Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» Film Room: Russell Wilson's Mobility

How big is mobility in Russell Wilson's game? We looked at every play of the scramblin' man's career to understand how much of Seattle's offense is by design versus improv.

21 Nov 2013

Film Room: Kaepernick and Newton

by Cian Fahey

When the San Francisco 49ers replaced Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick during the 2012 regular season, nobody expected the young quarterback to explode in the fashion he did. Kaepernick's athleticism and ability to drive the ball down the field added a completely new dimension to what the 49ers could do.

During his first 10 starts, Kaepernick had 2,406 passing yards, 19 total touchdowns, six total turnovers and 502 rushing yards. While he can't be given sole credit for carrying the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he was a massive catalyst for their first Super Bowl trip in almost 20 years.

Because of his success in 2012, nobody expected him to fall as far as he has during the beginning of the 2013 season. In the first 10 games of this season, Kaepernick has just 1,802 passing yards, 14 total touchdowns, 11 total turnovers and 335 rushing yards. While the 49ers are 6-4 during that stretch, the Seattle Seahawks are 9-1 and running away with the NFC West.

Criticism for Kaepernick hasn't been as harsh as it could be because the offense around him doesn't appear to be as effective as it was in 2012. The 49ers still have a top offensive line, but it's not as dominant as it was last season. Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles has kept him sidelined all season, while Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis have both missed significant time. Without his best receivers and as dominant a running game, Kaepernick's flaws are being exposed and highlighted.

Trent Dilfer, who has proven to be an outstanding analyst for ESPN, accurately pointed out that Kaepernick struggles when the defense takes away his first read. Even though Kaepernick verbally dismissed this criticism, he couldn't back it up against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11.

During the 23-20 loss, Kaepernick threw for just 127 yards on 31 pass attempts, with two touchdowns and an interception. That is consistent with Kaepernick's output in every game this season except Week 1 when he threw for over 400 yards against the Green Bay Packers.

Has Kaepernick regressed after last season? Or is he being held back by his teammates this year?

The key lies in Dilfer's analysis. While Dilfer accurately pointed out that Kaepernick is "remedial" after he makes his first read, that's not something that began this year. The 49ers' passing attack primarily focused on just the first read in 2012. However, with Crabtree and an outstanding running game, it was much easier for Kaepernick to find those first reads. That doesn't mean he wasn't making very accurate, impressive passes, but it did mean he rarely had to decipher defenses or hold onto the ball while reading through progressions from the pocket.

Kaepernick wasn't being asked to do as much mentally last year as a Cam Newton, Andrew Luck or even Russell Wilson. With a lesser supporting cast this season, he needs to do these things but he simply hasn't developed to that point as a passer yet.

That doesn't mean that he won't ever reach his potential and become an all-around dominant player. There are a few very important aspects of his game that are holding him back. If these are corrected, he would dramatically improve his production on the field regardless of who his teammates are.

On Sunday against the Saints, Kaepernick had 33 qualifying plays that showed off his progression. On 28 of those he appeared to throw to his first read, with the other five going to his second read. During his best game of the season, Week 1 against the Packers, he had 40 qualifying plays and threw to his first read 33 times. When Kaepernick's first read isn't there, he often looks to run too quickly. He left the pocket too early and neglected open receivers 11 times against the Saints and Packers.

Ideally, Kaepernick wouldn't have these issues in his third season, but because of how long he spent on the sidelines and because he was considered a raw talent coming out of college he is still developing. Nobody should be worried about his long-term outlook based on his low production this season. What is worrisome for 49ers fans is the cautiousness that Kaepernick is playing with.

Jim Harbaugh seemingly preaches ball security with all of his quarterbacks, because Kaepernick and Alex Smith make very similar decisions consistently. The risk-reward balance on a given throw for both quarterbacks is always adjusted to avoid as much risk as possible. This keeps the turnover ratio down, but it also hurts the offense since many opportunities to move the ball are missed.

This cautious nature with the football wasn't as evident in Kaepernick last season or during Week 1 of this season. While that game is an outlier, Kaepernick's aggressive approach led to his success. He pushed the ball down the field to Vernon Davis, Kyle Williams and Anquan Boldin more than once against coverages that he has routinely turned down since. It should also be noted that since the defense was too preoccupied with stopping the run, Kaepernick had more opportunities with a season-high 39 attempts and his receivers made more plays on their own—5.3 YAC per reception.

