Since the 49ers’ lowest-ranked passing offense and 91 passing yards against the Panthers seem to have people worried, today seemed like the perfect time to go through every passing play that didn’t work against Carolina and attempt to determine how and why they failed. Since Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times and only completed 11 of his 22 passes, this post started getting long … so an executive decision was made to break this up into two halves.
Photos are included on some of these plays but not all of them. My apologies, but I figured most of the people reading this post already saw the game and could only handle looking at a certain number of plays before deciding to start their standard Friday night activities several hours early and possibly getting reprimanded at work.
13:06 — Kaepernick pass incomplete deep right to Anquan Boldin (1st-10, SF 42)
The Panthers disguised their coverage, with the corners covering Boldin and McDonald switching assignments mid-play, which made it so Boldin looked like he was wide open down the seam for a potential touchdown. If Kaepernick throws the ball a second sooner to Boldin it probably could’ve been a 15-yard play or so, but this was a great bit of trickery by the Panthers secondary as Captain Munnerlyn (really?) came inside from the right sideline and almost had an interception.
Who to blame: Kaepernick, because Carolina was baiting him and he fell for it.
2:23 — Kaepernick sacked for a 4-yard loss (1st-10, SF 20)
First read was to the right, which was covered. Kaepernick looked to his left and saw Manningham, whose defender was giving a 5-yard cushion. Vernon Davis completely whiffed on his block, collapsing the pocket and forcing Kaepernick to move forward. That’s when he was sacked by Dwan Edwards, who Alex Boone had trouble containing on the play.
Who to blame: Mostly Vernon, but Boone and Kaepernick share a little of the blame as well because Kaepernick held the ball a second too long and Boone couldn’t handle his man one-on-one.
14:21 — Kaepernick incomplete pass to Manningham (2nd-7, CAR 27)
Kaepernick moved up in the pocket and threw a dart to the left sideline that Manningham couldn’t handle.
Who to blame: Manningham should’ve caught that one.
14:14 — Kaepernick 2-yard pass to Davis (3rd-7, CAR 27)
Kaepernick went first-read from the snap, firing one to Davis’ outside shoulder. Williams was sent out wide on the left and ran a go route in hopes of drawing attention, but Melvin White wasn’t fooled. From about 10 yards away, the Panthers corner keyed on Davis from the moment Kaepernick looked to his left, sprinted upfield and made a play.
Who to blame: From the looks of things, whoever called this play (we’ll assume it was Greg Roman). The assumption was that if they tried a low-risk pass and let Vernon do his thing, they’d probably have a better shot than if they asked Kaepernick to find an open receiver past the first down marker. Also, throwing to Vernon’s outside shoulder (or hip, in this case) didn’t allow him to cut upfield. Throw in the fact that the Panthers weren’t fooled at all because Williams was never targeted often enough this season to be a serviceable decoy, and the play had no chance of success.
12:33 — Kaepernick sacked for a 14-yard loss (1st-10, SF 32)
The 49ers wanted to go big on their first play. Kaepernick faked a handoff to Kendall Hunter, who was running left. That caused everyone to go in that direction except linebacker A.J. Klein, who came in around the left end unblocked and straight at Kaepernick, who was rolling to his right. It’s hard to tell if Kaepernick was originally looking for Manningham deep down the right sideline or Vernon Davis. Davis lined up outside Joe Staley, followed Kaepernick to the right and was open about five yards downfield with a step on safety Quintin Mikell.
Who to blame: Kaepernick held the ball tooooo long. Maybe through repetition and experience he’ll gain the wherewithal to toss one over Klein to Vernon on this kind of play — but once “thinking” occurs, even a quarterback as fast as Kaepernick has no chance. He should’ve at least thrown the ball away once his attention focused on Klein, however, instead of trying to run away from a linebacker who has an angle.
7:26 — Kaepernick “incomplete” to Davis (2nd-5, CAR 7)
Some plays are obviously horrible. A quarterback throwing an interception to a defensive lineman almost always gets filed under that category. This play was sneaky-awful for two reasons. Just like in the previous play we looked at, Davis lines up next to Staley and breaks behind the line to his right as Kaepernick rolls with him to his right. Boldin was WIDE open in the end zone. So was Manningham, actually.
Who to blame: Kaepernick, unless he was strongly urged to get Davis the ball if at all possible. Once in the red zone, a completely uncovered No. 1 wide receiver in the end zone can’t go ignored in favor of a pass to the 5-yard line. And, even though this is no one’s fault besides the creators of American football, Davis was concussed on the play. Totally avoidable.
1:17 — Kaepernick incomplete to Kendall Hunter (2nd-1, SF 24)
Kaepernick threw a catchable ball to Hunter that was about a foot lower than optimal. Hunter bobbled it and got leveled by Drayton Florence before maintaining control.
Who to blame: This one is difficult to decide. Kaepernick’s pass wasn’t awful, and Hunter probably should’ve caught it. But Florence played his zone perfectly so he probably would have flattened Hunter anyway. After watching this play again I wondered if it might’ve had something to do with Hunter’s third quarter fumble in Panthers territory.
1:04 — Kaepernick sacked by Mike Mitchell for a loss of eight yards (1st-10, SF 32)
This play effectively ended the 49ers’ last drive of the half. The sack was split between Mitchell and DE Charles Johnson, but it was Mitchell’s safety blitz that killed it and he came through unblocked through a gaping hole on the left side of the 49ers’ line (from Mitchell’s view).
Who to blame: It’s hard to fault a guy when a speedy safety comes through your line of scrimmage. But again, Kaepernick needs to throw the ball away more often when the pressure causes an oncoming defender to become his primary focus. In Kaepernick’s defense, no one was open.
Kaepernick has made some special plays on the ground, particularly against Tennessee and Jacksonville. But if we can add another potential problem to the lack of receivers, ever-changing defensive schemes created to stop Kaepernick, and Kaepernick’s lack of experience … he’s also having a difficult time deciding when to run.
He has hesitated to run many times this season, even when faced with a wide running lane and plenty of room to roam. Then when he’s trapped he’ll attempt to extend a play with his legs (which is usually impossible, because even Kaepernick isn’t faster while breaking out of a backpedal or a standstill than a defender who’s sprinting full speed). The latter happened both on the sack by an unblocked linebacker (Klein) and the sack by an unblocked safety (Mitchell).
STOP THE PRESSES: Kaepernick is not perfect. Neither was the rest of the 49ers’ offense, and a lot of that had to do with some excellent, fast, well-schemed play by Carolina’s defense. They are good. #analysis
That’s the first half. Click HERE to find out what went wrong in the second half.