Next, the film. With even Colin and Russell Wilson throwing 30+ passes regularly, posting ~3 pics of each passing play is too much. I've condensed this post by using GIFs to animate each passing play. At the beginning of each play, I've also started to describe what type of drop it is: UC (under center), S (shotgun), P/A (play/action) and the number of steps in the drop. You'll see why at the bottom. Enjoy!
4. UC 7. 7 steps is a long way against a fierce pass rush and the right end has gotten separation from Joe Staley. Colin should step up, allowing the LT to chip the defender back; instead, he opens his hips and throws another deep comeback. Despite flawed footwork, the long pass has a ton of zip and beats the defense for a big completion. The timing of the route may have necessitated Colin throwing without shifting forward in the pocket, but I counter that he needs to make those small adjustments quick enough to not affect route timing.
- Arm talent. Colin showed his ability to put arc on balls, throw lasers, throw on the run, throw under pressure, even throw when his footwork was bad. He only really missed 3 throws: the slant to Crabtree, and two overcooked throws to running backs in the flat.
- Chemistry with receivers. This is about understanding where receivers want the ball, putting it where only his guy can get it. Colin routinely placed balls high or low out of the defense’s reach, otherwise known as “throwing the receiver open.”
- Improved understanding of passing lanes. Colin has struggled in the past with having balls batted. I think it’s a combination of A) his tendency to throw low on shorter routes, B) his height, which allows him to see over the defense so he doesn’t respect the rush as much, and C) a ¾ arm slot that isn’t a problem as long as he’s consistent. But as the pocket collapsed time and time in this game, Colin showed the necessary patience when throwing lanes weren’t there.
- Reads. I strongly dispute the notion that Colin is a one-read quarterback. He is slower moving from read to read compared to more advanced QBs and he struggles more with reads on opposite sides of the field. But the coaches had a great game plan in this game and in the last two games versus a historic Seahawks passing defense, I always though Colin knew where to go with the ball. Importantly, he stays away from trouble and doesn't lock on to receivers, tipping the defense for easy picks.
- Footwork. Footwork. Footwork. Colin usually gets his front pointed in the general right direction, but he often opens his hips to the field. I know he has a strong arm and maybe he’s more comfortable throwing this way. The effect is there is too much side-to-side torque on the ball, which causes instability and missed throws. He is already a great QB – can you imagine how much better he could be if he consistently aligned both feet in the direction of the throw?
- Moving in the pocket. It’s hard to be consistent in the pocket when the offensive line breaks down like the 49ers’ did in this game. Toward the end, Colin got “happy feet” on a few drops, anticipating the rush when he had time to throw. Colin needs to get better at subtle, smaller shifts in the pocket that allow him to avoid pressure but keep his feet oriented in the right direction to throw quickly.
- Ball security. He only got loose with it a few times, but he needs to keep that ball high and close to the chest.
- Looking off safeties and pre-snap reads. As he gets more comfortable with reading the defense pre-snap and getting an idea of where he wants to go with the ball, Colin needs to start looking the other way to fool safeties. He’s a decent threat on play fakes where defense are terrified of him as a running threat, but he needs to fake them with his passing prowess as well.
- Drop back mechanics. Watching Colin the last two years, it looks like he long legs make dropping back a bit harder for him. It's not a disaster, but he doesn't look as comfortable as the best passers. College QBs are often taught to get as far back as fast as they can, but the NFL is much more detail-oriented. Because rushers in the NFL are so much better, blockers are taught to block to a spot depending on how many steps the drop-back is. They are also taught to open certain passing lanes depending on where the QB should be at the top of his drop. In the Carolina game, I noticed some inconsistency in Colin's drop depth and location. I specifically watched for it in this game. His most frequently used drop was 5 steps from under center. Here are the images of all those drops, first from left to right (1st and 4th quarters), and then from right to left (2nd and 3rd). The orange numbers denote which pass play it was:
I think the coaches want him to get 8 yards back on 5 steps. He does a good job of it in the first half, especially since they varied his drops a lot early with play/action, roll-outs, etc.
Before the Super Bowl, I wrote "Russell [Wilson] is the best young quarterback in the league, RIGHT NOW" (emphasis original). Colin Kaepernick is not at that level. But weighing his strengths and weaknesses, as a package, I take it gladly. Some of his strengths you can't teach; I believe the weaknesses can be worked on. But my overall takeaway from this game was: Colin moved the ball. The 49ers only went 3-and-out twice, and three scoring drives covered over 50 yards (two TD drives over 70). They also had a 40 yard drive that ended in a field goal and a 48 yard drive that ended on a spectacular pick in the Seattle end zone. And this against a pass defense that was easily the best of the last decade and one of the best all-time. A defense that consistently dominated their offensive line and held their running game most of the day. All while his best receiver was still working his way back from a 3 month injury layoff.
This is a totally un-statistical way to view things, but watching this game (and the NFC Championship Game), as a 49ers fan, I was never afraid of what the Seattle pass defense could do. With an aging Frank Gore and an unproven LaMichael James, I was hoping the coaches would put the game in Colin's hands. And he delivered. He was never shell-shocked but appeared supremely comfortable with what the team needed him to do. You know who couldn't do that? Peyton freaking Manning. I understand the small sample size and everything. I know that he's is not yet a consistent passer. But Colin Kaepernick shows up time and time in big games against great opponents, and gives his team an excellent chance to win. I don't what more you can ask of a second-year quarterback than that.
As far as his salary - top QB salaries are currently in the $20mm+ range for the top 5 QBs. For Kaepernick, I am comfortable with a range of $15mm to $17mm (with a big signing bonus and the cap effect backloaded). At the bottom of that range are guys like Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger who have proven themselves but are on the decline. At the top of that range are Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford. You could argue that Kaepernick is better than those guys already (I wouldn't - not yet, as the 49ers have a much better team around their QB than Dallas or Detroit). The top of the range makes me nervous, but if his agent is doing his job, Kaepernick should get a total salary in the top 10.
Right? Wrong? You Make The Calls. #YMTC #YouMakeTheCalls #QBCorner