QB Corner is now on YouTube! I felt that even after converting from JPEG to GIFs, the posts were getting too long, and I did enjoy looking at complete games to see how QBs adjusted to the defensive game plan. It's a pretty long video, but at least you don't have to stroll through page after page after page!
This week, I'm looking at Colin Kaepernick who has seemingly regressed each year. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the aging of Frank Gore and an offensive line that lost its ability to pass block. My goal is to figure out the root cause of his statistical decline and what he can do to reverse it (if possible). I chose this Week 9 game, a loss at home to the Rams, because it exemplified many of the issues the offense encountered throughout 2014. Not only did they only score 10 points (and after scoring 3 on the first drive), they gave up multiple sacks and only had two really big passing plays (both on the last drive that ended in a missed TD call and a Kaepernick fumble into the end zone.
See the conclusion, including strengths and weaknesses after the video. Enjoy!
- Arm talent. Colin makes every pass in the book, from deep outs and comebacks to flares and screens out of the backfield. But he also makes it easy on his receivers with well placed balls and good touch. There were only three poorly thrown balls the entire game (on ~47 dropbacks): one RB screen thrown at Carlos Hyde's feet (presumably because a linebacker was about to blow the play up), the missed slant to Michael Crabtree on 3rd down (though it was catchable), and the missed go route to Stevie Johnson (against very good single coverage).
- Reads. Colin made accurate reads the entire game, helped by the Rams playing a pretty vanilla deep man coverage scheme. They did fool him on one zone coverage that led to a sack, but overall he stayed away from trouble. More than that, he showed improving ability to read both sides of the field, looking safeties off on multiple occasions and getting to secondary and tertiary receivers.
- Footwork/mechanics. This was a real area of concern last year, and he has improved a lot. This was a focus going into last offseason and the work payed of as his feet consistently followed his eyes and stepped in the direction of the throw whether to the left or right, even in some very crowded pockets. He still over-rotates on some passes, but that seems to have little effect on accuracy or timing.
- Play-action. He does a good job turning his body away from the field, selling the fake, and then re-acquiring his receiver. He also hurt the Rams defense as a runner and a running threat.
- Pocket presence. First, he has improved at climbing the pocket against retreating and trying to run around guys. But he just doesn't feel pressure and slide in the pocket like great pocket passers. His feet can get frozen until a crisis hits, and when it does, he still tends to want to bolt. It's clear that he has the ability to navigate a pressured pocket - the last series was a perfect example of how he hung in there despite pressure, knowing the way they could come back was by passing. I just don't know if he can ever be that consistent at this essential skill. And if he's not, the 49ers have to acknowledge that and build an offense accordingly (maybe by incorporating some shorter drops).
- Drop-back mechanics. This is still an issue. He still looks herky-jerky when dropping from under center, isn't efficient getting to his last drop, and just doesn't look as balanced/comfortable as a third year quarterback should. I don't know how he gets better at this though, I think it's going to be hard to go back to the basics on such a fundamental skill. This isn't a huge deal, but there may have been one pass that was slightly late because he couldn't finish his drop in time.
- Situation awareness. The line stunk. Like, really bad. But Colin has to realize that the right side is struggling and know how to handle it. In the middle of the game, he had a stretch where he took series-ending sacks on 3 out of 4 possessions: 1 was a sack-fumble and 2 took the 49ers out of field goal range in a game they lost by 3. Both he and his coaches need to adjust better to the speed/bull rush combo the Rams used consistently and either call better protections or get the ball out faster.
- Deep balls. He only had 3 bomb attempts; the first was a throwaway against very good coverage and the third resulted in the pass interference call that got them on the 5 yard line at the end of the game. But the second was an attempt deep down the sideline to Stevie Johnson against single coverage. The coverage was good, but the ball had some room to the sideline. This is just one play, but come to think of it, is Colin that good at throw deep down the sidelines?
With those strengths and weaknesses, can Colin Kaepernick be a consistent, playoff-game-winning QB? You make the call. #QBCorner #YMTCSports