According to ESPN Stats and Info, the 49ers have run option plays 29 times in the playoffs after using them just 26 times in Kaepernick’s seven regular-season starts. The 49ers are averaging 8.4 yards per carry on option runs in the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats and Info, and scored four times on them.
But what makes Kaepernick so dangerous -- and why he is much more feared than the player Tim Tebow was in Denver, for example -- is a right arm that can short-circuit a radar gun. The 25-year-old might not have the strongest arm in Sunday’s Super Bowl, but analysts say he is in Joe Flacco’s neighborhood.
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 Alfred Morris carried the Redskins on two first-quarter touchdown drives. But the Ravens -- who were without starting linebackers Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Terrell Suggs that day -- soon produced some answers.
“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 Haloti Ngata slammed awkwardly into his knee on a scramble.
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 Ed Reed said he also dusted off tape of Michael Vick from back in Week 2 -- and the Redskins are a zone-blocking running team while the 49ers use more of a downhill power run game. The 49ers might also put an extra back in their pistol to be a blocker, a unique tweak in their scheme.
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 Paul Kruger simply said, “You’ve got to be focused on your job and only your job.” There is good reason for it, because if one defender tries to freelance, Kaepernick is quite capable of burning the Ravens for six points on any given option play.
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.”
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