Despite having only started 27 games in his young career, Colin Kaepernick has become the Green Bay Packer's kryptonite. Since becoming the 49ers starter in November 2012, three of the six Packers loses have come at the hands of Kaepernick when Aaron Rodgers played the majority of the snaps.
Whether it was quarterback keepers off the zone read in last year's playoff game or shredding Green Bay's secondary to start this season, the Packers haven't found a way to contain the man who grew up idolizing Brett Favre and the Pack .
On Sunday, Kaepernick again beat the Packers with his legs, although this time it wasn't designed quarterback runs or zone reads but his ability to break contain and scramble downfield.
Let's look at how Kaepernick's legs were the difference on Sunday as he picked up nearly 100 yards scrambling and converted a huge 3rd down late to put the 49ers in range for Phil Dawson's game winning field goal.
Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 4:49, 1st and 10 at the SF 45, Packers 7, 49ers 6
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin) 2 TE (Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald) 1 RB (Frank Gore)
Formation: Power Pistol
Offensive Concept: Scramble
Defensive Scheme: Man 2
Pre-Snap: The 49ers shift TE McDonald from the left side to in the backfield forming a Power Pistol formation with both WR Crabtree and WR Boldin spilt out to the right. The Packers respond in their base 3-4 defense with both OLB showing blitz and FS M.D Jennings in a single high safety look.
Post-Snap: Both outside rushers blitz as the 49ers keep RB Gore in the backfield forming a 6 man protection against a 5 man rush. LT Joe Staley pushes OLB Nate Palmer's speed rush past the pocket while LG Mike Iupati overpowers his man pushing him inside. This creates a lane for QB Kaepernick to escape the pocket and break downfield.
With 4 Packer defenders occupied with the routes of WR Crabtree, WR Boldin and TE McDonald to the right, only CB House and ILB Brad Jones are on the left side of the field. Making things even better for the 49ers, RB Gore leaks out as a lead blocker having seen QB Kaepernick sliding forwards.
After a beautiful cut block by RB Gore 3neutralizes ILB Jones, QB Kaepernick shows his open field speed by eluding CB House with ease. While CB House doesn't tackle QB Kaepernick he does slow him down enough for S Morgan Burnett to trip him up after a 43 yard scramble.
Summary: After dominating the 1st quarter only to find themselves down 7- 6 because of two red zone trips that resulted in field goals, the 49ers needed a play. And boy did they get one, with excellent protection and an outstanding block from Frank Gore, Kaepernick was able to burst into the open field and get the 49ers into the red zone.
With Gore providing the key block 10 yards down the field, Colin Kaepernick showed everyone why he has a claim for the most athletic quarterback in the NFL. Others might be stronger or more elusive but no one has better straight line speed that Kaepernick.
His huge stride was on display on this play as he torched the pursuit initially and made a defensive back look downright slow in the open field. Because of his incredible speed, Kaepernick was able to turn a solid gain into a huge play that led to a momentum changing touchdown two plays later.
While the decision to scramble is entirely the quarterback's, the opportunity and chance of success are often determined by the play call. Like the previous play, where both wide receivers were spilt out to the right and Kaepernick scrambled left, Greg Roman often floods one side of the field with receiving options to open the other side for a potential scramble.
Let's look at how that strategy created a big play early while trailing early in the 4th quarter.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 11:19, 1st and 10 at the SF 44, Packers 17, 49ers 13
Offensive Personnel: 4 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Quitton Patton, Kaseem Osgood) 1 TE (Vernon Davis)
Formation: Empty Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Scramble
Defensive Scheme: Man 2
Pre-Snap: The 49ers bring in 4 wide receivers and empty the backfield in a 5 wide shotgun set. The Packers respond in their dime package playing Man 2 coverage.
Post-Snap: As Kaepernick hits the final step of his drop, the Packers defensive line has lost lane discipline with a huge hole in between LT Staley and LG Iupati. Additionally, the Packers secondary is focused on their man coverage responsibilities further paving the way for a Kaepernick scramble.
