NFC West: Colin Kaepernick

QB snapshot: Colin Kaepernick

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
A quick observation of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and how he played in the San Francisco 49ers' 17-13 win over the Washington Redskins in Week 12:

Colin Kaepernick is not the talkative type -- unless, of course, you ask Chicago Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston, or the nearby ref from Week 2, or his social media following -- as he prefers to let his play on the field do the talking.

But before Sunday’s win, Kaepernick was asked by veteran NaVorro Bowman to speak to the team and break the pregame huddle, an honor usually bestowed upon Patrick Willis. But with Willis recuperating from surgery on his big left toe, someone had to give the speech, and the show-it-rather-than-say-it QB accepted.

“Everyone told me to step up, so I did,” Kaepernick said. “To me it’s a big honor that your teammates want to hear from you before the game.”

Kaepernick responded by leading the Niners' first-team offense to its first fourth-quarter touchdown drive of the season. And his plus-4.1 pass grade from Pro Football Focus, after completing 7 of 9 passes for 117 with a TD and a 155.8 passer rating while being blitzed, was a season high.

Then could Kaepernick see himself again breaking down the pregame huddle?

“That,” he said, “will be up to my teammates.”
If it's Seahawks Week then it's time to talk Richard Sherman in Santa Clara, right?

Well …

Sure, the last time the San Francisco 49ers met the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC title was on the line and Sherman knocked away Colin Kaepernick's last-gasp fade pass to Michael Crabtree to turn it into a game-clinching interception for Malcolm Smith in the end zone.

And who can forget Sherman's postgame rant?

"I'm the best corner in the game," he told Fox Sports. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me.

"Crabtree, don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you real quick. LOB."

Sherman was giving a shout-out to the Seahawks' hard-hitting secondary, deemed the Legion of Boom. He was requested for a Tuesday conference call with Bay Area reporters, but the Seahawks' P.R. department declined to make him available.

Crabtree has spoken only on rare occasions this season, but Kaepernick did talk to reporters in the locker room on Monday. He did not take the bait, even as it is more than 10 months old.

Asked if Crabtree was anticipating the rematch with Sherman, Kaepernick said, "It's another game for him. I don't think he's worried about anything else."

Then surely Kaepernick must have a view on Sherman.

"I don't have any," he said. "I'm worried about what we're doing."

Kaepernick said he had no communication with Sherman at offseason events. And while many quarterbacks have shied away from throwing at Sherman, Kaepernick said, "I'll throw to whoever's open."

And it's just Monday.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Eleven games in and the San Francisco 49ers have yet to put together a complete game, one in which the offense, defense and special teams all show up on the same day.

There was a significant development Sunday, though, in the Niners’ 17-13 victory over Washington. One that gives the team faith for the last five games of the season and, the Niners hope, into the playoffs.

That is, the first-team offense finally, mercifully scored a fourth-quarter touchdown. And the first such score of the year proved to be the difference when rookie running back Carlos Hyde rumbled into the end zone from 4 yards out with 2:59 to play. And yes, it's understood that technically Hyde is a second-stringer, but the point remains (No. 2 QB Blaine Gabbert led the backups to a TD late in the blowout loss at Denver).

“Now is a good time to have it,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “So, we’re going to need more of those moving forward.”

Things looked bleak for the 49ers earlier in the quarter, considering their final-quarter offensive travails, after Kai Forbath's 46-yard field goal gave Washington a 13-10 lead.

And when the Niners faced fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line with just over five minutes to play, the game was on the line. Enter Frank Gore, who gained 3 yards to extend the drive.

Then came the key catch and run of the game.

Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin down the right seam for a 23-yard pickup, the ball arriving just before Washington safety Ryan Clark, who launched his head into Boldin’s helmet. But while Clark fell to the grass, where yellow flags littered the field, Boldin bounced off and ran for another 6 yards.

“I knew I was going to get hit ... I saw the safety cheating to that side before the play even started,” Boldin said. “So Kaep made a real nice throw, which allowed me to catch the ball and protect myself as much as possible at that point.”

Clark was called for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty, so by the time the Niners lined up for their next play, they were at Washington’s 19-yard line -- two plays after facing fourth-and-1.

“Valiant effort,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Anquan Boldin with that catch in traffic. Great throw by Colin. Our guys did what they needed to do when they needed to do it. Good teams win those kind of games. Proud of our guys.

“By any means necessary. That’s how we’re looking for wins.”

It took the Niners only three more plays to find the end zone -- a Hyde run up the gut for 5 yards, a Kaepernick pass to Boldin on the left that picked up 10 yards and Hyde’s game-winning charge.

It was particularly satisfying for Hyde in that he lost a fumble on the first play of the second quarter.

“I fumbled and they put the ball back in my hands,” Hyde said.

