181 yards. That’s what 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for against the Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs last season. The read-option did its fair share of damage, but Kaepernick’s scrambles on pass plays did just as much, if not more, to break the Packers’ back. What was the reason for this? The predominance of man coverage Dom Capers decided to use.
The problem with man coverage is that defenders turn their backs to the quarterback and focus on their respective receivers. This is especially a problem against scrambling quarterbacks.
Often times in their NFC Divisional matchup, the Packers played 2-man coverage against Kaepernick. This means two safeties over the top, with man coverage underneath. So with five defenders covering five receivers and two safeties over the top, that left only four defenders – four defenders to rush the quarterback, or three defenders to rush, and one player to “spy” the quarterback.
For the most part, the Packers elected to go with the former. Often times, the four defenders rushing the quarterback used a “mush rush” – designed more to keep the quarterback in front of them than to actually sack him. This is often a strategy used against scrambling quarterbacks, and it severely hinders a defense’s ability to generate sacks.
On this night, none of Dom Capers’ strategies stopped Kaepernick in any capacity.
With the lack of a decent pass rush, Kaepernick was left with plenty of time to scan the defense when he wanted to pass. Because of the use of man coverage, whenever Kaepernick decided to run, he was often five to ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage before defenders in coverage finally realized he was scrambling.
In the NFL, there isn’t one way to stop an offense. The Packers won’t solve all of their problems on Sunday simply by playing zone coverage. Kaepernick is capable of inflicting plenty of damage with his arm. But by using less man-to-man the Packers can avoid another 181-yard, 45-point performance; which just might be enough for Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the ball.