Even if Kaepernick doesn't change how he reads defenses or start to make better decisions in the pocket, he could dramatically improve his output by simply being more aggressive. There is no question that he can make every throw and there is no question that he is a true dual-threat quarterback. His potential to turn into one of the most effective players in the league is still there. It won't take a massive overhaul to get the 49ers offense back on the right track.

Cam Newton's Arrival

While Kaepernick and the 49ers have failed to meet expectations so far this season, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have made strides in the right direction. The Panthers are 7-3 amidst a six game winning streak, with their most recent victory coming over the New England Patriots on Monday night during which Newton had another outstanding performance.

He still misses throws at times, because his inconsistent footwork causes some passes to float over receivers, but he is currently the most refined dual-threat quarterback. Ever since he entered the league in 2011, Newton has been able to put up huge numbers. He had a record-setting rookie season, with 35 total touchdowns and over 4,000 passing yards, but it's his development since that has created a huge void between Kaepernick and him.

Kaepernick gets more attention because of his dramatic arrival into the starting lineup and because he played for a dramatically better team, but Newton has been a better all-around player since Week 1 of his rookie season. They aren't similar quarterbacks in terms of style, but they are asked to do similar things. Physically, Newton is closer to Andrew Luck than he is to Kaepernick, while Kaepernick is actually a more accurate passer. However, when it comes to reading coverages, going through progressions and decision-making in the pocket, Newton is more advanced.

Even during one of Newton's worst games of the season, two weeks ago against Kaepernick's 49ers, he was still showing aspects of his game that simply aren't evident in Kaepernick's.

Newton has time to survey the defense before this snap. The Panthers come out with four receivers, three to the right and one to the left, and a running back next to Newton in the backfield. This pushes the 49ers' safeties back and draws the left outside linebacker into space away from the line of scrimmage. That linebacker is Newton's second read, as his first is the right outside linebacker who is pressing the line of scrimmage.

Even before the ball is snapped, Newton is looking at the right outside linebacker. He wants to throw the ball to Steve Smith who is running a curl route on the left side of the offense. Once Newton sees the right outside linebacker begin to drop backwards into the flat, he immediately understands that throw won't be there. Before the linebacker has taken a third step, Newton has already spun his head around to survey the other side of the field.

Newton sees that the 49ers are only rushing their three defensive linemen and that the rest of the defense is playing zone coverage. Because he understands the route combinations on the right side of his defense, he knows that the left outside linebacker is his second read. If the left outside linebacker goes with the slot receiver who is running infield, then he should throw the ball to his outside receiver who is running a curl route. If the left outside linebacker drifts outside, then he must quickly fit the ball to his receiver running across the middle of the field.

His second read stays with the receiver running infield, so Newton immediately throws the ball to Tedd Ginn who is open outside. The ball is thrown accurately and on time, so Ginn is able to turn downfield to get the eight yards needed for a first down.

Newton was far from perfect in this game, especially in the first half. He threw an interception when he overthrew a receiver by the sideline because he didn't set his feet, but soon after the above play he made another very impressive play that you would expect from a high-caliber pocket passer.

The Panthers spread the field again with Newton in the shotgun. The 49ers are hinting at zone coverage with all of their defenders playing off, including both inside linebackers. Newton will ultimately look to manipulate one of those linebackers with his eyes before he lets the ball go downfield.

With two extra blockers, Newton knows he has time to survey the field when he gets to the top of his drop. He quickly recognises that the 49ers are indeed playing zone coverage, but he still keeps his eyes on Steve Smith even though it's very unlikely that he comes free from the coverage.

Newton focuses on Smith long enough to widen Patrick Willis. Because Willis is reading the quarterback's eyes and can't see that Smith has run down the sideline, he has to move where Newton is looking. As soon as Willis fully commits to moving sideways, Newton looks back towards the middle of the field where he knows his slot receiver is running a deep in route.

He can't immediately let go of the ball, so he holds it for a short moment and steps up into a cleaner area of the pocket. Newton then lets the ball go before his receiver comes free, hitting him in stride for a 10+ yard gain between three defenders.

Creating positive plays is one thing, but more importantly, Newton is also avoiding more negative plays and missing fewer opportunities because of his development as a pocket passer. In close games such as their victories over the 49ers and Patriots, these abilities prove crucial.

If Newton cleans up his inconsistencies with his accuracy, then he would easily be on the level of Luck and Wilson. Luck and Wilson are clearly the two best young quarterbacks in the NFL because both do what Newton does at his best on a more consistent basis.

Regardless of where he stands amongst his peers, Newton has proven that he can be a quarterback who starts and produces in this league for years to come. Even when his ability to carry the running game diminishes, he should have enough awareness and intelligence to convert to an exclusive pocket-passer. That kind of potential is what makes him a franchise quarterback.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 21 Nov 2013

53 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2014, 10:24am by Coach Outlet Online Store


by Scott Crowder (not verified) :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 12:50pm

That was a great article and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks. I'd love it if you could do the same analysis of Luck and Wilson.

by Occ :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 1:25pm

Seconded. This was a quality article.

by bingo762 :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 1:57pm

Thirded. Couple gripes, though. In regards to Kapernick photo 1; you say he should have stayed in the pocket, but there is a Packer, unblocked, in there. Also, in regards to Kapernick photo 2, is it possible the 2 defenders screened him? I'm talking about the guy standing on the 3 of the 30 yard line and the guy standing on the point next to the 4 of the forty yard line. Perhaps he couldn't see the receiver? Same with Kapernick photo 3. Perhaps he couldn't see Gore in the flat. There's alot of dude between him and Gore

by Cian Fahey :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:08pm

RE picture 1: the beginning of the yellow line is where Kaepernick stands at the top of his drop. He looks downfield from there. He has time to survey the whole field and see Boldin open because Boldin comes open very early. The defender in the pocket was initially blocked by Gore and only comes free as Kaep is running out of the pocket(he comes off to that side).

RE picture 2: it's possible, but I severely doubt it. Kaep was standing tall and the defenders were lower down. Davis isn't a small WR either.

by Cian Fahey :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:08pm

RE picture 1: the beginning of the yellow line is where Kaepernick stands at the top of his drop. He looks downfield from there. He has time to survey the whole field and see Boldin open because Boldin comes open very early. The defender in the pocket was initially blocked by Gore and only comes free as Kaep is running out of the pocket(he comes off to that side).

RE picture 2: it's possible, but I severely doubt it. Kaep was standing tall and the defenders were lower down. Davis isn't a small WR either.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:24pm

Regarding Gore, a QB should be able to figure out who is open from a few reads. In this case, nobody picked up Gore, and all he needs to do is throw to where he should be on his route. If basketball players can make shots with a hand in their face, then a pass like this should be even simpler.

by bingo762 :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:44pm

I hear ya but there's 5 guys possibly obstructing his view and an INT there get's taken to the house

by Joankethly :: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 5:46am

How strategic their plans were. This would surely gain a lot of praises from the public. Thumbs up :)

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 1:52pm

This is the reason that the NFL resisted releasing the all-22. You cannot have any clue about the read progression so you are having to make a ton of assumptions.

"During his best game of the season, Week 1 against the Packers, he had 40 qualifying plays and threw to his first read 33 times" - Pure guesswork.

The niners have said that Crabtree was not usually his first read when Kap was throwing to Crabtree so much last year but the 'one read' garbage continues anyway.

Harbaugh runs a variant of Lindy Infante's system where the qb is taught to read one receiver as he drops and then switch to the other half of the field of that player isn't open. So when 'analysts' use freeze frame to point out open receivers they are criticising the qb when he's running the play as it was designed. In a perfect world of fairies and unicorns every passer sees every open receiver but that ain't the NFL.

A more substantial criticism might be that Harbaugh's use of the Infante scheme is a possible reason behind his success teaching his qbs to play at a high level so quickly but it's lack of full field reads mean that qbs will inevitably leave some plays on the field as the price for safer play from the position. It may also be the case that the rest of the NFL has worked this out and is taking full advantage.

In the first image Kap would have been sacked by the unblocked rusher in the middle of the pocket if he'd have stayed in as you suggest and on the pass to Gore in the flat you should realise that Gore is usually in blitz pickup, Kap can't rely on him being available and his view of him is obscured.

