What a crazy week this has been, yes? Colin "The Kid" Kaepernick tore up the highly touted Bears defense on Monday Night Football and it has suddenly become the most talked about story in national football - even more than Tebow and the Jets.
Naturally, Jim Harbaugh is utilizing the media circus to its utmost potential: first saying he would play "the hot hand", but adding that he had two players with a "hot hand"; and now it is alleged Colin will get the start, but Alex may receive first team snaps and be ready to go as well.
Then yesterday, Roman denied reports that Colin was going to start; and that the hope was Alex would be cleared by Friday.
Steve Spagnuolo, in the mean time, has not got any sleep. Partly because the game film of Kaepernick shows a tall, strong young man with a rifle for an arm; but also because his wife saw the game film and has suddenly become much more interested in football.
Either way, the week is only beginning and it's sure to end in chaos. So let's go back to the beginning of the week and take a look at the game film of Colin Kaepernick's awesome performance against the Bears.
We'll start with some film breakdown, move on with a Q&A session on some frequently asked questions during the week, and end with some quotes from "experts" and players to bring it all full circle.
Play #1 - The Bomb to Williams
This is a good play to start with because it shows a couple things:
- What the game plan up to this point had already done to help Kaepernick make easy reads.
- What effect Vernon Davis' early receptions had on this second drive.
- Why the Bears selling out for the run cost them the game.
- Colin's arm strength.
The Bears are not a man coverage team. They have not had 10 weeks of highly successful defensive football, posting one of the highest defensive DVOA's of all time, by playing Cover 1 or 2.
Yet throughout the first half, and the game in general, they primarily played man coverage. Why? They were selling out against the run.
Even after Kaepernick smoked them a couple times in the passing game early, they still sold out against the run and stuck to their game plan: load the box whenever it seems necessary, play man-to-man on the outside, and leave only one guy covering the deep pass because the 49ers are going to run, run, run, run, run, and run some more.
This strategy totally would have worked on us last year (see: NFCCG) because our offensive line was among the worst in the league in pass protection and our receivers could not get open against man coverage. But this year is a different story.
And this play provides a great example.
Man coverage all around the table, with two safeties over the top.
Vernon Davis (orange) is Colin's first read.
As it turns out, instead of the near-side safety playing back, he is playing man-to-man on Vernon. Urlacher, the lone linebacker not on the LOS, is going to spy the backfield. This is a role they had him play often in order to guard against what they perceived would be Colin's running prowess. Of course, Colin never really ran much.
He didn't have to.
Right here, after the hike, Kaepernick sees that the safety (circled red) has moved in to account for Vernon. So, right away, he knows that there is tons of space behind that safety, where Kyle is running.
He could make the throw to Vernon right now, but he doesn't. He wants the deep play to Kyle - and fortunately his o-line agrees with him.
Here he is a second letter about to release the ball. Notice Kyle has his man beat and the far safety is not in a good position to defend the pass as he was originally eyeballing Vernon's route inside. Vernon effectively took two men out of the play and allowed this deep pass to happen.
Notice, also, how clean the pocket is. I mean, seriously. Look at that pocket.
The throw is as perfectly placed as you could ask. Kyle catches it in stride and and almost scores a touchdown. This play, to me, was all Kaep. He read the defense well, knew he had Williams on the corner route, and hit him.
Along with some others earlier in the year involving Alex, this play also shows Kyle's development as a receiver. Last season he struggled to get open against anyone but the Rams. This year, he has enjoyed improved success.
The Bears thought they could contain him one-on-one here; and were even so bold as to leave no help over the top. Kaep helped Kyle make them pay.
Play #2 - And the Game Plan says....!!??!? It's Vernon Davis' day!
Our coaches exploited the Bears' decision to load the box and go man-to-man with little help over the top by calling on their #1 play-maker early and often.
After a pair of completions on the first drive where Vernon was the first read and beat man-to-man coverage out of play action, and a touchdown reception on the second drive out of play action, also in man coverage - you think the Bears would have figured it out.
