Colin Kaepernick's Week 1 Dominance a Precursor for Things to Come
Going into Sunday's game, the Packers had a plan. They weren't going to get beat like they were in last year's divisional playoffs, when Colin Kaepernick completely pantsed them with one of the most dominant individual performances in NFL history.
In that game, Colin rushed for 181 yards (the most ever by a quarterback in a single game) and had the cheesheads in such disarray that he actually heard the defense arguing in the huddle. It's possible they were discussing whose turn it was to leave the field and hide in the man-sized equipment box.
After surrendering a combined 500 yards on the ground in their last two games against San Francisco, the Packers did everything they could to prove to the world they could stop the run.
The 49ers only gained 91 rushing yards, and Kaepernick was limited to just 22 yards due to constant quarterback spy plays and defensive backs guarding the flats.
But the Packers forgot that a quarterback can also throw the ball (well, unless they're named Tim Tebow), and as a result, they found themselves on the short end of another offensive barrage. When it was over, Kaepernick had set career highs in passing yards (412), passer rating (129.4) and added three touchdowns for extra measure.
Last time against the cheesers, Kap totaled 450 yards and four touchdowns. Clearly, Scott Tolzien gave the Packers some vital information that contributed to that 15-yard improvement. They may even want to make him the No. 3 quarterback and demote Clay Matthews to the practice squad.
Despite the outcome, one thing has to be put to rest immediately. The refs did not contribute to the 49ers' win. If the game was officiated properly, the 49ers would have had the ball on the Packers' 3-yard line after Matthews flagrantly dragged Kaepernick to the ground after he was two steps out of bounds.
Joe Staley did nothing wrong by confronting Clay after the play was over (anytime someone tries to make Colt McCoy your starting quarterback, you're entitled to full immunity from the law in pursuit of justice), and you can't blame him or anyone on the team (especially the offensive line) for protecting his quarterback. The one thing you can point your middle finger at is the officiating.
Video replays clearly showed Matthews grabbing Joe's facemask and elbowing him right in plain view of the umpire (Harbaugh basically called the move a wimp slap during his press conference on Monday). Matthews also got away with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he taunted Kaepernick after his only sack of the game.
While the refs screwed up the play by giving the Niners another down following the offsetting penalties, the outcome ended up being the correct one anyway, since Staley never should have been flagged in the first place.
So I guess two wrongs do make a right.
In any event, the Packers shouldn't hang their loss on the officiating. That responsibility again falls on their defense, which failed to make any adjustments while Kaepernick was shredding them to pieces.
It was clear from the opening drive that Harbaugh and Greg Roman were anticipating Mike McCarthy's strategy of shutting down the 49ers' run game, particularly the read-option. But how? How were they able to foresee this strategy? Does Jim have the ability to look into the future, perceive the world as subatomic particles?
Maybe it's because the Packers spent most of their offseason talking about it.
From signing sucky quarterbacks, visiting college campuses and scheming to take cheap shots at the guy who torched them in the playoffs, there wasn't anything the Packers didn't make public going into the first week of the season.
Much like in last year's NFC championship, Harbaugh knew what was coming and knew exactly how to get around it.
With the Packers constantly sending only three pass-rushers, Kaepernick could have just sat in the pocket and waited for Harbaugh and Roman to tell him who was open.
But he already knew, and he just kept throwing it to him.
There's been a lot of talk this week about the Ravens' folly of trading their top receiver for nothing more than a sixth-round pick in next year's draft. But John Harbaugh did the right thing. After four years of watching Baltimore's offense, he finally came to the epiphany that Anquan Boldin wasn't good enough to catch Joe Flacco's awful passes.
On Sunday, it became evident Boldin is used to balls being thrown off target. He routinely made circus catches in traffic, snatched errant passes with one hand and readjusted perfectly whenever a play broke down.
Facing no pressure, Kaepernick just kept throwing and throwing against a tense Green Bay defense that was waiting for him to run. While the 49ers lined up several times in the pistol, the dreaded option play never came. Colin took off running only when the pocket collapsed and barely went for more than four yards before sliding in front of a defender.
My spidey sense (or more accurately, my common sense) tells me Harbaugh was behind his quarterback's newfound cautiousness. After what happened to Robert Griffin III in the playoffs last year, Jim took every precaution imaginable to limit his star's mobility, which included banning him from running the football during the preseason. There's probably another reason.
Kaepernick is a quarterback.
On a week where Terrell Pryor was the NFL's second leading rusher, the 49ers joined the sky parade and proved they can do anything with the ball. It's hard not to be seduced by Kaepernick's speed and athleticism, but he's more like Steve Young than Michael Vick. Unless there's 20 yards of real estate in front of him, he'll always look to throw the ball down the field.
As Kaepernick candidly mentioned during the 49ers' postgame conference, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Several of his passes missed their wide open targets, and he failed on a few occasions to hit Boldin in stride. Anquan might have been able to walk into the end zone untouched if he didn't have to readjust on a few of his receptions.
The most noticeable miss came in the fourth quarter when Kaepernick underthrew the ball to Kyle Williams, who had Sam Shield beat and would have caught the pass for an easy touchdown. It is worth noting that Kaepernick was hit immediately by Clay Matthews after his release, which likely affected his throw.
There were some other things that might have caused a few head scratches (you know, other than Joe Buck and Troy Aikman providing the commentary). The 49ers missed several tackles all around the field that allowed the Packers to prolong their drives and even led to an easy touchdown for Jermichael Finley. Last week in Denver, the refs were seen patting down players and checking for any sticky substances that could help them catch the ball. The 49ers' cornerbacks might want to think about shopping for something similar the next time they go to Lowe's.
San Francisco had 11 penalties in the game. That can't happen again next week in Seattle, and considering the noise volume in the first game of the season at CenturyLink Field, the offense is going to have a lot of fun trying not to jump early before every snap.
But the most daunting task facing the 49ers in their early-season showdown is actually getting off the snap in time. This was a problem all last year for Alex Smith, and it continued with Kaepernick and played a role in losing the Super Bowl. What's mind-numbing is how Kap can call so many audibles only to execute a basic run play up the seams with Frank Gore. Hardly worth the five-yard delay of game penalty.
Harbaugh has been forced to burn several timeouts because the offense couldn't get set, and it's something that the Niners need to fix moving forward. The only thing worse than being out of timeouts at the end of a game is being the Jaguars at the end of a game.
The best part about this offense is that it isn't anywhere close to being at full strength. After watching last week's game, you get the feeling that the Niners would be unstoppable if Michael Crabtree was on the field. With Mario Manningham scheduled to return in Week 7 and Kaepernick clicking with both Boldin and Davis, I'd say perfection is pretty damn close.
Pray for teams in November.
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