5 ways for Falcons to cap Kap’s output

Colin

ATLANTA, Ga. – After surrendering 445 total yards and four touchdowns to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson last Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons defence catches a break this weekend.

Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers come to town. He totalled only 444 total yards and four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers last week. One yard less than Wilson.

So yeah. Bah. Piece of cake …

Not!

“He’s a game-wrecker,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of Kaepernick this week.

The Niners and host Falcons kick it off Sunday at 3 p.m. EST at the Georgia Dome (CTV/FOX) in the NFC championship game. The winner faces the AFC champion, New England or Baltimore, in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

In the Niners’ 45-31 skewering of the Packers, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards – a single-game NFL record for quarterbacks, regular season or playoffs – and threw for 263.

It was an omnipotent dual-threat performance, which landed Kaepernick on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. And it has everyone in the NFL wondering how in the hell the middling Falcons defence can possibly cap Kap’s output.

Our five suggestions:

 

1) PLAY ZONE DEFENCE.

Except, perhaps, in obvious long-yardage passing situations, the Falcons should stick to a zone defence. It is the best way to eliminate easy long runs for Kaepernick.

In zone pass coverage, pass defenders face the quarterback. In man coverage, they turn their backs to the line of scrimmage and follow the receiver they’re covering wherever he runs.

When Kaepernick keeps around the edge on those killer read-option plays from the pistol, if your DBs have no idea Kap is even running it, because they’re in man coverage, you’re dead.

As retired Oklahoma wishbone practitioner Barry Switzer told me last month, “If you’re running like hell with the wide receiver, then before you know it you’re chasing the (quarterback’s) ass down the field.”

Kaepernick gouged the Packers on option-read keepers time and again for this very reason; the Packers insisted on defending the Niners with a lot of man coverage.

The Falcons already have publicly acknowledged the folly in that.

“You’ve got to have vision on defence,” head coach Mike Smith said, “and you can’t match up and play man coverage or man-to-man, because when he gets into the secondary he’s a guy that can go the distance.”

And that’s because Kaepernick is blazing fast.

“When he starts to stride it out,” Smith said,  “I think you can see he can run away from defenders – and when I say defenders, you can see he runs away from defensive backs as well, as he did on Saturday night.”

Kaepernick’s only previous long touchdown run since taking over as Frisco’s starter in mid-November was the game-clinching score in early December against Miami.

It was a 3rd-and-five from midfield, and the Dolphins employed man-coverage on the one Niners wide receiver. Kap kept it on the pistol option-read to that cornerback’s side, who wound up about 15 yards up field, with his back to the play, by the time he realized Kaepernick already was running by him.

Forget it, touchdown.

Zone defence is the best antidote. That might open up more plays in the passing game, but Kaepernick has passed for more than 250 yards only twice in his eight starts.

 

2) DISCIPLINED ASSIGNMENT DEFENCE.

This is another age-old formula for containing an option offence. It works, but demands strict discipline from defenders.

That is, whenever the Falcons see the 49ers come out in one of their read-option formations, each defender has a specific assignment for ‘containing’ the possible options.

Each defender must execute his with precision, unfailingly, or big plays can be bled.

“I think if we can stay gap sound with our D-line,” Pro Bowl Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud explained to me this week, “and make sure that we’ve got a person accounting for the dive, the pitch, the quarterback whenever they bust out that read-option – then we should be fine.”

The reason so many NFL teams with young, fleet quarterbacks have turned to read-option plays this year – especially from pistol formations – is because they know they can exploit defences used to flying to the ball as soon as possible.

Assignment defence requires poise, not frenzy.

The most lethal blown assignment usually is when the defensive end on the side the quarterback might run to recklessly “crashes down” inside, either because he’s convinced the quarterback has handed off to the running back up the middle, or because he never bothered to even check.

The quarterback is reading for that very thing, and if he correctly identifies a crashing end and pulls the ball, a huge running lane around that vacated end opens up.

“You have to be very disciplined in what you do,” Nolan said.

“(Option football) adds a player to the scheme you’re trying to stop. Usually when a quarterback just takes the ball and gives it to somebody, that’s a guy you don’t account for – the quarterback doesn’t count. He’s just going to give the ball to someone. (Now) all of a sudden he’s an option to keep the ball.”

The Falcons actually did a good job in this regard against Wilson last week. He gained most of his 60 rushing yards on ad-lib scrambles, not designed read-options, on which Wilson had punctured defences late in the season.

 

3) CONFUSE HIM.

Use Kaepernick’s inexperience against him.

He’s starting for only the ninth time in the NFL. He will make mistakes, and he has much yet to learn about identifying coverages and pass-blocking assignments.

So confuse him.

Bait him into making a mistake, a la his awful pick-six last week against the Packers. Fake a blitz. Disguise a blitz. Switch coverage schemes at the last moment.

“We (will) change the looks up on him,” Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said.

“He’s a great quarterback, and done a lot of great things for his team. But the common denominator is he’s still a young quarterback. He can’t run from that one.”

 

4) SPY HIM ON PASSING DOWNS.

It’s not just on designed read-option plays that Kaepernick can kill you with his feet.

So, spy him on passing downs.

“Yeah, most definitely,” DeCoud said. “With a quarterback of his calibre and being able to tote the rock like he can, you always have to have somebody account for him in the rush, or in the back end. Somebody has to have eyes on him, to keep him in the pocket. That’s definitely going to be a part of what we need to do, and how we need to get this W.”

 

5) HIT HIM – EARLY AND OFTEN.

This is another old chestnut for defending option quarterbacks. If you smack the hell out of him when he opts to run it, you find he opts to run it less and less as the game wears on.

He gets tired of getting hit.

“You definitely want to set the tone and send the message,” DeCoud said. “If he’s a guy who likes to run the ball, we’ve got to let him know that we’re going to be here, ya know, putting the pads on him.”

*  *  *

Of course, the danger for the Falcons is if, in attempting to shut down Kaepernick on the ground, they open up more holes inside for running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James.

Or if they allow Niner wide receivers Tim Crabtree and Randy Moss and tight end Vernon Davis to repeatedly break free in their secondary.

Ya pick’s yer poison.

One thing’s for sure. The Falcons can’t use the same potion the Packers concocted last week.

It. Did. Not. Work.

 

- – -

WAS KAP’S PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE PACK A FLUKE?

ATLANTA, Ga. – Has Colin Kaepernick been effective since taking over as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback on Nov. 19?

Yes.

Has he been doing to every defence what he did last Saturday night to Green Bay’s?

No. Not even close.

Whereas Kaepernick racked up 444 total yards against the Pack, his previous single-game high was 281, in the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

In his last three regular-season games, Kaepernick had 64 yards rushing – combined. In fact only twice in his seven regular-season starts did he rush for more than 31 yards: Dec. 2 in St. Louis (84) and Dec. 9 against Miami (53).

What’s more, Kaepernick averaged only 229 yards passing in his seven regular-season starts.

If you believe in statistical outliers, Kaepernick’s performance last weekend might well qualify as one.

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