Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport
The 49ers found great success against the Packers running the read option. We look at that success, and what changes to expect in the NFC Championship Game.
Throughout the last two seasons, even as the 49ers have found success, there have been question marks about offensive play-calling. Even as Alex Smith was putting together career-best numbers, and even as Colin Kaepernick was emerging as a dynamic dual threat, there have been questions about the offensive play-calling. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is a guy many refer to as an offensive genius, but the questions remained as inconsistencies seemed to hang around.
Saturday evening, Colin Kaepernick just about perfectly executed a Greg Roman game-plan that caught the Green Bay Packers completely off guard. They knew that Kaepernick was athletic, but they were just not ready for the full unveiling.
Prior to Saturday's game, Kaepernick had maxed out at nine rushing attempts back against the St. Louis Rams. He used his legs every week, but we never saw a ton of it. When the 49ers would run their read option plays, Kaepernick frequently either handed it off, or went to the third option of dropping back for a pass attempt. Against the Packers, Kaepernick held on and rushed with the ball quite frequently. Although such runs did not account for every run, they were a big part of his 16 rushes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Here is one such example, featuring the beginning of his 56-yard touchdown run, which put the 49ers up 31-24 in the third quarter. Thanks to MadManWithABox for posting this in one of last night's recaps:
Linebacker Erik Walden (93) read this incredibly poorly, which opened up the edge. Safety Charles Woodson (21) also misread it, and by the time he cut back, Michael Crabtree was able to chip him. Of course, even if Crabtree hadn't gotten a hand on Woodson, I doubt he would have caught Kaepernick. The 49ers QB has the kind of "0-60 speed" that few quarterbacks have. There are plenty of mobile quarterbacks, but when Kaepernick finds a hole, he goes into another gear fairly quickly.
Now we wait for the outcome of the Falcons-Seahawks game to see who the 49ers will play next Sunday. It is safe to say we will not see the same game plan next week. The 49ers will not be changing things wholesale, but there will be differences. Greg Roman spoke with the media after the game, and he had a few quick comments:
"If you've noticed, we're definitely the kind of people to hold our ace card, our best card, slip it under our leg and wait for the right time to pull it out," Roman said. "Green Bay is a great team. We have a ton of respect for them."
"It was quite a bit, quite a few new concepts we were able to work on last week," Roman said. "In lieu of some things that happened at the end of the season, we felt like we had to move forward and change some things. The bye week was huge for us."
It is safe to say the Falcons or Seahawks will be better prepared for the read option. They will look to keep Kaepernick contained in the pocket, and force him to make a few more decisions. It will be interesting to see just how the 49ers prepare for both teams. They obviously have some benefit to playing the Seahawks before, but there will still be work to do.
This is all part of what makes this team interesting, and mysterious. There will be changes, but we just won't know quite what to expect until they take the field next week.