Friday, October 26, 2012

Is There A Wildcat In San Francisco?

The 49ers insertion of Colin Kaepernick at quarterback during a few of their games in the first half of the season has created quite a bit of discussion.  The chatter regarding the "WildKaep" Package has ranged from, "it is disrupting the rhythm of the offense", "they don't need to waste their time learning a different set of plays", to "those plays are simple to stop."

While there is no clear evidence to conclude one way or the other regarding how it's use is effecting the rhythm of the offense, I will argue that they are not using additional practice time learning a different set  of plays or that they are simple to stop.

For the most part, when Kaepernick has been inserted into games while the outcome is still in doubt, the play call has been a Shotgun Read Option.  This concept in not new to the 49ers in 2012.  In fact, you will find many examples of them running the same plays in 2011 with Alex Smith and that has continued throughout 2012 even with Kaepernick taking a few of the snaps.  Below are shots of Smith running the Read Option in last years NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and also Kaepernick running it against the Giants again in their week 6 matchup.

  • 2011 NFC Championship Game - Read Option with Alex Smith
  • Week 6 2012 - Read Option with Colin Kaepernick
The Read Option is nothing more than the addition of another running threat to their base running plays, and since they are utilizing it with both of the QB's, and they would both get reps during practice in preparation for the game it is not taking additional practice time to work on.  It is also a great way to help outnumber the defense in the box.  This is accomplished through forcing the defense to slow down their backside pursuit in order to account for the QB run.  Let's take a look at a few examples of this.

  • In this example from the NFC Championship game you can see that the Giants have 6 in the box, and they bring an additional safety down late (barely visible on right side of bottom picture).  The Read Option requires the QB to read the DE (arrow).  If the DE crashes down as he does here, the QB will pull the ball back and run outside, in this case reading the block by Vernon Davis on the extra safety.  Alex Smith ends up gaining 4 yards on this play, and when they ran it again later in the game he was able to come up with an even larger gain.

  • In this example from week 6, the Giants have lined up 7 men in the box.  Again, Kaepernick is going to read the DE (white arrow) to determine whether he gives or keeps.  As you can see, the DE has done a better job of slow playing the run and staying home to stop CK.  The backside MLB #59, is also keying on CK.  By running this play with a Read Option look, the 49ers have effectively turned a 7 man box into a 4 man box.  This elimination of defenders helps the offensive line create space for a 6 yard gain.
The 49ers have also effectively utilized the Read Option in their play action pass package.  While watching the game this Monday Night there is a very strong likelihood that you will see Alex Smith run at least 1 play action pass out of this look.

Going back to the original question, Is there a wildcat in San Francisco?  I would have to say no, and I also believe that this is something that you will continue to see the 49ers run and expand upon as the season progresses.  Whether that means additional playing time for Kaepernick or not, I don't know, but it can't hurt to have one of the best to ever run that system in the college game running it.

What are your thoughts?  I would be more than happy to hear them.

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