In the second half of the 49ers vs. Saints game last week there was one drive that really helped seal the win. It started back on the San Francisco 6 yard line and while it only ended in a field goal, it burned over nine minutes off the clock and put just that much more cushion in the lead the 49ers had.
Among the plays that made that drive continue was a third-down play from the SF 35 yard line. There was 13:00 left in the game and the 49ers needed 11 yards to convert the third-down. A punt meant the Saints would have good field position and just a seven point deficit to overcome. Anyone knows that's WAY too much time for Drew Brees, who was part of a game with four lead changes in the final four minutes the last time he faced the 49ers. This drive needed to stay alive, and the 49ers needed more points.
We have the gif of this play below, and we'll break it down underneath.
The Saints are in zone coverage with everyone dropping back while not sticking with a specific receiver. This is a deep cover-2 look, designed to prevent any throws at or beyond the first-down marker. They want to force Kaepernick to throw it underneath, then rally and make the tackle. You'll see the LBs end up about 15 yards down the field.
The key to a seam throw against full zone is timing. You have to throw it just as the receiver clears the first level of defenders, the LBs in this case, but get it there before he reaches the safeties, who could interfere with the reception. It takes anticipation, touch, and in this case, arm strength.
You'll see Delanie Walker at the top of the screen, who releases vertically and get's jammed by the strong side linebacker. He has Vernon Davis running next to him, so the MLB is also very close in proximity. Walker splits the two defenders just as Davis cuts his route inside, slightly turning the MLB toward the middle of the field.
The ball has to come out just as the receiver clears the LBs, but he has to have them beat or else it's a contested catch in traffic. Kaepernick unleashes an absolute laser that's both high enough to clear the linebackers but also placed so that Walker catches it three to four yards in front of the safeties. Walker has to jump to catch it because of the height Kaepernick had to put on the ball to clear the LBs.
You'll see the near-side safety cheat towards the middle of the field, so really both safeties arrived just after Walker caught the football. A half second later and this could have been deflected for an incompletion or worse, an interception. The ball had to be just perfect in order for this play to succeed.
I've seen Alex make seam throws plenty of times, but usually it was with Vernon Davis singled on a safety or linebacker where he had plenty of room to catch the ball and run. In this case there were five defenders within 10 yards of Walker when the ball was thrown and all were within 6 yards of Walker when the ball arrived. I don't know that Alex Smith would trust his arm on this throw.
The other factor is that Frank Gore was wide open with running room in the left flat, great play design with an overload on the opposite side of the field. This likely would have been a shorter gain if Kaepernick had thrown the ball to Gore, but it still might have reached the first down marker. Gun-to-my-head I'd say Alex throws the pass to Gore, which wouldn't necessarily be wrong, just a different style.
This is what Kaepernick brings and why he has over 9 yards per attempt in his limited action already. He's not afraid to make the throws that require zip and placement in traffic. We saw it against Chicago on the pass to Vernon Davis in between three defenders. Sure, these passes also carry greater risk, but thus-far Kaepernick has been spot-on with them and has taken care of the football.
If he can continue to make throws like these and others while still maintaining an excellent TD to INT ratio, the future indeed looks very bright.