Colin Kaepernick took over the starting job from Alex Smith who suffered concussion in the second quarter of 2012 Week 10 game against the Rams. The change at quarterback position was the turning point for the San Francisco 49ers who went on to play in the Super Bowl XLVII. During the 2012 regular season, Kaepernick built a bond with wide receiver Michael Crabtree and posted a 116.9 passer rating with Crabtree as his target. The Kaepernick-Crabtree tandem produced even better numbers during 2012 playoff run. Crabtree caught 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards with three touchdown receptions.
Everybody expected even better performances from the two players in the following season, but when Crabtree sustained severe injury during organized team activities, back in May of 2013, any hopes that the duo could upgrade their already established bond were put on hold. The receiver speed up the recovery process and returned in the 49ers' lineup for the last five regular season games. Kaepernick went 19-for-33 with 284 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 83.4 passer rating when throwing to Crabtree. Of all the yards produced by Kaepernick-Crabtree combination, 141 came after the catch—49.6% of the total. I presented Boldin & Davis passing charts in my previous two posts, let's now look at Kaepernick-Crabtree passing chart for 2013 regular season. For a first-time readers, a few notes to go along with the chart:
- gold circles indicating complete passes are placed at the spot of the reception at the distance from the line of scrimmage, the same goes for red circle indicating touchdown
- black circles which indicate incomplete passes are placed at the location of the intended receiver (batted down/deflected passes included), at the spot where the ball crossed the sideline in case of intentional throw-aways or at the spot on the sideline where the receiver caught the ball out-of-bounds
- white circle which represents interception is placed at the spot of the intended receiver
- for passes thrown past the goal line, I placed the circles at the distance to the goal line.
With only five regular season games under Crabtree's belt, a "sample" of 33 is a lot smaller compared to 130 targets for Boldin. Anyway, we can see pass distribution similar to the one we've seen on Boldin's passing chart. Only two passes thrown 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage targeted Crabtree. The vast majority of Kaepernick's passes were thrown outside the numbers, with 12 passes to the left and 13 to the right side. Crabtree caught 6 of 8 passes thrown his way over the middle. The two "middle" incomplete passes intended for target waiting for the ball between the line of scrimmage and 10-yard line, were both batted down. More about the type of incomplete passes later in this post. Across-the-board, Kaepernick completed 57.6% of his passes to Crabtree. Here's a chart with completion percentages for certain areas of the field.
Kaepernick ended up with 75.0 completion percentage with passes that targeted Crabtree over the middle. If not for two batted down passes he would have probably be perfect with passes thrown between the numbers. His completion percentage drops dramatically on passes thrown to the left side of the field. Also, the only pass intended for Crabtree that ended up being intercepted was thrown to that side.
As I've already mentioned, Kaepernick had two passes batted down/deflected at the line of scrimmage when the intended receiver was Crabtree. In addition to that he had to throw away one pass. Crabtree dropped one pass and caught one pass out-of-bounds. Big part of all incompletions were off-target passes (42.9%), with three overthrown, two underthrown and one pass thrown wide. Three passes that targeted Crabtree were defensed. One of the three was intercepted, another one was so-called forced drop. Here's a chart of Kaepernick-Crabtree incompletions.
We have seen on Kaepernick-Crabtree passing chart that the quarterback almost equally distributed passes to the left and to the right side of the field. That wasn't the case with the rest of his targeted receivers in 2013. Kaepernick was criticized a lot during the season for not going through his reads, leaving the pocket too early. As a right-handed quarterback, he has a tendency to move to the right side of the field when trying to avoid pressure and extend plays. In addition, many of the plays were designed roll-outs to the right to make life easier for Kaepernick during his passing struggles in the Crabtree-less era. That explains higher rate of passes to the right side of the field (31.0%) compared to the left side (23.5%). He also tossed 11 of 21 touchdown passes to the right, with six to the middle and only four of the total touchdown count to the left.
Kaepernick threw 74% of his passes to either Boldin, Davis or Crabtree during last five regular season games in which he had a chance to work with all three of his favorite targets. The rate was even higher in the 2013 playoffs, climbing up to 83%. There is no doubt Kaepernick has plenty of room to improve. If he can boost his ability to scan the field, he will probably be able to distribute his passes more to other receivers. Of course, giving him more weapons on offense will also help. With loads of draft picks, chances are the 49ers will use a couple of them on wide receivers.