But this play right here is, to me, the most concise example of how well Harbaugh/Roman game planned for this contest.
The 49ers are in a tight formation with two backs and one out wide. The Bears - again - appear to be in Cover 1, but it is hard to tell with all those guys bunched up at the line of scrimmage.
Luckily, the play call is designed for things not to last this way long. The Kid steps back into shotgun and everyone suddenly splits out wide, leaving an empty backfield.
Kaep did not audible into this one. The play was designed this way. Bruce Miller has actually split out wide at the top of your screen and is running a go route (you laugh out loud). Similarly, Kendall Hunter has split to the bottom of your screen, and is also running a go out (you laugh out louder).
Bruce and Hunter are not running go-routes because they expect to get the ball. But it does help keep defenders occupied; and it also helps reveal the Bears formation: look how little deep help they have. Tons of space over the top.
The play call is designed to go to Vernon (orange), who is again being covered man-to-man. It is quite clear now that the Bears are in Cover 1. The play call lays things out perfectly for Colin to go to his first read.
Urlacher (red) is once again going to spy Kaepernick and make sure he doesn't do anything tricksy. After all, the Bears watched lots of Niner tape on Kaepernick, and they know for a fact that the 49ers are going to run the ball a lot and try to do tons of college crap.
I guess we really did learn something from the Kaep package's failure in this year's Giants game.
Here the play is a couple moments later. The lone safety managed to back up from the center of the "SF" logo, to the top of it. He is surrounded by go routes he may have to account for.
Kaep never looks anywhere else but to Vernon who, again, beats his man in single coverage easily. It's clockwork with this guy.
In this image Colin is just releasing the ball. Let's take another look at roughly the same moment.
I took this image just so you could see the pocket. Wow.
Play #3 - The Bears Play Actual Bears Defense
Here we finally have something much more confusing.
It was only the second time in the first half that the Bears played an almost entirely zone coverage.
Even worse, they showed all out blitz. But once the snap takes place, their three LBs are going to back-peddle into coverage. That's a lot of things happening at once.
Hunter has lined up to Colin's left as per Colin's request because he believes the blitz is going to come from that direction.
It shows after he takes the hike. He immediately looks left and wants to get rid of the ball fast to Manningham, running a quick in; but all the Bears linebackers have backed up.
Kaep correctly hesitates on the throw and does not pull the trigger. He then thinks about going deep to Kyle on the same side of the field; but that play is not anywhere near open.
And that was all the time the Bears needed to bring him down for his only sack of the day, with two Bears defenders breaking through the line, despite only a four man rush.
Perhaps if the Bears had not made their coverage and their pressure so easy to diagnose the entire game, our offensive line would have been beat a couple more times, and Kaep would have hesitated on his throws a couple more times as well.
Play #4 - "Brady-like"
This was the throw Vernon described as "Brady-like". It was a laser of a toss between three white jerseys that almost netted a first down.
The Bears are on man coverage on the outside, but they manage to utilize their LBs in a more clever fashion. They show blitz but two of them back up. The one who does blitz comes right through the middle.
The two who back up leave a convenient hole in between them that The Kid exploits with his throw to Vernon. You see that below, with the blitzing linebacker in Kaep's face.
This was a bullet for sure. But ultimately a risky throw. The sack would have made the field goal tougher (and Kaep could not have avoided this sack), but at least you save yourself an opportunity for points.
Still, look at the ball right next to the camera. It's already been released and Davis is still not open. What a throw.
On a normal day, or even in this exact situation, is this a throw Alex attempts? I have no clue because I am not a QB guru - but let's just go with the common sense thing that most of us feel and say, "No."
Does that mean Alex can't make this throw? Well, I don't know. Can you recall any plays within the past year or so where Alex darted a ball to Vernon Davis before he was even open, between three white jerseys?
Questions and (I think) Answers
Some common questions were posed during the week. I did my best below to answer them as per what I saw on film.
