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NFC Championship 2013: Colin Kaepernick and third down situations

In this piece, we take a look at Colin Kaepernick and the recent production from the 49ers offense on third down.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

The San Francisco 49ers have gotten great production out of their quarterback over the past eight games. Colin Kaepernick has amassed a 6-2 record (.750), while making this team threatening at the QB position.

Kaepernick has shown the courage and precision to put the ball on a covered receiver. His deep ball is already gaining notoriety around the league. But analysts have been salivating over him because he's got size and 4.5 speed to go with.

Related: Kap projected to 16 games | Kurt Warner on Kap

Jim Harbaugh's move to go with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith was intended for the betterment of the team. The coaching staff clearly believed that he would improve the offense in multiple facets - and he has.

Kaepernick's dual-threat ability has been extremely effective, particularly on third downs. Because he can use the entire field to his advantage, it puts incredible strain on opposing defenses.

If the play is not there, he can easily tuck it and go. He is dangerous converting on third down, whereas a sack or throw away would be the case with Smith behind center.

Moreover, Kaepernick's on-field connection with chain-mover Michael Crabtree has helped San Francisco tremendously on situational downs. Those two have been able to help the Niners stay on the field, extend drives and tire out defenses, while keeping their own D fresh.

I took the time to chart the 49ers' third-down attempts in the NFC Divisional round versus the Green Bay Packers. The results were interesting to say the least.


1st quarter, 11:28 remaining

3rd and 10

Kaepernick buys time, rolls to his left, communicates with Frank Gore who's coming out of the flat and puts one over his shoulder down the left sideline for a 45-YARD GAIN.


1st quarter, 9:09 remaining

3rd and 8

Kaepernick has no one open as the defense is locked up in man coverage. The pocket collapses around him, he steps up and then takes off downfield for a TOUCHDOWN.


1st quarter, 6:50 remaining

3rd and 2

With Delanie Walker out in front of him, Kaepernick takes the keeper on the option around the right side for a 13-YARD GAIN.


1st quarter, 3:27 remaining

3rd and 8

Kaepernick put a good ball on Delanie Walker, but it was dropped, have to PUNT.


2nd quarter, 12:52 remaining

3rd and 12

Kaepernick delivers to Frank Gore in the flat, short of the marker and the 49ers have to PUNT.


2nd quarter, 11:10 remaining

3rd and goal from the 12

Kaepernick connects with Michael Crabtree on the underneath route, who then takes it up the middle untouched for a TOUCHDOWN.


2nd quarter, 8:02 remaining

3rd and 2

Threatening the read-option, Kaepernick hands off to LaMichael James who shoots right up the A-gap for a 14-YARD GAIN.


2nd quarter, 6:30 remaining

3rd and 9

Kaepernick has no options downfield, but with the defense in man-to-man coverage, he has space in front of him. Kaepernick tucks it and runs up the gut for a 15-YARD GAIN and draws a taunting flag at the end of the play, but the first down remains.


2nd quarter, 1:48 remaining

3rd and 10

The Packers bring the blitz and Kaepernick scrambles runs up the middle, man-to-man coverage again, no one in the middle, big first down


2nd quarter, :35 remaining

3rd and 10

Kaepernick quickly goes through his reads and then scrambles up the middle for 9-YARD GAIN, which sets up the David Akers the field goal before halftime.


3rd quarter, 12:09 remaining

3rd and 8

Kaepernick's pass is incomplete to Vernon Davis, broken up by Charles Woodson. It was the first three-and-out forced by the Packers on the day.


3rd quarter, 4:00 remaining

3rd and 2

Kaepernick stands tall in the pocket and delivers to Michael Crabtree for a 16-YARD GAIN and a first down.


4th quarter, 6:40 remaining

3rd and 15

On a middle-screen, Kaepernick got it Crabtree underneath, who then put a move on the defender, reversing field for a 14-YARD GAIN. The 49ers lined up on fourth-down and Kaepernick drew the defense offside with the hard count.

The 49ers finished 8-of-13 (61%) on third downs against the Packers on Saturday.

NFC West Blogger Mike Sando of also had some interesting factoids about the San Francisco quarterbacks on third down:

Kaepernick (96.8) and Smith (94.5) have similar NFL passer ratings as starters on third down this season. Kaepernick holds a striking lead (86.3 to 32.9) in Total QBR on third down, however. Sacks and rushing plays account for the difference.

If San Francisco has any hope of winning a championship this year, they will have to outwork and outperform other elite offensive units. What we noticed with all of these converted third downs is, Aaron Rodgers was spending quite a bit of time on the sideline.

The 49ers' ability to sustain drives and win time of possession will be crucial from here on out. They accomplished it against the Packers and they emerged victorious. But the best part about the long drives is that they were capping them off with scores.

The Niners will have to be as efficient versus Atlanta on the road. Speaking of being on the road, it was good to see San Francisco converting as many third-and-longs as they were. With the extreme loud nature of the Georgie Dome in January, the 49ers may succumb to a couple false starts.

Situational football was one of San Francisco's biggest weaknesses in 2011, and now it's becoming a strength. The 49ers said they would handle in the offseason and they did. It would be something else if they could redeem themselves on the national stage by advancing from the NFC Championship game, dispatching of their third-down demons.

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