Revisiting Colin Kaepernick’s Quarterbacking Issues
A few weeks ago, I explored the struggles of the San Francisco 49ers offense, focusing on the limitations of Colin Kaepernick as a quarterback. That article pointed out that Kaepernick was a phenomenal physical passer, but he was still developing in terms of the subtleties of playing the position.
Ever since then, I have kept an eye on the young quarterback. The return of Michael Crabtree to the offense has helped, but I was looking for plays that signalled development from Kaepernick independent of his receiving corps or offensive line.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15, the problems that stood out a few weeks ago were still evident. There were a few interesting plays that showed some development, but also some plays that highlighted his flaws. Below I will break down one of each.
Kaepernick had two primary flaws. He couldn’t read through progressions and he often ran out of clean pockets. The two issues are interlinked and both showed up on this play.
At the top of his drop, Kaepernick is looking at Anquan Boldin running down the seam. Boldin has drawn three defenders to his route, which leaves Michael Crabtree wide open by the sideline for what would likely be an eight or nine yard gain at best.
Whether by choice or ignorance, Kaepernick is right not to throw the ball to Crabtree because it’s third and 15. He needs more yards to extend the drive and a completion to Crabtree likely wouldn’t have put the offense in field goal range. To the bottom of the screen, Vernon Davis is in the process of faking out Mark Barron with a deep out before running down the middle of the field. He’s not open yet, but he will be in less than a second.
Initially, Kaepernick smartly steps up in the pocket, but he never settles again. Instead, his eyes drop to the flat as he scrambles towards the sideline. Davis is wide open at this point and Kaepernick would have had an easy touchdown pass if he was still standing tall in the pocket and had read through his progression properly. At least, an easy touchdown for him.
As Kaepernick proves here, he has more than enough arm talent to make any throw. He recognises that Davis is open before he passes the line of scrimmage before making an incredible throw across his body that just misses Davis. The tight end slowed slightly in his route after Kaepernick began to scramble, so the throw caught him off guard somewhat.
It’s tough to blame Davis, because Kaepernick should have seen him much earlier and delivered the ball on time. This is a good example of a play that shows off a quarterback who has all the physical traits needed to excel, but a quarterback who hasn’t yet mastered the position.
A player with less physical talent who recognised the play would have been more likely to score a touchdown.
This play isn’t perfect by any means, but it does represent progress over where Kaepernick was a matter of weeks ago.
After taking the ball from under center, Kaepernick fakes a pitch with one hand to LaMichael James who is running into the left flat. The Buccaneers’ defenders on the second level are all playing tall with their eyes in the backfield, so the fake has very little impact on them.
However, at this point in the play Kaepernick can’t see them so he doesn’t understand the impact the play-fake had.
When Kaepernick does turn around, his first read is Boldin to the left side of the field. Boldin is running towards the goal posts, but because the play fake didn’t work there are three defenders around hims till. Two of those defenders are in positions to make a play on any throw that Kaepernick makes in that direction.
To the top of the screen at the same time, Crabtree is breaking out towards the pylon. He is already coming free at this point because the defensive back has overplayed the inside.
Kaepernick immediately turns away from Boldin, understanding that he can’t throw him the ball. He looks straight at Crabtree who is wide open for a quarterback with Kaepernick’s arm. However, as Kaepernick turned, his feet spread out and he set up his body to scramble into the flat rather than make an immediate throw.
After working into the flat and before he gets too close to the sideline, Kaepernick lets the ball go with an accurate touchdown pass to Crabtree. However, Crabtree was made to work very hard for it. He initially was open running towards the pylon, before he doubled back towards the goal post when he saw Kaepernick scrambling. At that point, the defender was turned around, so Crabtree planted his foot quickly to turn back towards the pylon.
This caused the defender to slip, giving Kaepernick a huge window to throw into.
With a less talented or lazier receiver than Crabtree, this play would likely have resulted in a sack or an incompletion. Instead, Crabtree and Kaepernick’s incredible athletic ability masks his poor quarterback play. This is the kind of thing that happened last season, but went away earlier this year because the 49ers’ supporting cast was depleted.
The positive from this play is Kaepernick’s initial read and the fact that he stuck with Crabtree late in the play. In the past he wouldn’t have recognised the situation as quickly and he often doesn’t make throws down the field when he leaves the pocket. Admittedly, he throws the ball with more regularity when he breaks into the right flat opposed to the left.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf