Around the NFC West: 49ers-Pats matchup

Around the NFC West: Dec. 14, 2012

Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com have put together a must-read preview for the San Francisco 49ers' game against the New England Patriots.

One observation in particular from Buschi regarding 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick invited a closer look.

"If I'm the Patriots game-planning," he said, "I want to put Kaepernick in passing situations, especially outside the numbers. I wouldn't want to give him the running backs in the middle of the field, or the tight-end throws that make it easy on a quarterback.

"I want to make it tough on him, and I think having Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, those are options you want to take away. You want him throwing to [Michael] Crabtree, [Mario] Manningham and [Randy] Moss outside the numbers."

Since becoming the 49ers' starter in Week 11, Kaepernick has completed 22 of 31 passes for 324 yards with one touchdown and one interception (102.1 NFL passer rating) when targeting wide receivers outside the yard-line numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has completed 10 of 12 passes for 118 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (107.6 rating) when targeting running backs and tight ends inside the numbers.

Those numbers appear quite strong, but they aren't all trending in a positive direction.

Kaepernick's rating drops to 82.9 when targeting wide receivers outside the numbers over the past three weeks. That period excludes Kaepernick's breakout performance against the Chicago Bears in Week 11. In that game, Kaepernick completed 5 of 6 attempts for 79 yards, one touchdown and a maximum 158.3 rating when targeting wide receivers outside the numbers. He has subsequently completed 17 of 25 attempts with an interception on those throws.

Opponents seem to be forcing Kaepernick into shorter throws recently. His passes traveled 10.2 yards past the line of scrimmage on average against Chicago. They have traveled 6.7 yards past the line of scrimmage on average over the next three games. The average was 7.5 yards for Alex Smith this season.

New England has allowed far fewer long pass plays recently compared to earlier in the season. Acquiring cornerback Aqib Talib could explain part of the improvement. Opponents have four pass completions of 30-plus yards over the Patriots' last five games. They had 12 over a four-game period ending in Week 6.