Q: How many men were the Bears putting in the box?
A: A lot. They often had 8, 9, even 10 in the box on passing plays. They rarely rushed four or less, by my count, sending their linebackers in often. Our line, however, played one of its most outstanding games in pass protection and our playmakers were always left with one-on-one coverage. The Bears almost never mixed in exotic zone blitzes or anything that was difficult to dissect.
In short: the Bears made it way too easy.
On our first two drives, we had 4 rushes for a total of 2 yards. And it should have been less, but Hunter broke an Urlacher tackle and managed to gain 6 on one play. Chicago was selling out for the run early and was effectively stopping it early, and so Kaepernick was having his best success throwing early, going 7 of 8, with a touchdown.
114 of his 243 passing yards came on those first two drives.
The only bad throw he made was one on a 2nd and 4 to Williams. The Bears actually played mixed coverage, with some zone. Williams was the second read, and even though he was wide open and it was only a two yard throw, Kaep threw the ball into the grass. Kyle had to dive for it and then dove forward for 1 yard YAC, making it 3rd and 1 instead of an easy first down.
The next throw sailed over Vernon's head out of the endzone, forcing the early field goal.
Four of our first five passes on that first drive were play action. The one that was not play action was the errant throw to Williams against mixed coverage.
Q: Was Colin's first read consistently getting open?
A: Yes. And most of Colin's throws were to his first read.
Q: How often was his first read Vernon Davis?
A: On almost every completion to Vernon, he was the first read. When Vernon mentioned the "handcuffs" had been taken off him, this is what he meant. It had nothing to do with Alex. The play-calling for that day made it Vernon's day. Harbaugh knew they were getting man coverage and allowed his most explosive play-maker to exploit that. It made Colin's day easy. There was not a single throw that Kaep made to Vernon that Alex has not already made to Vernon in his career.
Q: How many times did Colin have to evade pressure to make a throw? How many times did he have to evade pressure in general?
A: Never. lol, seriously though. On the touchdown throw to Crabtree he rolled out to buy time, but his offensive line was still blocking great. Then, of course, there was the sack. But in general the Bears made it way too easy on us by watering down their defense in what they expected to be a run heavy game plan for the Niners.
Q: How often were the Bears in man coverage?
A: Too often. The Bears were selling out for the run. They did not anticipate us to come out throwing with Kaepernick, and you cannot contain Vernon in man coverage.
Q: Scripted vs. non-scripted plays
A: Colin's best performances came on the first and second drives of the first half, where we utilized play action against heavy boxes and man coverage, and the first drive of the second half. Typically scripted plays. On these drives he was 9 of 11 for 161 yards with two touchdowns.
Outside of that he was 7 of 12 for 82 yards, or 7 of 13 if you count the overthrow to Delanie that was called back due to defensive holding on Vernon Davis that occurred away from the play.
Q: Was Colin hitting receivers in stride? How often did he make inaccurate throws?
A: He hit Vernon in stride every time. Of course, on the deep pass to Williams, the ball was beautifully thrown and Kyle could run with it without slowing down. He hit Crabtree well on a short pass on 3rd and 11 in the 2nd quarter that allowed Crabtree to run on, break a tackle, and gain 20 yards for the first down.
He also rifled that bullet to Vernon late in the game (play was broken down above). You really can't ask for a better throw than that. Shame it didn't pick up the first down.
His pass to Williams in the 1st quarter and his throw to Manningham that acquired lots of YAC, were both low throws, however. And he did overthrow some people deep on corner routes, and was otherwise off target on a couple short throws.
Q: What does this mean for Colin's performance?
A: I think it means Colin had a really freakin' awesome day that any young QB should be proud of. But it came against a Bears defense that was playing man coverage with stacked boxes, and no help on Vernon Davis.
