The last two times the Packers played the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick tore them apart. In last year’s NFC Divisional Round matchup, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards, rushed for 181, and accounted for 4 total touchdowns. In week 1 this season, he threw for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s why it’s so strange that the Packers’ best course of action this coming Sunday will be to force Kaepernick to beat them.
A lot has happened since the Packers and 49ers met in week 1. Most notably, the 49ers are not the same explosive offense. Early in the season, San Fran piled too much on Kaepernick’s plate. They asked him to pick apart defenses through the air like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But Kaepernick lacks that type of precision and skill as a passer. The Niners rightly corrected themselves, recommitting to the run after a 1-2 start. They finished the season 11-2 as a result.
As a whole, the 49ers are a physical team, built for the freezing cold weather they’ll experience at Lambeau Field on Sunday. This is why the Packers must do everything they can to take away the ground game and force Kaepernick to win with his arm. They must challenge Kaepernick, because he doesn’t always see the field well. He pre-determines a lot of throws and often locks onto his receivers. This is where he gets into the most trouble.
On the play below, Kaepernick had two receivers to his right running vertical routes vs cover-2. This type of play threatens the play-side safety most, as he is responsible for that deep half of the field. Kaepernick’s eyes were glued to Vernon Davis running the inside vertical route. This brought the safety down over Davis, leaving Anquan Boldin wide open at the top of the screen.This is a common route concept throughout the NFL and should have been an easy touchdown. But Kaepernick did not come off of Davis, and instead scrambled unnecessarily despite the clean pocket, eventually throwing an incompletion. Now, he did throw a touchdown pass two plays later, but the larger point is that Kaepernick is not the type of quarterback that consistently makes a team pay through the air. His inability to quickly move from one receiver to the next prevents him from picking apart defenses with regularity. This is why the Packers must force the 49ers to try and win with the least consistent part of their offense – the passing game.
In the playoffs last January, the Packers were burned by Kaepernick’s legs. They played a ton of man coverage, and while defenders had their backs turned as they focused on their receivers, Kaepernick made them pay via the scramble.
In week 1 this season, the Packers had a better gameplan. They used almost all zone coverage, enabling defenders to keep their eyes on Kaepernick as well as his receivers. Sometimes, the Packers used a spy. Their pass rush kept Kaepernick in front of them, never rushing too far upfield, which would allow wide-open escape lanes. They did everything they could to keep his legs from beating them. In fact, the front 7 set out to stop the 49ers’ running game as a whole. They dared Kaepernick to win with his arm.
Ultimately, Kaepernick did throw for over 400 yards. But a big part of that was Green Bay’s poor tackling after the catch, as well as a few blown coverages and missed assignments.
Yet since week 1, Kaepernick has not been consistent through the air. Add to that the frigid weather conditions projected for Sunday’s game, and the chances are good that he won’t come near his week 1 performance. This is why forcing the 49ers offense to win with Kaepernick’s arm is the best approach for Green Bay’s struggling defense.