Last week, we wondered if the Falcons could contain — or at least limit — Colin Kaepernick and his running ability. And they did, but really they didn’t.
During the 49ers’ 28-24 NFC Championship game win, Kaepernick rushed for only 21 yards. That’s just, oh, 160 yards fewer than his total the week before. Yes, a game in which Kaep set the single-game quarterback rushing record is a bit of an outlier, and a poor comparison. But his rushing total against Atlanta was still 27.9 yards lower than his average over his eight previous starts. So his legs were indeed limited, at least in terms of how far they helped him to move past the line of scrimmage when Kaepernick was still holding a football. That alone was an accomplishment, especially with John Abraham hobbled.
Bravo, dirty birdz. How did that work out for you? The mere threat of Kaepernick running still creates lanes for Frank Gore on read-option plays, and he excels while throwing on the move during designed roll outs. A throwing Kaepernick was Atlanta’s poison of choice, and he then passed for 233 yards at a season high pace of 11.1 yards per attempt, and a passer rating of 127.7 (his second highest single-game rating, just behind a 133.1 rating in Week 11 against Chicago).
A week later we have the same question, and a different team. Can the Ravens contain Kaepernick?
John Harbaugh was confident during his press conference today. He has a few ideas:
“We’re going to have to tackle him. We’re going to have to keep him inside of our defense. We’re not going to be able to run past him. He’s fully capable of putting 200 yards on you, just as capable as Frank Gore is or any of their running backs. He’s not just an integral part of their passing game, he’s a huge part of their run game. We’ll have a plan for it. Assignment football is going to be really important for us. Change-ups are going to be important for us. We just have to play well against him.”
There’s some coach speak in there, and some standard rah rah, rough ‘em up rhetoric. Just re-read the “we’re going to have to tackle him” part in the Gipper voice, and you’ll know what I’m walking about. But the rest translates to fundamental concepts against any mobile quarterback: gap discipline, and field awareness.
When he was asked about the Ravens’ 31-28 loss to Washington that was highlighted by the beginning of Robert Griffin III’s knee-pocalypse late in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh said defending RG3 was just a matter of getting settled after some initial first-quarter shenanigans. There’s some truth to that. A lot of truth.
Let’s discover it together, and look back on the two games Baltimore played against notoriously fast quarterback dudes this year.
Maybe we’ll learn something.
Week 2: Michael Vick (Eagles won, 24-23)
Vick Stats: 71.9 completion percentage, 371 passing yards, 11.6 YPA, 2 INT, 1 TD, 94.7 passer rating, 34 rushing yards on 10 attempts, 1 rushing TD, 1 fumble
- Of those numbers, a few are especially notable for a quarterback who had an overall dreadful — if shortened — season. Forget the turnovers, because that’s Vick being Vick, and more importantly, to an extent they’re also a product of Philadelphia’s poor offensive line that created constant chaos in their backfield. But Vick’s passer rating in this game was significantly higher than his overall rating on the season (78.1).
- He also widely exceeded his overall completion percentage (58.1), per game passing yardage (236.2), and average yards per attempt (6.7).
- Philly started this game running six straight plays without huddling, and with Vick in the shotgun. That ended the way many Vick drives ended: an interception of the aforementioned frantic, scrambling variety. Again, forget that, because what’s important is that on that drive, Vick completed six straight passes for 59 yards. Tempo could be crucial next Sunday.
- Vick’s passing was quite chunky compared to his other nine starts. He completed six passes for 20 yards or more, including a 49-yard pass to DeSean Jackson. That’s a sizable uptick from his per week 20 yarder average of 2.3 excluding this game.
Week 14: Robert Griffin III (Redskins won, 31-28)
Stats: 57.7 completion percentage, 242 passing yards, 9.3 YPA, 0 INT, 1 TD, 101.8 passer rating, 34 yards on seven carries, 1 fumble
- Here we see the opposite statistically. Griffin’s overall completion percentage throughout the year was 65.6, so he took a nice little tumble.
- His yards per rush attempt (4.9) was also nearly two yards lower than his season average (6.8).
- Harbaugh’s assertion that his defense needed to get some figurative liquid on its feet in the first quarter is indeed correct. During their first two drives, the Redskins had 163 yards of total offense on touchdown drives of 80 and 83 yards, powered by four of Griffin’s five +20 yard passes.
- The Redskins averaged 25.8 yards per drive on their remaining 10 drives, one of which took place entirely without Griffin after his knee injury.
Keep in mind too that with the Vick example, Laradrius Webb was still healthy, though Terrell Suggs hadn’t made his season debut yet.
What we see above then is a defense that made an adjustment, and, quite simply, learned. Despite their health issues and most notably the fact that Suggs and Ray Lewis were barely on the field together throughout the regular season, lessons were taken from Week 2, and implemented much later in the season. An offense that has similar elements to what Baltimore will face with San Fran’s pistol and read-option was then limited.
Not contained, but limited.