Would Alex Smith have had a tougher day? Heck yes, because the Bears would not have handicapped themselves with a terrible game plan. The Bears defense is scary. They would have brought their true game plan for Alex because there is film on Alex and the Bears know Alex can beat them with his arm. They would have respected Alex's ability to throw the ball and would have been forced, therefore, to respect Vernon Davis.
Q: What about the Saints game?
A: My take is that starting Kaepernick is a fine move, if it happens. If Alex is okay to go, then let him start; but otherwise let Alex recover for one more week, and give Kaepernick a shot against a terrible Saints defense. A defense that will at least attempt to game-plan properly for him.
It isn't took risky, because the defense is bad; but it will also give you a chance to see how Kaep does in a tough road environment against a team that will be pumped up to beat us.
A team that you can guarantee will not run single man coverage on Vernon Davis (unless they learned nothing from last year), and a team that will not sell out against the run. A team that will give you more looks than the Bears did, but a team that isn't going to ground Kaep into the dirt and make him look like an idiot, because they're not good enough to do that.
Then, after that, I say you go back to Alex. He's been playing at a high level despite there being a book out on him, and despite him being properly game-planned for. He is leading the league in completion percentage - a necessary staple of any West Coast inspired offense - and is top five in every significant category.
Plus, you may have just lit a fire under his belly. He'll be 100% by next week, receiving a full week of first-team reps, and you better believe he will have something to prove.
Again. And ½ the fan base will still hate him. Poor guy. :/
Post-Game Thoughts/Interviews from "Experts" and Chicago Players
Chicago Tribune: "Wright had a tough time keeping up with Davis, who finished with a team-high six catches for 83 yards, including a 32-yard reception.
"I was trying to play for the run, but being that it was Vernon Davis, I should have played him more for the pass,'' Wright said. "I definitely have to get better and go back and correct the things on film.''
Greg Cosell: "Now, what was really interesting watching the tape this morning, was Kaepernick had five completions of more than 20 yards. All of them came against man coverage. I thought that was really interesting. You don't automatically think of the Bears as a man coverage team."
Ron Jaworski: "I thought in last night's game that Jim's game plan was phenomenal. First of all, the focus was, they were going to get Vernon Davis the ball early and he was going to be the primary guy that was going to attack that Chicago defense. They did a very good job with it. But I thought ‑‑ and here's where coaching comes in - this is why I love looking at the tape so you can see who is going to get the play call. And good coaches when they call plays and number one comes open, quite honestly, guys, it's a lot easier playing the quarterback position.
I thought last night, the play calling and play design got No. 1 open for Colin Kaepernick (sic). He seldom had to go to the progression, go to two, three, four or take it and run. I thought the game plan was beautifully designed where number one came open. So props to Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman and the guys they have, and I think Colin executed it very well."
Bears Safety, Chris Conte's post-game interview:
Did QB Colin Kaepernick surprise you? You played against him in college.
"No, he's a good player. Their coaches are going to have their guys ready. Their scheme is good. He didn't have to do a whole lot. He just threw the ball on the outside when he had to. He wasn't doing any reading at all. They had a good scheme and he executed well."
You guys have done such a good job, Chris. How did they get anything on you guys?
"They were just better than us in man coverage. They had the matchup in 1-on-1s. They knew where to go with the ball. Unfortunately for us, they got the ball to the playmakers. They were making low risk throws and were completing them."
How tough is TE Vernon Davis?
"He's a great player. He's like a wide receiver in a tight end's body. He's got tons of speed and he's a hard guy to cover. We knew he was going to be a challenge. He's just a guy you have to compete with. He's going to get his catches because he's a great player. You have to limit him and hopefully do the best job you can against him."
What did you think was the biggest problem across the board with the defense today?
"It's tough to say. I can't say exactly, but they out-executed us. They simply played better and more physical. It seemed like they were getting off the ball much faster. It just seemed like they had our number in all phases."
Bears Linebacker, Brian Urlacher's post-game interview:
What were they doing that allowed them to beat your secondary?
"They had time to throw the football,"