The San Francisco 49ers are set on giving Colin Kaepernick more chances to show what he can do (and cause ulcers for opposing defensive coordinators tasked with preparing to face the Niners). Today, Alex Smith was “near perfect” in the 49ers’ 45-3 win over the Buffalo Bills according to Jim Harbaugh, which means one of four things.
- All this Kaepernick usage (or as I like to call it, “Kaepernicking”) has provided motivation for Smith to play as well as possible.
- The Kaepernick threat is both opening up things for Smith and the passing game, as well as stretching defenses thin in terms of prep time before facing the 49ers.
- The Bills are horrible.
- All of the above.
We shouldn’t ignore the 49ers’ defense, because they were a good part of the reason why the Bills were out-gained at Candlestick Park by 417 yards. However, fair or not, at home San Francisco’s defense is expected to keep Buffalo from doing a whole lot offensively. What few expected was to see Smith throw for well over 200 yards in the first half, complete 75% of his passes and propel two different receivers to 100-yard days (Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, and the latter went over 100 yards in the first half).
And don’t forget … the 49ers set a franchise record in total yards with 621.
Greg Roman talked about how all of the receivers won their one-on-one matchups against the Bills, who appeared to dare the 49ers to throw deep in hopes that they could contain the short-passing game. But Smith’s passes (especially that back-shoulder throw on the touchdown to Kyle Williams) were the polar opposite of what we saw at AT&T Park Saturday night when Smith bounced his first pitch before Game 1 of the NLDS.
“I was working the count. I had an open base,” Smith said of his errant ceremonial baseball toss. Smith clearly has listened to a lot of Mike Krukow based on that second sentence.
As for his throws on Sunday afternoon, Harbaugh’s praise was strong and clear:
“Alex was really on the money all day. It was an outstanding job by him. Good throw after good throw. The protection was excellent. It was a little windy out there but he was putting it in there, pinpoint. He had a fabulous day.”
While Smith’s outing should stop people from calling for Kaepernick to take over the starting role (for a week, anyway), the 49ers look like they’re invested in increasing Kaepernick’s role — at least against inferior teams. In other words, unless the 49ers are sure he won’t carry the ball like a frisbee like he did on that lost fumble in Buffalo territory, Kaepernick might not see quite as much time against the New York Giants in a week.
However, Kaepernick sure is fast, strong and fearless.
“You have to take advantage of that,” said Harbaugh when asked about Kaepernick’s increasing role in the offense. “He’s got playmaking ability.”
What’s really scary for opposing teams is there’s still a lot of growth potential with this whole Smith/Kaepernick thing. For one thing, Kaepernick is running far more often than he’s throwing, and he’s got a tremendous arm.
(By the way, Isaac Sopoaga also has a cannon — he was tossing 55-yard passes during pregame warmups as if he was throwing a Nerf Turbo instead of a standard Wilson NFL football.)
Kaepernick almost had a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis that would’ve been called back anyway on a penalty, and completed his only official attempt for 7 yards. He also took a shot deep to Randy Moss against the Jets. That seems like the last thing to unveil — Kaepernick’s passing ability. And defenses know that’s coming, because they have to prepare for everything now.
That brings us back to Roman. Enjoy him now, because he won’t be around much longer. The rest of the NFL takes notice whenever a team goes from Vanilla to Lemon Cookie ice cream from Three Twins (that’s my favorite ice cream, you can fill in your preferred flavor into that analogy if you wish), and right now the 49ers are making offensive football interesting in a way that doesn’t necessarily have to include 4-WR sets. The 49ers’ offensive linemen, running backs, tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks surely hope Roman sticks around for a long time.
After the game I asked Smith whether the usage of multiple sets and the increased utilization of Kaepernick has opened up the offense for him. In the 20-second video below, Smith said the following and more: “It’s another thing that defense is going to have to prepare for. I mean, absolutely, hey get ready for this.”
I also asked Frank Gore — who rushed for 106 yards on only 14 carries — how much it opens things up for the running backs when the quarterbacks run the way they did (Smith actually out-rushed Kaepernick with 49 yards on three carries).
“I love it. Especially last week, they sent Kaep on a reverse, and they got to respect it. Our o-line’s doing a great job up front. I’m just having fun just running the ball like a kid. Just jumping around, jump-cut here, jump-cut there, just go with it.”
Everyone’s having fun these days. Let’s see if that continues next week against the team that kept them out of last season’s Super Bowl.