We know that Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers, an NFL record for a quarterback. What’s been understated is the importance of his two rushing touchdowns. His first tied the game after the Packers jumped out to an early lead on a pick six. His second retook the lead in the third quarter after the Packers tied the game with a field goal, and basically represented the game-winning score.
Why was he so successful running the ball? The 49ers garnered a lot of attention for their heavy use of the read-option, but not all of Kaepernick’s rushing success came out of it. His first scoring play is a good example of why Kaepernick is such a dangerous dual threat.
20-yard touchdown run
Although Harbaugh begrudgingly conceded after the game that some of Kaepernick’s rushes were designed, there was nothing designed about this one.
This play was constructed to get Michael Crabtree isolated in the end zone on the right. He is lined up in the slot at the top of the shot, with AJ Jenkins running an underneath route. Three other receivers bring the Packers’ defense to the left side of the field. While Crabtree does get a one-on-one match up, he’s well covered.
There was no linebacker spying Kaepernick on the play, but the rover on this play was the safety, M.D. Jennnings. Kaepernick pulls Jennings a step over with his eyes by looking at Crabtree. Jennings takes a few steps further towards the sideline when Kaepernick fakes a run between Alex Boone and Anthony Davis. By the time the quarterback cuts back and takes it to the left, Jennings is completely out of position.
This was incredible awareness from the 49ers’ second-year quarterback. Jennings practically mirrored Kaepernick’s moves in the pocket and would have had a step on him had he taken it right. He felt Clay Matthews disappear behind him, and then took it, against conventional wisdom, in the direction of the Packers’ strength. He was too fast for anyone to catch him, and received assistance in the form of blocks by Delanie Walker and Randy Moss.
56-yard touchdown run
This play was Greg Roman’s read-option at its finest. It’s up to Kaepernick to decide before the snap whether he’s going to hand the ball off to LaMichael James or take it around the right on his own. The Packers stacked eight men in the box and had both corners playing well off of Crabtree and Ted Ginn. This made the quarterback’s choice a pretty easy one.
James might have gained a nice chunk of yardage had Kaepernick given him the ball. The play-fake went off without a hitch, and the safety completely sold out to stop the running back. Woodson, who was assigned to cover Crabtree, abandoned his assignment to help stop James as well. The fake drew Ginn’s corner inside the numbers, seemingly in good position to get Kaepernick, but Ginn got leverage with a fantastic block, opening the lane between the hashmarks and the numbers.
Crabtree whiffs on his block a little bit, but Woodson slips and falls. I’m not sure he would have been able to catch Kaepernick even if he stayed on his feet. Kaepernick was just too fast.
All of this running may have taken the Packers by surprise. The Falcons will know it’s coming, but the question is whether or not they can stop it. Kaepernick’s understanding of the system, along with his physical ability, will make it quite the difficult task.