Breaking Down How Colin Kaepernick Dismantled the Packers Defense
Saturday’s divisional round matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers featured two dynamic quarterbacks—but who knew it would be Colin Kaepernick that would get the better of Aaron Rodgers?
The quarterback with only seven career starts bested the reigning league MVP on the stat sheet and on the scoreboard.
A slow start for the 49ers turned into an offensive demolition by the second half. As the game progressed, the Packers had no answer for Kaepernick. No. 7 roared past Green Bay, accounting for 444 total yards and four touchdowns.
With a dominating team effort at the line of scrimmage, the Niners quarterback had time and opportunities to make plays happen in the air and on the ground. Kaepernick finished with a near-perfect 94.7 total QBR, as he averaged 8.48 yards passing and 11.3 yards rushing.
It was simply production on a down-to-down basis for "Kap" and the Niners.
What makes Kaepernick so dangerous?
First and foremost, Colin Kaepernick is a big-arm quarterback with pinpoint accuracy. He can push the ball downfield, but has also shown great touch and improvisation on his work underneath.
As a passer, Kaepernick is a threat with his ability to deliver strikes and power the ball through a defense, making tight-window throws.
Add in the running ability and sprinter speed, and you have something else entirely—a hybrid if you will.
At the NFL Combine, Kaepernick ran a 4.53 40-yard dash – speed that everyone is now fully aware of. If he has a lane or the defense gives him any room, 'Kap' can gash them. He adds another dimension with his elusiveness and escape ability, making defenses protect the entire field.
Since becoming a starter in Week 11, Kaepernick has had three 50-plus-yard runs and seven rushing TDs.
NFL analyst and former quarterback Phil Simms spoke about Kaepernick this week (via SFGate):
He may be the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL. His arm is not good, it’s special. If you watch the San Francisco 49ers ever since he became quarterback, you see these throws every single week. It’s not only the power. It’s the accuracy. That’s what has really startled me. He can throw it hard on a line, but his touch passes down the field have been spectacular … Forget the running, that arm alone is enough to make you a franchise quarterback.
He is unique because despite how gifted a runner he is, he’s evolving into a pass-first field general. Kaepernick is very disciplined with his skill set, but he demands that you defend him as a multi-threat quarterback because he will generates big plays, using the whole field to his advantage.
San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the 49ers intentionally didn't use the Pistol in the season finale against Arizona and barely used it against Seattle in the previous game. When asked if they used the formation between 40 and 50 percent of the time on Sunday, Roman said, "Probably more than that."
The goal of the formation is to play shotgun without showing any tendencies, which forces the defense to protect more of the field. Throw in the read-option running ability of Kaepernick, and you have a nightmare for a defense.
"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."
This bit was courtesy of Jason Cole at Yahoo! Sports, who reported that the 49ers strategically limited the read-option during the season.
The Packers were not at all prepared for the read-option and they paid for it. They either over-pursued on the blitz, opening lanes for Kaepernick, or bit on the misdirection.
The above shows clear evidence of one such occasion where Green Bay’s defenders were sold on the fake. They did not commit anyone to spy Kaepernick, and this 56-yard run is a prime example of what can happen when defenses don’t play disciplined against the read-option.
On top of Kaepernick’s physical gifts, the combination of deception and improvisation puts defenses at an extreme disadvantage.
As you can see, the entire front seven of the Packers dedicated themselves to RB LaMichael James, who took a phantom carry up the gut. At this point, Kaepernick has open space and there are only two Packers still engaged, capable of making a play on the ball-carrier.
However, Tramon Williams could not get off of his block and Charles Woodson isn't a kid anymore. The play was over before the Packers knew what hit them, which pretty much sums Kaepernick's ability to blow defenses off their feet.
#49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has the best Total QBR in the NFL in the last 9 weeks (82.8). Russell Wilson (81.7) ranks 2nd.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2013
When Kaepernick wasn’t assaulting the secondary with his arm, he was gutting the front seven with his legs. Clay Matthews and company didn’t know whether to play up on the line of scrimmage or fall back to protect the pass and restrict long runs.
But even if they had come to a logical strategy, they could not seem to contain Kaepernick. They looked physically and conceptually outmatched as the quarterback triggered and took advantage of blown assignments.
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