There’s that kid somewhere in every state across the country on Friday night who is clearly more athletically gifted than anyone within those borders.
He doesn’t necessarily do things the right way, and his decisions make purists cringe. But everyone agrees that the best approach is to leave him alone and let him do the things that make him special. The way he does things isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just that most others aren’t gifted enough to spit on good sense.
In the NFL, that player is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
It’s not that the San Francisco 49ers quarterback is a defiant freelancer who refuses to adhere to sound fundamentals. It’s that he veers from the fundamentals just often enough to make him one of the more dangerous and unpredictable quarterbacks in the league.
Even though the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kaepernick nearly fits the prototype of what former 49ers coach Bill Walsh once stated a quarterback should look like (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), the offensive guru would have probably shook his head during a Week 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when Kaepernick rolled left, turned near the sideline, and threw against his momentum to Frank Gore, who was positioned at the right hash mark. The pass was improbably on the mark, and Gore took off for a 43-yard touchdown.
While it’s not the type of play Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would likely consider even if they were physically capable of doing so, it’s impossible to argue with the result. It’s also difficult to argue with what the threat of being able to make such plays does to a defense’s psyche. They have to figure out how to prepare for that kind of freelancing, which is what the Saints are dealing with this week.
“He can move and escape, he can extend plays,” coach Sean Payton said. “We’ve seen that from him. He’s done a great job of that.
“That would really be — I would say — the exception, because that’s not what you see normally. ... He poses a threat that’s challenging.”
A Sports Illustrated reporter recently released the results of an informal poll he conducted with a dozen coaches about whether it’s more difficult to game plan for Manning or Kaepernick. Not surprisingly, the majority said it is more difficult to prepare for the 49ers quarterback.
It’s not because Kaepernick is more talented than Manning. It’s because you know that Manning is going to stand in the pocket, read the field, and throw it where he sees fit. Kaepernick might take the same approach at times, but he’ll also mix in plays like the one he made against the Eagles a few weeks ago.
“From hearing (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick talk about going against Peyton, I don’t know if it gets much harder than that,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “But you’re right, legs on a quarterback adds a completely different element. I don’t care who it is — if you put (Carolina backup) Joe Webb at quarterback — if the guy has legs, you have to be in a different scheme. It’s hard, man.”
Even after watching all of the 257 passes he’s thrown this season, it’s still difficult to get a read on what he’s going to do from game-to-game, let alone snap-to-snap.
There are times when Kaepernick has no issue scanning the field and getting deeper into his reads, and then there are times when, as he often did during his first couple years at the helm, he’ll take off when his first read isn’t there.
The only thing that’s certain is that Kaepernick likes to go to his right more than his left when fleeing the pocket, but he’s not necessarily a passer when rolling one way over the other.
Kaepernick has left the pocket 50 times this season. When going to his right, he’s completed 17-of-36 passes (47 percent) for 223 yards with three touchdowns. When going to his left, he’s completed 7-of-14 passes (50 percent) with three touchdowns and an interception.
Overall, he’s showing a greater amount of patience this season, which might be a reflection of his maturation as a passer. Overall, he’s fled the pocket on only 19 percent of his passes this season. Last season he fled the pocket on 27 percent of his attempts, according to The Advocate’s charting.
His growth while staying in the pocket has been obvious. Last season he completed 57.3 percent of his passes there. This season that number has climbed to 68 percent. But Kaepernick says he hasn’t made a conscious effort to stay home more often.
“That’s determined on what teams are doing,” Kaepernick said. “That will be determined on game day, based on what they’re doing, but they’ve shown a lot of different things on film.”
What the Saints will hope to put on film this week is an image of Kaepernick trapped in the pocket, trying to beat them that way. His numbers there might be improving, but it’s easier to respond when you’re beating in predictable ways as opposed to the unpredictable.
Otherwise you might be left dumbfounded after watching Kaepernick throw the ball all the way across the field to a running back stationed by the opposing sideline.