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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Colin Kaepernick Shows Harbaugh's Offense at Full Capacity

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Colin Kaepernick has been unleashed.
  • Colin Kaepernick has been unleashed.

Colin Kaepernick is like a new pair of basketball sneakers. You always go too long before getting a new pair. For months, maybe years, you'll scurry up and down the court in a beat-up pair of Nike Flights, with the soles peeling off, the heels caved in, the bottom slipping around the hardwood like a dry mop.

But you're game's fine, shot's falling and defense is solid -- so why get a new pair?

Eventually the Flights fall apart -- their seams tear, or you leave them outside in the rain or something. And you slide on a fresh pair of Lebron X's, with their arch support, and padded heels, and rubbery floor grip -- I can't believe I've been missing out on this for so long.

For a year and a half, Niner fans have seen their team more or less dominate the league, toppling teams led by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. When the team made a run at Peyton Manning this summer, fans were split. The team was a competent punt returner away from the Super Bowl, pro-Alex Smith fans argued, so why switch it up for a 36-year-old coming off multiple neck surgeries?

The fundamental question with Alex Smith's recent resurgence has been: How much of Smith's success stems from his own evolution as a player, and how much is purely attributed to Jim Harbaugh's coaching ability?

Last night, Colin Kaepernick showed Niner fans what happens when you plug a talented quarterback into Harbaugh's offense.

It's not just that Kaepernick is more physically gifted than Smith -- that he can throw stronger and run faster. It's that those physical gifts allow Kaepernick to run Harbaugh's offense at full capacity.

With Smith, the passing game was essentially variations of: Read the defense, check the first option; if the first option's not open hit the check down receiver; if that's not there either, throw it away or run.

To Smith's credit, he bought into the system and stuck to the script, rarely making critical mistakes. Harbaugh's play calling, the solid running game, the great defense, and Smith's steady work added up to a championship contender.

But as Kaepernick proved, there is much more to Jim Harbaugh's offense than screens, check downs, and power sweeps. After all, with Josh Johnson at San Diego and Andrew Luck at Stanford, Harbaugh's offensive scheme broke records.

Last night, Kaepernick got his 243 yards, completing 16 of 23 for two touchdowns, against arguably the best defense in the NFL. He made complicated down field throws-- throws that require a strong arm and an ability to quickly read a complex defense. Vernon Davis explained a 32-yard completion to reporters:

The ball that he threw me, it was one of those balls that Tom Brady throws. Second window, right on the money. I didn't expect the ball to come because we've run that play quite a few times, and the tight end usually doesn't get the ball on that play. But he saw it, and he just put it there.

It came in the second window -- the second opening between defenders in a zone defense -- because Davis was not the first read, and the play had been developing for a several seconds. Lost in the chaos of 22 men running around a field is the sophistication of a play like that: the quarterback's mind analyzing in real-time, projecting what's happening on the right side of the field while watching the movements on the left side of the field, all the while his legs simultaneously avoiding pass rushers.

It is important for Niners fans not to get too excited, though. Cam Newton looked good at first too. Then defenses figured him out. The key to sustained success for a quarterback is adjusting to the adjustments.

But it's definitely okay to get kind of excited. A new pair of sneakers will do that.

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Albert Samaha


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