Joe Flacco vs. Colin Kaepernick: Breaking Down the SBXLVII QB Battle

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2013

It won't be at high noon, and there won't be any tumbleweeds. Instead of a few frightened locals hiding in rain barrels, there'll be more than a hundred million people watching on TVs around the world.

Super Bowl XLVII, for all of the hype about power running games and savage defenses, will be a good old-fashioned duel: a main-street showdown between two armed and dangerous quarterbacks.

Who'll have the quickest draw? Who'll have the truest aim? Between the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco and San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, who'll win the Super Bowl XLVII quarterback duel?

Flacco has prototypical size. At 6'6" and 232 pounds, he's about as tall as they come but relatively lean. His height, length and good mechanics give him a very high release point. His frame and strong base make him hard to bring down.

Flacco's footwork and arm strength are quite good. He can set his feet and drive the ball on all intermediate and deep routes. Flacco's biggest weakness is in his accuracy.

Despite sound mechanics, he often fails to place the ball catchably on short routes, which stalls a lot of drives with incomplete passes. Flacco completed just 59.7 percent of his passes this regular season, 19th in the NFL.

He also often misses deep and/or wide on sideline routes.

In the divisional round, against the Denver Broncos, Flacco's hit-or-miss accuracy was obvious. On the second possession, he tried to hit receiver Tandon Doss down the sideline:

The defender committed pass interference, but the ball was high and wide enough that it would've been a minor miracle if Doss had gotten to it:

Just two plays later, Flacco plants his back foot on his own 32-yard line...

...and hits Torrey Smith in stride on the Broncos' 12-yard line.

That's a 59-yard touchdown pass that went 56 yards in the air, deep enough that if Smith hadn't gotten to it, nobody would have. That's why Flacco's weakness, though, is also a strength: When Flacco throws deep, he puts it where only his receiver—or nobody—can get it.

This is Flacco's game: the hit-or-miss deep ball.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Joe Flacco launched it 20 yards or deeper on 17.3 percent of his passes, the highest in the NFL this season. His "Accuracy Percentage," or completion percentage adjusted for drops, on those passes was just 40.2 percent. That slots him 18th in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 25 percent of their team's attempts.

Incredibly, though, Flacco connected for 11 deep touchdowns this season—and he didn't throw any interceptions.

This is what makes Flacco effective as an NFL quarterback. When it comes to moving the chains, he's below average, even bad. When PFF applies their Accuracy Percentage to all pass attempts, removing spikes, batted balls, throwaways and times when quarterbacks are hit while throwing, Flacco ranks 33rd.

Yes, 33rd, behind such studs as Kevin Kolb and Brady Quinn.

But when Flacco goes deep—and he goes deep more often than anyone else—it's all upside. He either connects for a game-breaking pass, or it falls incomplete.

As a fifth-year starter with 80 regular-season games and 12 playoff games under his belt, it's easy to forget how young Flacco is. Born January 16, 1985, Flacco just turned 28—just three years older than Kaepernick, who turned 25 in November.

Kaepernick is almost exactly the same size as Flacco (6'5", 235 pounds), but he is much more muscular, with plenty of lean meat filling out his shoulders and arms. Kaepernick's windup and delivery still has a whiff of baseball about it—the former Chicago Cubs draftee sometimes loops the ball back and around:

In almost all of his throws, Kaepernick's elbow collapses and leads the ball through his motion, which is unusual, and probably suboptimal:

There's no denying that whatever he's doing is working, though.

Unlike Tim Tebow, Kaepernick's mechanics aren't so flawed that they rob him of accuracy, velocity or timing. Kaepernick has excellent arm strength, perhaps better than Flacco's, and is much more accurate on intermediate and deep routes.

Going back to the overall PPF Accuracy Percentage, Kaepernick finished the regular season at 76 percent, ranked seventh. Drilling back down to just attempts of 20 yards or more, Kaepernick's accuracy only fell to 60.6 percent—tops in the NFL by a wide margin.

Yes, despite going deep more often than all but six of his peers, Kaepernick had the best deep accuracy percentage in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers finished a distant second, at 53.2 percent.

In Kaepernick's less-effective games (like losses at Seattle and at St. Louis), his biggest enemy wasn't a lack of short accuracy—it was dropped passes.

Kaepernick, again per PFF, had to overcome the third-highest drop rate in the NFL. Part of that, of course, is on him; Kaepernick's still a bit of a one-speed passer, and he doesn't put a lot of touch on his outside swings and screens. The rest of it, though, is on his running back and tight end corps. When he hits them in the hands, they need to catch it.

Overall, it's hard to find a hole in Kaepernick's passing game. He's accurate and effective, efficient and aggressive. In the regular season, Kaepernick boasted a fantastic 3.33-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 98.6 passer efficiency rating, and he was behind only Peyton Manning in adjusted net yards per attempt (7.55).

Oh, by the way: Kaepernick is a phenomenal athlete with incredible speed and agility for his size, and his ability to get away from pressure, scramble for yardage and be used as a designed runner devastates and terrifies defenses.

The 49ers' use of zone-read runs, especially within the pistol formation Kaepernick made famous at the University of Nevada, has gotten most of the attention—and why not? When Kaepernick faced the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, he ripped up the turf for 181 yards and two touchdowns. People noticed.

But lots of phenomenal athletes who played an unconventional quarterback role in college have come through the NFL and taken over a big game. Few have followed that up with a surgical passing performance in a conference championship game, as Kaepernick did when he went 16-of-21 for 233 yards, a score and no picks against Atlanta.

For all of the hype about Kaepernick's running, it's his passing that makes him lethal. For as big of a gun as Flacco brought to this fight, Kaepernick has brought two.

Kaepernick wouldn't be the first hotshot gunslinger Flacco's taken down, though. Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are all fresh notches on his barrel. Given how lethal Flacco's been in the playoffs, he just might be the last man standing.


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