The impact Colin Kaepernick has had as the starter of the San Francisco 49ers has made it even more important for teams to stick to their defensive assignments against the NFC champs.
Both the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons found this out the hard way in the playoffs.
The read-option the 49ers have employed featuring Kaepernick and Frank Gore has simply been devastating.
The Packers were particularly unsound in their defensive assignments in the divisional round. As Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus pointed out, they collapsed on either Kaepernick or Gore during runs numerous times, making it too easy for Kaepernick to choose what to do on the option. Instead of one player playing the edge and one playing the inside run, there were multiple occurrences when both defenders would stick together like they were attached at the hip.
Green Bay also discovered that simply leaving a man back to defend Kaepernick's scrambling ability isn't enough. They had outside linebacker Erik Walden spy Kaepernick, and that was simply a joke of a matchup. It takes an elite defender to shut down a dual-threat quarterback like Kaepernick, and the reality is, very few teams even have the personnel to do so.
But if you're the Baltimore Ravens and you're watching film of the 49ers before Super Bowl XLVII, the most discouraging game to watch must have been the NFC Championship.
While the Packers didn't do some simple things right against San Francisco, Atlanta came in with a clear defensive game plan designed to completely take away Kaepernick's rushing ability and limit Gore.
Well, it didn't work. As the Falcons found out, pitting your defensive line and linebackers against the offensive line of San Francisco, combined with tight end Vernon Davis and fullback Bruce Miller, is simply a mismatch. Kaepernick may have only rushed twice for 21 yards, but Gore torched Atlanta for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
The scary part is, that actually may be a best-case scenario for the 49ers' opponents these days as the offense continues to get better and better with its young quarterback.
Now, I will say this. The Falcons had defensive tackle Corey Peters, middle linebacker Akeem Dent and outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The Ravens have linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. That's a considerable gap in overall talent.
Then again, look what the 49ers did to a New England Patriots team that allowed 3.9 yards per carry during the regular season. While Kaepernick and Gore combined for 111 rushing yards on 29 carries (3.8 yards per carry), Kaepernick still torched the Patriots through the air.
That's Part II of "sticking to your defensive assignments."
Not only is the read-option causing problems for defenses, but it opens up the play-action. As we all know by now, Kaepernick also has a terrific arm, as well as the accuracy to make it count. As Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus noted, via ESPN, he completed over half of throws 20 yards or more during the regular season.
San Francisco's No. 1 receiver, Michael Crabtree, has been on the receiving end of many of Kaepernick's deep throws this season, but Kaepernick also connected with Davis against the Falcons. Davis had six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in that game.
If the young signal-caller gets into a groove with Davis in the Super Bowl, it's going to be a nightmare matchup for Baltimore. We all know Davis has proven in his career that he can take the top off of a defense.
The Ravens do have nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed scanning the field, so that's certainly a plus. Then again, the 34-year-old is not the same player as he once was. The Ravens aren't immune to the deep ball.
So, not only will the Ravens have to stick to their defensive assignments against the run, as well as win some matchups on the line and at the second level, their secondary will also have to be careful not to bite on the run and open up an opportunity for a long touchdown pass.
Baltimore will have to show defensive discipline in every aspect throughout Super Bowl XLVII. This is what a dual-threat like Colin Kaepernick does for an offense.
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