Were the 49ers Saving Kaepernick's 'Pistol' Formation for the Playoffs?

Scott Semmler@@ScottSemmler22Analyst IIJanuary 14, 2013

Jan 12, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs the ball against Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Brad Jones (59) during the second quarter of the NFC divisional round playoff game at Candlestick Park.  Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

If the 49ers weren’t awkward and untrusting of any form of media, it wouldn’t be a normal media session with the team. However, Saturday’s romping defeat of the Packers and a berth in the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row only provided the team the opportunity to shed light on their obvious change in game plan for the playoffs.

The 49ers were a different team Saturday night. The national telecast showed a more refined Colin Kaepernick, a more hard-nosed runner in Frank Gore and a nearly spotless game plan by offensive coordinator Greg Roman two weeks in the making—a much different game plan than opponents were preparing for over the past few weeks.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the 49ers ran the "pistol" formation well over 50 percent of the time on Saturday (via Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole), which is well above the team’s average use of the formation since Kaepernick was named starter in Week 8. Jim Harbaugh concurred (via ESPN's Mike Sando):

"We had a lot more Pistol formation in this game plan," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "both handing the ball off and [Kaepernick] running and play action. We're pretty multi-dimensional on that formation."

Roman also said that it was the 49ers’ intention to undervalue the pistol formation in the final weeks of the regular season to set up a strategic run in the playoffs:

"We didn't use it against the Cardinals because we wanted people to think we weren't going to use it," Roman said. "We worked on it a lot this week. A lot of practice."

An overwhelming amount of positive results came out of the substantial use of the pistol formation on Saturday, and if Roman was not a serious candidate for an NFL job, he most certainly is now.

The 49ers’ defeat of the Packers was very similar to that of the team’s destruction of the Bears in Kaepernick’s very first start in the NFL. The offense against the Packers looked effortless, and Kaepernick was using his arm and his legs on the way to booking a trip to the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bears had no clue what type of structure the 49ers’ offense would have on that Monday night in the middle of the season, and although the Packers thought they knew what was coming Saturday, they did not expect the overwhelming majority of the plays running through Kaepernick being of the pistol formation variety.

The 49ers are still a running team centered on Frank Gore—it is well documented. However, that is merely the basis of what the 49ers offense is all about. Once Gore and the running game begin to become successful, Kaepernick and the option run become the focal point and the recipe for an opponent’s nightmare.

The scheme was put on full display Saturday night in front of an astonished football nation that never thought Kaepernick was the type of quarterback to put a team on his back and lead it to the NFC Championship with such maturity and rarely seen athletic ability.

Now the 49ers aren’t just thinking about the NFC Championship because they are currently favorites in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl over Atlanta. One roadblock remains, however, and the Falcons will have one week to prepare for an offense that could takes weeks to prepare for, and stop a game plan that was nearly unstoppable Saturday night against the Packers.


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