Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers Offense Could Be in for a Huge 2013 Season

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers defeated the Packers 34-28.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

If Colin Kaepernick’s performance last Sunday afternoon was any indication of how he and the San Francisco 49ers’ offense will perform this season, then the rest of the league is in serious trouble.

Although Kaepernick threw the ball well last season, with a completion percentage of 62.4 and a passer rating of 98.3, he was the centerpiece of an offense that looked far different than the one that defeated the Packers 34-28 last Sunday.

In 2012, the 49ers relied heavily on the read-option and their running game.

Kaepernick only averaged around 17 passing attempts per game last season, while the 49ers averaged nearly 31 rushing attempts per game and ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 155.7 rushing yards per game.

The 49ers were a run-first, throw-second offense, and Kaepernick’s speed and agility made him the perfect quarterback for this offensive strategy. Only four quarterbacks in the NFL rushed for more yards than Kaepernick in 2012 despite him starting just 13 games.

But 49ers offense looked vastly different last Sunday afternoon than what we saw throughout most of the 2012 season.

The 49ers appear to have transformed into a more traditional passing offense, with Kaepernick spending most of his time in a pocket that was extremely well-protected by arguably the best offensive line in the game.

Kaepernick attempted 39 passes last week, completing 27 of them for a career-high 412 yards.

Kaepernick’s 39 passing attempts last Sunday were more than double his 2012 average per game, while his 412 passing yards shattered his previous career high by more than 100 yards.

Kaepernick connected 13 times with the newly acquired Anquan Boldin for 208 yards, including a key fourth-down conversion with 2:46 left in the game. Kaepernick also connected with his favorite target from 2012, Vernon Davis, six times for 98 yards and two touchdowns. However, Kaepernick was also missing two key receivers last week. Michael Crabtree, who had a career-high 85 receptions for 1,105 yards last year, is out with an Achilles injury, and Mario Manningham is still in the process of returning from an ACL injury.

Who knows how many yards Kaepernick would have thrown for had these two other receiving threats been on the field last Sunday. As it was, Peyton Manning was the only quarterback in the league with a better rating than Kaepernick during Week 1 of the season.

Kaepernick did run the ball seven times against Green Bay, which was just two rushing attempts below his average of nine per game in 2012.

However, Kaepernick’s rushing attempts last Sunday were vastly different than most of his attempts during the 2012 season. At least half of his seven rushing attempts last Sunday came as a result of defensive pressure on passing plays, while a good portion of his rushing attempts in 2012 came from the read-option or plays that were originally designed for him to run with the ball.

While throughout much of the 2012 season Kaepernick was yet another quick quarterback perfecting the read-option scheme in the NFL, he appeared more like a traditional dropback passer for most of last week’s game against the Packers.

This could have been a once-off game plan for the 49ers to throw off a Green Bay team that would have in all likelihood been preparing to defend the 49ers' devastating read-option. After all, Kaepernick decimated the Green Bay defense with a quarterback-record 181 rushing yards in a 45-31 win in last year’s NFC divisional playoff game.

Or this could have been the first glimpse at a completely transformed 49ers offense.

When Robert Griffin III went down with a knee injury last season, many began questioning the risks associated with running the read-option and whether or not it was really worth putting their quarterback in harm’s way numerous times each week if there were potentially other options available.

In Kaepernick, the 49ers clearly have a quarterback with the arm strength to sit in the pocket and be extremely successful while throwing 35 or more passes per game. In addition, Kaepernick also possess the ability to avoid the pass rush and take off running when the pocket begins to collapse on him.

Perhaps the 49ers have decided that the read-option is a risk not worth taking with a quarterback that can put a large number of points on the board with his arm alone.

It will be interesting to see how the 49ers offense evolves throughout the 2013 season, but one thing is for sure: Whether he is sitting in the pocket or running the read-option, Kaepernick is going to give defensive coordinators fits this season.

It is difficult enough to create a defensive scheme designed to cover talented dropback passers such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc.

It is also difficult to create a defensive scheme around quarterbacks that possess the ability to run the read-option and take off running for 30 or 40 yards at any given time.

One can only imagine the difficulty associated with creating a defensive game plan to address a quarterback who can sit in the pocket and throw 39 passes for over 400 yards while also possessing the ability to run the read-option or take off with the ball at any given time throughout the game.

One week, of course, does not make a season. But if Week 1 was anything to go by, the 49ers offense, and particularly Colin Kaepernick, could be in for one huge year in 2013.