49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Ravens front seven
"We're going to have to tackle him," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said at his Thursday press conference. "We're going to have to keep him inside our defense."
"Him" has been the story of the playoffs for the 49ers, young Colin Kaepernick, who will be starting only the 10th game of his NFL career on Sunday in New Orleans. Since starting for Alex Smith in Week 11, and taking over as the full-time starter, Kaepernick is 7-2 (including playoffs) with 13 touchdown passes, four interceptions and four rushing scores.
In PFW's "Audibles," a front-office personnel source called Kaepernick the fastest quarterback in the league. He showed that against the Packers, running for 181 yards and two scores, more than making up for a pick-six on San Francisco's first offensive series.
But the former pitcher has a cannon, too. When the Falcons contained his read-option game, Kaepernick threw for 233 yards and a touchdown in the NFC title game.
The Ravens have the task of stopping Kaepernick from running all over them, while still respecting he can beat them through the air.
First, the run game. The Falcons' outside linebackers helped keep Kaepernick contained, and he had only two runs for 21 yards in the NFC championship. That onus will go on OLBs Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger. They need to trust the middle of the defense, led by ILBs Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis, to key in on Frank Gore and not bite on the read option. When Kaepernick gets outside those trying to set the edge, he can turn on the jets with great straight-line speed for big gains.
While the Ravens' outside ‘backers work to set the edge, an effective pas rush will help keep him from making big plays with his arm. DT Haloti Ngata can get a push up front, and LDE Pernell McPhee knocked down a pair of Tom Brady passes last week. When Suggs rushes, he needs to keep his contain and the Ravens will have to have someone in the area he occupied, in case Kaepernick eludes the rush.
The comparison to Kaepernick that this year's Ravens team has is when they faced Robert Griffin III in an overtime loss to the Redskins. RG3 had only seven rushes for 34 yards, but he threw for 242 yards and a score.
FS Ed Reed, who will be key in stopping downfield passes by Kaepernick, especially the seam throw to TE Vernon Davis, said he watched tape of the Week Two Ravens-Eagles game against Michael Vick. Vick was held to 34 yards and a TD on 10 carries in that one, but threw for 371 yards.
John Harbaugh said that Dennis Dixon has played the role of Griffin in practice and will do the same as Kaepernick to mimic the read-option. Kaepernick has two starts under his belt that didn't go well - a 16-13 loss to the Rams when he lost a fumble and a 42-13 thrashing by the Seahawks, who held Kaepernick to a season low 52.8 completion percentage and picked him off once. Both those teams have formidable fronts that can get after the quarterback, but also athletic corners that can take 49ers WR Michael Crabtree out of the equation.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh's offense is so effective because of its multiple looks - the Niners can beat you in many ways, but it starts with the dual-threat of Kaepernick. The Ravens certainly can't ignore RBs Frank Gore and LaMichael James, but finding a way to keep Kaepernick under wraps would go a long way to a Super Bowl title. It starts with keeping him contained as a runner, then by stopping him as a passer. He has been electric in the postseason, but the Ravens may have the best defensive personnel - and instincts -that he has faced thus far.