Each day this week, Baltimore Sun reporter and blogger Matt Vensel will break down a key matchup from Sunday's
In their stunning run to
But the young quarterback they must shut down on Super Sunday presents a unique challenge because he threatens the entire field after every snap. At 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, Colin Kaepernick has the stature of the prototypical
Often burning pro defenses with read-option plays in an offensive scheme that was developed in the college ranks (and mastered by Kaepernick before he arrived in the NFL), the San Francisco 49ers pistol-whipped their opponents -- scoring 73 points and averaging 476 yards -- as they rolled through the
“We’re going to have to tackle him. We’re going to have to keep him inside and in front of our defense. We’re not going to be able to run past him,” coach
Stopping San Francisco's pistol offense -- the formation puts Kaepernick a 4-yard snap behind the center with a running back straight behind him -- is much different than dealing with Manning or Brady, but perhaps just as difficult.
PULLING THE TRIGGER
As the legend goes, former
Two (winning) seasons later, the Wolfpack started to mix in read-option elements, and after an injury knocked out his starting quarterback, Ault asked a gangly, athletic redshirt freshman to wield the pistol.
Replacing Nick Graziano in a loss to
"Every time he touched the ball, whether he gained yardage or not, you could just feel the electricity," Ault recently told The New York Times. "With those long, loping legs of his, well, they haven't caught him yet."
The 49ers drafted Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011
Kaepernick got the start eight days later for a Monday night showcase showdown against the
In the regular season, Kaepernick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. In the playoffs, he has completed 63.5 percent of his throws for 496 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.
A TRUE TRIPLE THREAT
Kaepernick made an emphatic statement that the pistol is not just a passing fad in the divisional-round win against the Packers. Often keeping the ball on read-option plays, he rushed for 181 yards, the most ever for a quarterback in any NFL game, on 16 carries. His 56-yard touchdown on an option run -- the lanky QB looked like a gazelle sprinting in the open field -- gave the 49ers the lead for good in the third quarter.
The following week, the Falcons emphasized containing Kaepernick in the pocket. After pistol snaps, one of their defensive ends would peel off towards the flat, refusing to let Kaepernick beat them around the edge like he did against the Packers. It worked, as Kaepernick rushed for 21 yards on just two carries, but he was quite content to instead hand the ball to his running back, who often had a wide running lane in the area that the defensive end had vacated. Running backs Frank Gore and
While trying to stop read-option runs, whether they come from the pistol or the standard shotgun, edge defenders are forced to make a snap decision at the “mesh point,” which is when the quarterback sticks the ball into the belly of his running back. The offense purposely leaves an unblocked defender on the play side, instead using the blocker to outnumber the opposition elsewhere. If the edge defender -- in the Ravens’ case, it would likely be an outside linebacker like
"We have a need for a lot of rushing yards every week. We'll take them every week," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman told San Francisco area reporters last week. "But who does it? It doesn't matter to us, as long as we're getting production. So, as far as Kaep running the ball, it may happen. It may not."
But what makes Kaepernick so dangerous -- and why he is much more feared than the player
Instead of running on these read-option plays, Kaepernick also has the option to throw the ball down the field, making the read-option much more difficult to defend than the Wildcat, which does not have a true passing threat. That threat of the pass, along with the ability to throw on the run and the savvy to know when to hand the ball off and when to keep it, makes Kaepernick a true triple threat at quarterback.
WHIPPING THE PISTOL
The Ravens have six more days to install a game plan that might render Kaepernick one-dimensional.
The good news is that the Ravens got valuable experience defending the pistol in their Week 14 loss to the Redskins, though results in that game were mixed. The Redskins averaged 6.2 yards per carry on option plays that game, according to ESPN Stats and Info, and Griffin and running back
"They struggled early, but then they started to kick their butts later," Greg Cosell of NFL Films said.
The Ravens lost in overtime, but the Ravens hit Griffin several times before he was eventually knocked him out of the game after defensive tackle
Harbaugh was probably playing coy this week when he said that he wasn’t sure if there was anything to be gained from going back and looking at the tape from the Redskins game because “the foundation of the offense is different.” True, Griffin and Kaepernick are both good but in different ways -- safety
But Ron Jaworski of ESPN believes the experience from the Redskins game will help the Ravens prepare.
"The more you see this option, the better off you're prepared to stop it, so I know the fact that they've seen it once clearly will be an advantage to them," Jaworski said. "And it really is, it's all about playing with tremendous discipline and focus. And I'm sure you're hearing it in every one of those defensive meetings, every single one, it's about discipline. 'React to that mesh point. Don't try to be a hero. Do what you're supposed to do. Play the defense.' I can hear those coaches' voices resonating as I say those words, because the teams that lack discipline when you play these option teams get shredded."
Last week, Ravens players and coaches tossed around clichés, optioning between mantras about being disciplined and lines about “assignment football.” Outside linebacker
But just because they are preaching discipline doesn't mean the Ravens won't be aggressive on Sunday.
Cosell believes the Ravens defense will attack the 49ers when they run their read-option plays, and take advantage of their unblocked defender, the one the 49ers will ask Kaepernick to read. Instead of waiting to diagnose the play then acting, that defender might barge into the backfield and force the quarterback to speed up "all the backfield action," Cosell said, snapping his fingers together faster and faster for effect.
"What does a defense want? An unblocked defender," Cosell said. "So I think they're going to attack with that unblocked defender. That's what they did with the Redskins, and after some early struggles, they had pretty good success with it. So I think you're going to see that. … The Ravens have always had that attitude as an organization that we're going to kick your butt and I don't think they're going to sit and wait. Now they might get burnt a couple of times -- the 49ers are in the Super Bowl for a reason -- but I don't see them playing passively and letting it happen. That's not their personality as an organization."