Because all of the 49ers receivers run routes towards the left sideline, there is no one to challenge QB Kaepernick as he escapes the pocket to the right. The one player that could prevent QB Kaepernick from getting the 1st down was CB Devon House, but WR Boldin shields him off, effectively setting the edge.
Not only does QB Kaepernick get to the 1st down marker, he uses his elite speed to turn the corner and skirt the sideline before stepping out of bounds for a 24 yard gain.
Summary: Rarely do the 49ers spread the field with 5 wide, but they did knowing that they could move the majority of the defense to one side with a flood-esque route package. With the Packers not accounting for the quarterback by playing man coverage with 2 deep safeties this was a relatively easy first down scramble for Kaepernick.
While the decision to leave the pocket was routine, Kaepernick again displayed his amazing open field speed as he was able to turn the corner and pick up an additional 17 yards. I'm not sure any other quarterback in the NFL today has the speed to turn that run up field, maybe Michael Vick, and Kaepernick's scrambling has become a legitimate big play threat for the 49ers offense not just a last resort.
While the previous two scrambles were impressive they pale in comparison to the next one. With the season on the line late in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick again bailed the 49ers out by tucking the football and turning up field for a first down that set up the game winning field goal.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 1:13, 3rd and 8 at the GB 38, Packers 20, 49ers 20
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Quitton Patton) 1 TE (Vernon Davis) 1 RB (Frank Gore)
Formation: 4 Wide Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Scramble
Defensive Scheme: Man 0
Pre-Snap: The 49ers come to the line with 3 receivers left, isolating WR Crabtree against CB House on the right side. The Packers show an all out blitz with CBs over all 4 wide receivers and no safety over the top.
Post-Snap: The Packers do bring the house with ILB A.J Hawk, S Burnett rushing up the middle and CB Jarrett Bush blitzing off the left edge. With the offensive line sliding right, RB Gore comes across QB Kaepernick to block CB Bush.
RB Gore stuffs CB Bush, who throws his hands up as QB Kaepernick is in his throwing motion. With his throwing lane to WR Crabtree compromised, QB Kaepernick wisely tucks the ball and takes advantage of CB Bush losing contain to start running towards the first down marker.
Seeing his QB in trouble, WR Crabtree breaks up field on the scramble routine bringing CB House with him. While QB Kaepernick doesn't throw him the ball, WR Crabtree clears out the only defender allowing QB Kaepernick to scramble uncontested for a huge first down.
Summary: Whew. My heart definitely skipped a beat or two as the Packers brought the house, but Kaepernick showed some serious composure to pull the ball down and get the first down. Another great block by Frank Gore allowed Kaepernick to show his game changing speed one more time en route to picking up a first down that would effectively end the game.
Another game against Green Bay, another win. And while the other victories were great in their own rights, this was the most impressive. With the bitter cold, hostile crowd and a good team revived by the return of their star quarterback, Green Bay was in a great position to finally deliver some revenge against San Francisco. Add in a play like the 4th and 2 conversion after Ray McDonald had Aaron Rodgers seemingly wrapped up in the backfield and it seemed as if it just wasn't meant to be for the 49ers this time.
Yet whenever the 49ers needed a play Kaepernick delivered with huge scrambles that moved the chains and created scoring opportunities. Scrambles that were surprisingly absent in the regular season have seemingly returned as Kaepernick has settled into an offense largely void of the zone read.
With Kaepernick playing some of his best football to date, the 49ers look primed for a deep postseason run. The Panthers will test them, particularly upfront where they can match the 49ers physicality, but this is a completely different team with the a healthy set of outside weapons.
No longer limited to a stagnant run game against 8 and 9 man fronts, the 49ers offense has blossomed into a dynamic unit capable of beating teams in a multitude of ways. Even with a talented cast surrounding him, what makes the 49ers so dangerous is the dual threat of Colin Kaepernick, something Green Bay has found out the hard way in the past 12 months.
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