McDonald and Williams are open in some of those plays but knowing them they'd have probably dropped the ball anyway. Drops have killed this team, ten in the past two weeks out of 53 passes, an absurd amount.

He does struggle with going through his reads at times and should return to being more aggressive but I am getting sick of the NFL media being inundated with images captured from the coaches film being presented as hard evidence.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:16pm

"This is the reason that the NFL resisted releasing the all-22. You cannot have any clue about the read progression so you are having to make a ton of assumptions.

"During his best game of the season, Week 1 against the Packers, he had 40 qualifying plays and threw to his first read 33 times" - Pure guesswork."
Before all-22 there were even more assumptions. If you watch the tape and the QB only looks at one receiver and then throws to him, I think it's fair to assume he's throwing to his first read.

"Harbaugh runs a variant of Lindy Infante's system where the qb is taught to read one receiver as he drops and then switch to the other half of the field of that player isn't open. So when 'analysts' use freeze frame to point out open receivers they are criticising the qb when he's running the play as it was designed. In a perfect world of fairies and unicorns every passer sees every open receiver but that ain't the NFL."
One could argue that he's making poor pre-snap reads then.

Also, 3 of the pictures above show Kaepernick starting to scramble or out of the pocket. So I think it's fair to assume that he's finished his drop by that time and should be at his 2nd read, or later.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:47pm

In response to your first point, you still don't know what he's looking for on his first read. He could be trying to read the safety, look of the safety, read the drop of a particular linebacker etc. The all-22 gives us some new information but I think it's a reach to start trying to determine reads.

2- He could be making some bad presnap reads or it could be bad play design. It's probably a combination of both and other factors. I've never been a huge fan of Roman's work in the passing game.

3- I agree that he does struggle to move through his reads more than you'd like to see. My problem that we can't really know why this is happening even with the coaches tape.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 6:55pm

So you're trying to make a distinction between being a one-read quarterback and being a multiple-read quarterback that goes through his reads so slowly that he's functionally a one-read quarterback given the state of his offensive line? There's no point in being able to do multiple reads if you take forever to move to the next one.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:23pm

You're welcome to enter this discussion but you're putting your own spin on the words that you are putting in my mouth. I'm not trying to make any such distinction about Kaepernick bring either a 'one read' or 'slow read' qb. I'm saying that it's an overly reductive approach and the reality is more complicated.

I think Kap struggles some of the time to move through his reads but I also think it's a bit overblown. My main point is that I don't think you can make a stronger statement than 'I think' for the reasons I've outlined.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:38pm

"the reality is more complicated"
"it's a bit overblown"
"I'm not saying anything"

So how about you explain your view of what the tape is showing? What the tape is showing (and this isn't about one freeze-frame, it's the entirety of every play) is that Kaepernick, for whatever reason, is looking in one direction for the entire duration of the play, without turning his head, and then either throws in that direction or takes off, for a huge whack of his passing plays, even with more open options available to him in his line of sight. What is this reality that explains this that doesn't involve what the coaches are saying, because they're not going to throw him under the bus for the sake of telling the truth? I don't think there's any system where the correct process is to stare in one direction for 3 seconds.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:59pm

Ok, that's pure hyperbole. Feel free to respond with more of the same but I'm done.

by theslothook :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 3:36am

I had this debate with a friend while watching coaching film. I'll partially agree with Karl, stating things like progressions and such are hard. Just as, are receivers open is also hard to tell. Watching coaching tape can given the illusion receivers have a step, but there are so many factors that play into it. I've seen throws where the qb throws to a receiver I would think are open but the corner jumps the ball with deceptive speed. That seems to be the result of a last minute recognition of what's going on and so it gets hard to tell.

That being said, I remember listening to mike mayock or maybe it was matt bowen get asked a similar question, "how do you know what the primary read was on X play or not?" He replied with(and I'm paraphrasing, "Believe it or not, every team runs the same kinds of route combinations with the same overall read progressions, they just alter it slightly with different personnel, formations, and spacing. Most of the time though, given route combinations are used together very frequently so if you're familiar with them, you can tell what the overall intentions are." For me personally, I can't really tell what the intentions are so I wouldn't have the confidence to speak on primary reads or progressions, but I do trust Bowen and Mayock so I think they are being honest.

