The Baltimore Ravens have faced Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins read-option offense this season and will face a similar-type offense in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII that features one of the most exciting and dynamic QB’s in the NFL in San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, a backup to Alex Smith until Smith went down with an injury, has breathed new life into the 49ers offense and has given them big play capabilities that has led them to their sixth Super Bowl appearance.
In the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick gave the world a preview of this new hybrid of quarterback – a 6’4″, 230 pound quarterback with a strong, accurate arm that can throw to targets, and the ability to move with ease from the pocket and use tremendous speed to evade defenders.
The result was Kaepernick out-rushing the entire Green Bay Packer offense, running for 181 yards and two touchdowns. With Kaepernick using his legs in addition to his arm, Frank Gore also rushed for over 100 yards in the win over Green Bay.
Not only will the Ravens have to defend against San Francisco running the football out of the read-option, they’ll also have to throw different layers of coverage and blitz schemes at Kaepernick to try and confuse him in his pass sets.
What will help the Ravens is defensive coordinator Dean Pees giving Kaepernick multiple fronts on defense and have him decipher those looks to use to his advantage. Kaepernick has the tendency to lock in on a certain receiver quickly – a mistake that most young quarterbacks go through – and when that happens, safeties and corner backs can read his eyes and undercut routes.
The situation arose in the win over Green Bay when early on Kaepernick struggled, locking onto Michael Crabtree who was covered, then scrambled and tried to throw across his body – with play-making ability in mind – where Sam Shields intercepted the pass intended for Vernon Davis and returned it for an early score.
Kaepernick rebounded to help his team to victory but, again, in last week’s win over the Falcons, Kaepernick struggled early with his passing as Atlanta gave him different looks via their blitz schemes and the 49ers failed to get anything going offensively in the 1st quarter.
The Ravens can look to what Atlanta did to slow Kaepernick’s ability to run the football out of the read-option by containing the edges. It’s what the Ravens tried to do against RGIII in the match-up against Washington, allowing only 34 yards rushing. Instead, the Ravens had trouble slowing Alfred Morris down who ran for 122 yards that day.
Atlanta held Kaepernick to just 21 yards rushing, but could not stop the duo of Frank Gore and LaMichael James who ran for touchdowns.
What the Ravens hope they can do is play the chess game effectively. Can they match each move Kaepernick makes at the line of scrimmage and can the Ravens be fast enough in the perimeter to slow Gore and James down out of those pistol formations.
If the Ravens match tempo with the 49ers, they could force Kaepernick into adjusting what they want to do defensively.
Keeping him contained in the pocket and making him throw the football down field will be key for the Ravens. According to ESPN Stats, Kaepernick was held in the pocket on 21 of 23 drop back passes against the Falcons, the highest percentage against him this season. With good corner play and communication with the safeties, Kaepernick could be susceptible to turning the ball over should he lock eyes on a receiver.
There’s a lot of great things about Colin Kaepernick in this new breed of quarterbacks, but a few tendencies that the Ravens can exploit.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.