Even the most devout fans at Candlestick Park were stunned by the breakout performance by Colin Kaepernick last Saturday against the Green Bay Packers, and the sky is the limit for this burgeoning superstar.
Kaepernick utilized the pistol offense to perfection in the divisional round of the playoffs, and he will carry his team all the way to the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Blessed with more speed than many of the NFL's top wide receivers, Kaepernick isn't just a running quarterback. This kid can pass, too, and his arm talent ranks up there with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco.
More than anything else, though, Kaepernick is blessed with an element of mental toughness that can't be taught. The way he shrugged off his first-quarter pick-six against the Packers—on his second pass of the game, no less—and bounced back with one of the best performances by any quarterback in NFL playoff history speaks for itself.
Kaepernick isn't a wide-eyed, starstruck young man who is apt to be overwhelmed by the moment. On the contrary—he's proven to be a resilient warrior who isn't easily impressed by the bright lights of pressure-packed moments.
And he has the game to back up his bravado.
Let's take a look a few plays that demonstrate why Kaepernick can't be stopped.
There were a few passing plays during the team's divisional round contest against the Packers that had me gawking.
I'll focus on two in particular that clearly demonstrate Kaepernick's elite arm talent.
The first play is his 20-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.
The Packers countered with a five-man rush and Cover 1, meaning man-to-man coverage on all four receivers and a linebacker and safety covering the middle of the field in zone—one shallow and one deep.
Crabtree and Walker both ran skinny posts on the left side, while Davis ran an out and Moss ran a slant underneath. Gore stayed to block for a second before breaking out to the right for a check-down pass, if needed.
Crabtree beat Sam Shields to the inside (not by much, mind you), and Kaepernick hit him with an absolute seed in perfect stride right around the goal line. Woodson, who had the deep middle, couldn't come close to affecting the play, as the throw arrived in what seemed to be less than a second.
There were a few things on this play that stood out to me:
- Kaepernick's throw was Brett Favre-esque. There aren't many quarterbacks in the history of the NFL that have the arm strength to get the ball there that quickly.
- His read/react to what he saw and the accuracy on his pass were as good as it gets.
- If he didn't have Crabtree deep, Kaepernick had Moss open underneath, Gore open on the outlet and Davis open on the right side. Multiple options, but he chose the right one.
The second play we'll look at to demonstrate Kaepernick's rare abilities as a pure passer was his 44-yard connection with Davis late in the third quarter.
Davis lined up on the right side next to tackle Anthony Davis, while fullback Bruce Miller lined up outside of both of them. Crabtree lined up in the slot on the left and Moss was on the far left on the outside.
Moss streaked down the left sideline, Crabtree ran a sort of double move, faking to the outside before coming inside on a short drag route, while Miller and Davis both streaked downfield.
The Packers were playing a three-deep zone with man coverage underneath.
Kaepernick pump-faked to Moss on the left side, freezing safety Charles Woodson. He then lobbed a perfect pass over linebacker A.J. Hawk to Davis on the right side into the space he had just faked Woodson out of occupying.
Not only was the pass as good as it could be, but the fact that Kaepernick was able to fool Woodson—one of the all-time great cover men the NFL has ever seen—should be lauded. Of course, having Moss on the outside is bound to have that effect.
Still, Kapernick's savvy can't be overstated, and his ability to beat teams as a pure passer only makes his other two skills all the more dangerous.
Before I go into Kaepernick's skills as a runner, I'd be remiss if I didn't first point out that his ability to run the ball wouldn't be nearly as effective without an already-strong rushing attack, led by Frank Gore and the team's incredible offensive line.
Gore and the other runners on the team have the ability to pound out effective yardage between the tackles, a fact that has everything to do with Kaepernick's success on the perimeter on the team's read-option plays.
That said, Kaepernick's experience as a four-year starter at the University of Nevada under pistol guru Chris Ault has made him the perfect candidate to run this offense at the pro level. He—more than Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson—understands the nuances of running the read-option better than any other quarterback in the NFL.
The play we'll be focusing on to demonstrate Kaepernick's rare skills as a runner is his 56-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter.
On this play, LaMichael James was in for Gore, and he and fullback Miller lined up in the backfield next to Kaepernick in the pistol formation.
Kaepernick faked to James, reading outside linebacker Erik Walden, who had crashed down inside to try to help stop James instead of staying outside in his gap. From there, Kaepernick's pure speed carried him past the rest of the Packers defenders into the end zone for an easy and electric touchdown that changed the course of the game.
And this isn't the first time such a play has worked. Kaepernick did the exact same thing to the Miami Dolphins in Week 14, running 50 yards to pay dirt late in the fourth quarter.
His ability to break out of the backfield for monster gains and huge scores makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL.
It's also the reason, along with his abilities as a pure passer, that the 49ers will win the Super Bowl in 2013.
He simply cannot be stopped.
And for those of you who'll point to the St. Louis Rams and say they did a good job of stopping him, let's not forget that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman held him back for much of the regular season, saving the bulk of their playbook for this postseason run.
The 49ers have the most complete team from top to bottom left in the playoffs, and Kaepernick's ability to light up the scoreboard makes them the most dangerous team in the NFL.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78