Finally, I'm curious Karl, how you interpret Kaep's struggles. What do you think is the major thing going on?

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 12:47pm

While many teams do run similar route combinations you're still not going to know the intricacies of how they want them run. Harbaugh is notoriously risk averse, he might be putting that across to his qbs etc, it's hard to know. When I watch Russell Wilson repeatedly throw the ball up to his receivers down the field (something hhe does well) I think that Harbaugh doesn't seem to want his qb to make that throw (and the niner receivers haven't shown they can win on those type of jump balls when he has thrown them).

As for Kap, I think it's several things. For one, I think it's all a little overstated, he's not playing that badly. Take the Carolina game; if McDonald hauls in that ball towards the end then the 49ers probably kick field goal and hold on for the win. If his receivers don't drop five passes then he would have thrown 16-22 for about 160, not earth shattering but not awful against a very strong defense.

However, I'm not going to argue that he hasn't regressed to some extent this year. He does lock on to a receiver sometimes, he can take to long to move through his reads and has looked panicked at times. I was always expecting him go through some tough moments this year, almost all young qbs have to adjust when defenses get a good look at them and start to take away what they do best, you get a real sense of the qb they will be when they come through it. Coaching an help mitigate this but it probably works against him that quite a lot of his former success came off some quite gimmicky looks, so he has less of a foundation to fall back on.

And while he's been going through that adjustment period it hasn't helped that the receivers have been crap, there's no getting away from that, especially when Davis was out/limping. This is not a talented bunch right now.

He's been seeing quite a lot of long yardage partly because of this that I ranted about in another thread:

"Can I nominate Greg Roman for the Mike Martz award? Against the Saints he called for 22 personnel on 14 out of 22 first down plays for a 1.6 yard average.
Was he tipping the tendency? You decide. On those 14 plays they ran 11 times for 21 yards; they threw three times for one yard.
They also used 622 personnel on another first down, running the ball for a loss of six. Go Roman and his ever increasing numbers of blockers! It's bound to work eventually!
Just because the rest of the football world thinks receivers ate a good idea doesn't stop Greg." I think this is pretty stupid, see the Mike Tanier article too.

To sum up: it's several things working in combination and he also has not been as bad as the Florioesque types have declared. The niners don't ask him to wing the ball all over the field, they want to avoid turnovers as their highest priority. He's a work in progress in a situation that is less than idea right now.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:45pm

I agree the tape doesn't show why something, it does show how it happened. So we know Kaepernick is not seeing secondary open receivers. We don't know why this is, if he is being instructed not to look at them, if he is taking too long to get to them, if he is forgetting they exist, if he doesn't trust them so doesn't bother looking at them, etc.

We'll never know the whys unless players and coaches suddenly start telling the truth in press conferences. Since that won't happen, we'll just have to focus on the how.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:56pm

To be semantically pedantic in the interests of being clear. I think the tape can show 'what' happened. In my opinion, which you are free to disregard, our inability to do note than that should not lead us to put our faith in supposition.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 8:13pm

Wow, and I thought you'd reached your limit in saying nothing. So you would rather put your trust in what the coaches say (which you used both to refute the "one-read" garbage and to just put in out there for consumption) than in the actual tape, which you've come up with any amount of reasons to denigrate. Do you have any opinion of your own when you watch the game, or are you too worried about assuming too much?

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 8:38pm

You are repeatedly butting in to my discussion with someone else in order to troll me. Please find a better use of your time.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:44pm

"The niners have said that Crabtree was not usually his first read when Kap was throwing to Crabtree so much last year but the 'one read' garbage continues anyway."

How does that make any sense? Are you saying the route designs are so bad that his non-Crabtree primary read is almost never open?

"McDonald and Williams are open in some of those plays but knowing them they'd have probably dropped the ball anyway. Drops have killed this team, ten in the past two weeks out of 53 passes, an absurd amount."

Brady and Rodgers' receivers have been dropping balls the entire year, but funnily enough, the QBs kept going back to them. Maybe Kaepernick shouldn't avoid receivers after just a few drops.

