edge, having a guy like Woodson directing traffic and keeping an eye on the most dynamic playmaker in the opponent's offense is a good way to go.
There's far more to this game than just Kaepernick and we'll be breaking it all down over the next day or so.
However, Kaepernick is the unknown factor here for the Packers and a guy who could do a lot of damage in many different ways.
Green Bay struggled against the "pistol" the few times the Vikings ran it last weekend.
You can be sure the 49ers coaching staff will take note of that as well.
Worst comes to worst and if all else fails, you could kidnap his tortoise.
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