Did you see the 49ers win last night? Under Colin Kaepernick the Niner offense looked unusually dynamic, lively and even unstoppable, in averaging 6.5 yards per play. Even though the Bears were on their heels all night defensively, and completely unprepared for what the 49er offense was throwing at them, I can’t fathom Kaepernick repeatedly racking up a 133, or even a 100, passer rating in taking over Alex Smith’s starting job for the remainder of the season.
Conventional wisdom will nod to the fact that Kaepernick is talented, and even with an awkward hitch in his delivery, he effectively gets the ball to where it needs to be, but after a couple games opponents are sure to have had plenty of study to limit the second year QB from Nevada. He will take his punches.
Then, if he’s still the starter in San Francisco – since Harbaugh says he has TWO hot QBs – Kaepernick and his coaches will have to adjust to the adjustments. Even then, with that menacing defense, a mildly neutered Kaepernick could be all San Fran needs to be triumphant in New Orleans. In February, not this week.
Kaepernick’s skill set certainly let the 49ers spread their creative wings last night, but even under Alex Smith – who WAS Kaepernick at Utah under Urban Meyer – the 49ers have some of the most clever formations you’ll see in the NFL. They’re birthed from a couple different reasons. One, their skill/score position personnel doesn’t immediately flash you like a Harvin, a Cobb, or pick another player who’s a threat to score from anywhere in any formation, but they’ve got sneaky threatening players manning those positions. Frank Gore is healthy and defying his age and wear and tear. Kendall Hunter ran for over 4,000 yards at Oklahoma State and paired with Gore, is the prototypical and perfect changeup back. You know about the nightmarish mismatches Vernon Davis creates at tight ends. Without going over name after name, what’s most defining about how good the 49ers skill guys really are, is the fact that Randy Moss has barely been needed this year, first year Niner Brandon Jacobs, now healthy, can’t get activated, nor can two of their top rookies. Second round pick AJ Jenkins and last year’s yards per game leader in college football, LaMichael James have combined for ZERO total yards in 2012. Zeer-oh. Niner don’t need ‘em.
Second reason the Niners can get zany with their formations. Their offensive line is probably the best in the league. That gives the formations, the personnel, the play design A LOT of latitude.
If you watched the game, early on Gruden had his producers whip up a graphic to match his effusive (which is nothing new for him) praise of the 49ers offensive ingenuity. Read options, speed options, jumbos and about 8 or 9 other formations that the Niners utilize frequently to create advantages for themselves offensively. The groupings likely become even more potentially devastating with Kaepernick masterminding them over Smith. As I’ve described, San Fran employs superior personnel, even if it’s difficult to recognize, but it’s maximized by the innovation of the 49ers OC Greg Roman, and I’m sure Harbaugh is an advocate of the creativity as well.
From early in the season about the Niners uniqueness. And yes, the Lions seem to have used the jumbo as well with Rieff.
It was either Gruden or Twitter that pointed out, that Kaepernick, a runner, didn’t take off until late in the second quarter. Kaepernick running and engineering the WildKap is precisely what the Bears had planned for, but they’d been ‘out-generaled,’ as I’ve read of George McClellan in my Lincoln book, Team Of Rivals.
In Detroit, there may be a casualty from the Lions inability to be a more prolific offense. Even with teams having an offseason of study to limit the damage Stafford and Johnson could inflict, a coaching staff has to have that foresight that teams are preparing to stonewall (the Lincoln book is REALLY good) your key playmakers. Stafford, like Cam Newton this year, and Josh Freeman last year, has regressed. Some is on him. Some is on Scott Linehan, and ultimately up top at Jim Schwartz.
Last night the 49ers gave the Bears a huge dose of ‘We Haven’t Seen THAT Before.’ I can’t say I’ve seen that type of novelty from the Lions offense this season. At all. I’d love to know from the Lions opponents if they’ve seen anything they weren’t expecting from the Lions in any game this season. If the Vikings comments after the first game with the Harvin runback provide any indication, I’d guess the answer I’d get is a ‘nope.’
If Linehan does go, here’s to asking the Lions to bring a progressive minded schemer – I know, that’s an undying theme of mine – to make the most of some wonderfully gifted players on offense.
Want some candidates? Glad you asked.
If Bill O’Brien is headed to the NFL, and God I hope he doesn’t for the sake of the PSU community, he’s not going to be an OC. So rule that out. Same thing with Chip Kelly.
There likely won’t be a lateral move either. In other words, you’re not getting someone else’s OC.
Go down a level. How about a QB coach? A mentor for Stafford. Because his progress and ability to succeed will dictate how good the Lions will be.
I’ve honestly never heard of any of these guys, but coaches CAN learn from their pupils, especially the sublime ones. So give me a guy who’s been around some of that talent, and those minds. Let him apply that knowledge to Stafford and the Lions offense.
In lieu of asking Manning, Brees or Brady to run the Lions offense, how bout these…
A guy who was here before, but is now with Denver, Adam Gase.
New Orleans’ Joe Lombardi. Love the fact he’s an Air Force alum. I’m sure discipline would be paramount.