"He does struggle with going through his reads at times and should return to being more aggressive but I am getting sick of the NFL media being inundated with images captured from the coaches film being presented as hard evidence."

So it's just a coincidence that Kaepernick has been seen staring down one receiver game after game while better QBs haven't been?

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 4:06pm

1- I'm not saying anything, the 49ers said Crabtree was not usually the first read. Interpret that however you like, or refuse to believe them, I'm just passing on the quote.

2- Several things; the niners passing volumes are much lower than pretty much anyone else's, certainly lower than the Pack or the Pats. Dropping 20% of passes is going to be a problem for anyone. Boldin, Manningham and Davis are among the culprits over the last two weeks, Kap is still throwing to them. Remember, the number two receiver until recently was Kyle Williams, who is now out of the league, he's that good. After Boldin and Manningham it's Kassim Osgood and John Baldwin, not a lot to work with.

3- I have no idea what you are on about there, which better qbs are you referring to and how is that relevant? Again, I'm not saying Kap doesn't have work to do, I just don't like the methodology. I don't believe you can derive the read progression from the film, I think it's a reach.

by Bhuff (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 11:18am

While I do agree with you on the sack vs GB, Mcdonald is open so many times each game and never gets an opportunity. He has caught most of the passes sent his way. He didn't drop the one vs Carolina... Keuchly made a play and ripped his arm so the ball came out. The point is, Kap usually looks at 1 guy and that's it. He's missing open guys all over the place. I know every QB misses plays, but something is just not right with Kap this year. It's either mental, or he's just not trusting his guys. He's got to change something or they might not even make the playoffs! Come on 49ers. Fix this!

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 12:17pm

Can't agree about the McDonald catch versus Carolina, you get two hands on the ball with the defender behind you then you have to catch it whether he grabs your arm or not.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:09pm

I could read articles like this all day. Nice job.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:41pm

Yeah, this article (and really all of the 'film room' stuff this year and 'Word of Muth' is what, to me, has really elevated FO the past two years. They had the numbers down, but film analysis is becoming the next trend since All-22 became available and this was a great breakdown of Kaepernick's struggles.

I noticed last year how many of Kaepernick's first reads were open, and how he was throwing to open receivers time and time again. Then, in the Super Bowl, on critical plays, the Ravens covered his initial read, brought pressure, and Kaepernick struggled to make throws (again, at times; overall, he had a good game in the Super Bowl). I used to think it was an accuracy issue, that his accuracy wasn't great on touch throws, that he had a hard time hitting covered receivers.

More and more, this year, I think it is more about field vision and going through progressions, and work like this article goes a good way to making me understand the issues he's facing in his game.

This is a little more big-picture, but does anyone think the struggles that he (and RGIII) are having throwing this year is due to defenses being able to defend the read option, or at the very least the pistol offense, better. Teams aren't committing as many guys to the run, aren't focusing on the run aspects of that offense, and they were a year ago, leading to a bevy of plays where an initial read was open in the secondary?

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:17pm

Regarding your question, I'm having a very hard time finding articles that detail the pistol formation's weaknesses (though plenty about the read-option's). Most of them talk about how it combines the strengths of the shotgun and the single back, but nearly nothing about its drawbacks, apart from the QB being more at risk of getting hit. From what I can gather, one weakness is that with the running back being directly behind the QB (touted as an advantage, because the defense won't know which way the ball will be run), he can't read the signals or defensive movements clearly, and also is handicapped when it comes to blitz pickup because of needing to go around the QB. The biggest "weakness" so far is that the QBs who run pistol offenses aren't very refined passers, but that's not an indictment of the formation.

I suppose another weakness is that you need a very mobile QB to run it, but it seems that the top QB prospects are all mobile QBs now.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:25pm

You need a mobile QB to do what Kaepernick and RGIII do with it. You don't need one to run plays from the pistol. Peyton Manning runs plays from the pistol.

I think the idea of setting the QB a little closer to the center than Shotgun is an interesting innovation. I think the zone-read stuff that was run from that formation has some merit, but it's been contained far better this year, and the huge passing plays coming from that type of read-handoff action has definitely decreased this season.

by someguy (not verified) :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 4:29pm

The misconception is that only mobile QBs run the pistol. That's just not true, it's a formation that you can run any play out of (except wildcat obviously) and can be used by any team with good efficiency.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:33pm

I think RG3's bigger issue is that his knee still isn't right.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 4:08pm

You should try SB Nation, there are hundreds of bloggers doing similar articles.

by SeahawksMatt (not verified) :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 3:09pm

Very interesting and informative article. This is the sort of stuff (similar to Word of Muth) that I really love about FO. I also second (or third, or fourth?) a request for a similar study of Luck and Wilson.

by someguy (not verified) :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 4:26pm

I'd really like to read an article (as many have said) about Wilson and Luck. Specifically about two things that I'm curious about right now.

1.) Wilson in the pocket. Before these past couple of games he'd been forced to scramble a lot because of the O-line's problems in protection, but he's also been getting passes off faster, going through progressions faster, making great throws with defenders in his face, and making more small moves a la Drew Brees to find throwing lanes as opposed to those crazy scrambles that he did earlier this season and all of last season. That's what I've seen, and I want to know if that's just me, or if he's really changed in just these past couple of weeks.

2.) How much has losing Reggie Wayne affected Andrew Luck? Wayne was his #1 target and his safety blanket before he got hurt, and though I haven't seen many Colts games the narrative is that he's been missing Wayne a lot.

If you can't tell, I know more about the Seahawks than the Colts. Though the Colts are my favorite team in the AFC

by Karde (not verified) :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 4:56pm

Might want to check some of your stats in this article.

Seahawks are 10-1.

Vernon Davis missing "significant time" is 1 1/2 games out of 10. Not so much.

Frank Gore had 834 yards through 10 games played (including bye) to this point last year and has 748 this year.

"Without... as dominant a running game," ... seems pretty much the same...

by Perfundle :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 7:28pm

"seems pretty much the same"

Because pure yardage is the only way to measure running games and Frank Gore is the sole source of running?

Frank Gore had 834 yards on 5.3 YPC through 10 games played to this point last year and has 748 this year on 4.3 YPC. That's a whopping difference.

San Francisco as a team had 1653 yards on 5.5 YPC through 10 games played to this point last year and has 1410 this year on 4.5 YPC. Again, a whole yard difference per carry.

by RolandDeschain :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 5:06pm

Seahawks are 10-1. Great article, by the way. Can we see a Luck-Wilson version? (Sans any media bias/influence, since Luck is already a veteran in the HoF according to most of the media, even if they don't literally say the words.)

by panthersnbraves :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 5:22pm

I was trying to figure out if EJ Manuel should be included in these discussions, but my real interest there is more about "How can he make cake out of chicken poo?" so many times. 'Running for his life, he escapes the pocket yet finds a receiver downfield just before running out of bounds.'

by panthersnbraves :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 5:16pm

On that last breakdown, is LaFell not open enough to throw to the right pylon somewhere? Or is that only in a "down by two scores" situation?

by Cian Fahey :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 5:40pm

He is, but it would be a very difficult throw as the blockers in front of Newton are being pushed into him at that stage. Also, I believe that's McCourty running with LaFell, which makes the throw even more dangerous because he's an outstanding free safety. With the two guys on Greg Olsen running to that area of the field, I think he made a smart decision by not throwing the ball.

by zenbitz :: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 8:22pm

>>During his best game of the season, Week 1 against the Packers, he had 40 qualifying plays and threw to his first read 33 times

I actually think this is the key point in the entire article. Because many people have suggested (not just Dilfer and the author) that Kaep doesn't usually get past his 1st read. And yet, he has many games on his resume (going back to last year) where he was an incredibly effective passer. So the obvious question (and sure, Karl, maybe you can't tell from the all-22... ) is - when he has a GOOD game, is he progressing to 2nd reads faster, or does he have more time to throw... or does just the coverage just suck.

For one, I buy it. The Niners receiving crew (past Boldin and Davis) is bad, but they are not THAT bad. Most teams have a 3rd or 4th option that is at least competent... and we do see guys open on film. Other QBs constantly are hitting 2ndary and tertiary receivers - and while I don't know their reads or looked at their film, it stands to reason that generally, the better recievers are the 1st reads.

it seems more likely that Kaep is not reading the field efficiently than the Niners are totally incapable of coming up with replacement-level receivers.

by MosesZD (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 9:17am

Because of his success in 2012, nobody expected him to fall as far as he has during the beginning of the 2013 season.

Bull. It was a FLUKE and it was OBVIOUS. He was mostly below-average in all things QB but he was carried into stardom by a few big-play rushes and a unworldy 79% completion rate in the 21-30 split. Thirty seconds of looking at the splits would have told you this:

Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 15 19 437 78.9

But you, and so many others, completely ignored his lousy opponent-side-of-field completion, his joke of a redzone completion (48%) and the fact that NOBODY DOES THIS OVER TIME!!!!

Now he's got a normal split:

Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 6 21 161 28.6

So his flaws become killer:

OPP 49-20 28 51 355 54.9
OPP 19-GOAL 12 26 113 46.2
OPP 10-GOAL 2 10 4 20.0 (Is it any wonder why the 49ers lost the Superbowl? He can't function very well in the redzone. )

And this isn't much different than his college problems. Good against weak teams and between the 20s. Bad against good teams and in the redzone.

He is what he was at UNLV, hot streak aside.

Learn from it.

by Guest789 :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 9:51am

Caps lock makes your point stronger.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by someguy (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 1:04pm

He went to Nevada, not UNLV.

by Unca_Chuck (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 2:11pm

UNR. Learn from it. For a player with 17 NFL starts, sure he has room to improve. Did you throw Cam under the bus last year?

Waht isn't mentioned in the article is that Newton has over twice as many starts as Kaepernick.

by jebmak :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 10:07am

Nicely done. Thank you for writing this.

by Unca_Chuck (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 2:07pm

Obviously Kaepernick misses Crabtree. He and VD are great route-runners. KW and the rest? Not so much. To me this all is taken cumulatively. Yes, Kaepernick can be slow on his progressions. But the line blocking has been awful in the games the Niners have lost. ANd the play calling is fairly suspect in my mind. Greg Roman is the running OC. He has come up with sophisticated blocking schemes for the run game, but he (and Solari) are easily confused by stunts and blitzes. Oftentimes, the Niners can't block 4 with 5, or 5 with 6. There is no urgency to the plays being run, EVERY play takes too long to get to the huddle and run on the field, and we never go quick-count or no-huddle.

There are ways to make this easier for Kaepernick, but the coaches refuse to call slants, or quick 3-step drop passes. Every pass play is a slow-developing play that usually isn't blocked very well. It's great to point at an instant in time where these guys look open, but at real speeds, it isn't this cut and dried.

And this isn't to absolve Kaepernick of anything, he certainly has room to improve. He has missed plays out there, and he is too quick at times to try and run. But keep in mind, Kaepernick got like 4 series all pre-season to practice (I hated that decision by the coaches). This will be his 18th regular season start as an NFL quarterback. And the coaching staff is being WAY too overprotective of him, to the point it affects his decision-making.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 8:54pm

I don't want to pick too many holes but Davis is not and probably will never be a great route runner. If he was he'd be one of the greatest TEs of all time, he has everything but the 'tight-endy' receiving skills.

by AndreBelgium (not verified) :: Fri, 11/22/2013 - 6:52pm

Comment from a Belgian fan of the niners:
I have the feeling that Kap needs confidence with his targets (receivers)
Last year he didn't throw that much to VD and was higly related to Crabtree.
This ofseason he had a lot of time to throx to VD and Boldin, what's made him more confident. For the other receivers (McDonald, Baldwin, Williams) it was a little like VD last year.
So maybe he should trust the receivers a little more and it would work.
That's not a strong point, it's just what I think when I see him avoiding throws to other receivers than Davis and Boldin.

by Coach Outlet Online (not verified) :: Thu, 01/09/2014 - 1:21am


by Coach Factory Outlet Online (not verified) :: Thu, 01/09/2014 - 11:20pm

The International Monetary Fund now predicts 4.If one wants to look at the glass half full, created an arresting image emblazoned with the Occupy Wall Street slogan, the close collaborators behind Adbusters, obrigar burocratas em Bras

by tn requin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/10/2014 - 7:34am

en conf?rence de presse.Wall Street a fini en nette hausse lunditure,

by Coach Outlet Online Store (not verified) :: Fri, 01/10/2014 - 10:24am

Des adeptes de la m