“It took me a minute to get over that play.”

But he did. And the Niners' offense got over its fourth-quarter case of the yips as it extended the team’s winning streak to three games.

Was it for just one game, though, or is it the springboard this team needs to really get going?

“That’s big-time stuff,” Harbaugh said. “Good team doing what it has to do to win the football game.

“They play their hearts out. Valiant effort, individual effort and team effort. What more could you want if you’re a coach?”

Maybe more fourth-quarter touchdowns by the offense to ease the anxiety.
Jim Harbaugh, who spent 14 years as an NFL quarterback with the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers, was known as Captain Comeback for his late-game heroics.

He was not particularly admired for his scrambling ability, though. And yet, with 2,787 career rushing yards, he ranks 10th in NFL history among quarterbacks.

So surely he’d have a take on Hall of Fame QB and ESPN analyst Steve Young’s recent take that his own skill set as a running quarterback stunted his growth as a pocket passer, the inference being that Colin Kaepernick ’s running ability could be slowing his arm’s development.

Harbaugh did not hesitate.

“He’s growing and growing and growing as a pocket passer,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “I think he’s one of the most dynamic pocket passers in the game of football today. And he’s one of the most dynamic runners.”

Kaepernick’s 322 rushing yards this season rank second to Seattle’s Russell Wilson and his 571 yards, but Kaepernick’s Total QB Rating of 54.9 is his lowest since he became the Niners’ starting quarterback in 2012.

Young, meanwhile, is No. 3 all-time for a QB with 4,239 rushing yards, behind Michael Vick (6,006 yards and counting) and Randall Cunningham (4,928).

The rest of the top nine: Fran Tarkenton (3,674), Steve McNair (3,590), Donovan McNabb (3,459), John Elway (3,407), Tobin Rote (3,128) and Kordell Stewart (2,874).

How, then, would Harbaugh describe his own playing experience, which included one Pro Bowl selection?

“Pretty mediocre,” he said.

“Yeah, I was mediocre. I was a mediocre player. Kap’s a great player. That’s a big difference.”

49ers vs. Giants preview

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: MetLife Stadium, Meadowlands, N.J. TV: FOX

The 5-4 San Francisco 49ers travel to New Jersey this weekend to face the 3-6 New York Giants. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez are here with a preview:

Graziano: Paul, I see Aldon Smith is back from his suspension just in time to face the struggling Giants. What do the 49ers expect to be able to get out of Smith in his first game?

Gutierrez: Are we talking realistically or hopefully? For the purposes of this conversation, let’s go with a combo. Look, Smith has been able to work out at the Niners' facility during his nine-game suspension and attend team meetings, but he was banned from team practices and games. So there's no telling what kind of football shape he'll be in.

That being said, his skill set as a pass-rusher is needed badly in Santa Clara. The Niners have just 15 sacks, tied for 24th in the league, and all they need from Smith is for him to pin his ears back and rush Eli Manning. There's not much scheme involved there, really, especially if the other linebackers are coached up. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said a couple of weeks ago that he expected Smith to be full-go and without limitations when he returns. Jim Harbaugh was a little more hesitant. I’d lean toward Fangio on this one.

Do the Giants expect Smith to be back to his sack-happy self, meaning they’d have to go max protect for Manning, and if so, how does that affect what the Giants want to do offensively, particularly running the ball? And what is the latest on Rashad Jennings?

Graziano: Jennings returned to practice Wednesday, and barring a setback they expect him to play Sunday and resume his role as the bell cow in their offense. They're 0-4 without him, averaging 83 rush yards per game as opposed to the 121 they were averaging with him. He's a three-down back who can pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield as well as pick up those "dirty" yards (as he calls them) on first and second downs.

The Giants' offense will run much better with Jennings back in the lineup, assuming he's fully healthy. And that's a big part of their ability to contain Smith and the 49ers' pass rush -- forcing San Francisco to respect the Giants' ability and determination to run the ball. Leaving their tackles alone to handle Smith would be a bad idea at this point, as they are not playing well. The offensive line is one of many weak spots on this team, and the only time it's looked good was earlier in the season when the Giants were running their up-tempo, run-based offense with all of their weapons. They still won't have Victor Cruz, who's out for the year, but getting Jennings back will help in many ways.

Overall, how different is this 49ers defense from the dominating unit of the past couple of years, and what is the impact of losing Patrick Willis?

Gutierrez: It's a completely different unit. Not only is Willis gone for the season with that chronic injury to his left big toe, but nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is still working his way back after suffering a torn left biceps in camp and NaVorro Bowman is still recuperating from the devastating injury to his left knee from the NFC title game in January. Oh, and Aldon Smith has been out all season serving his nine-game suspension for general malfeasance, though, as you noted above, he's about to make his season debut.

Yet, the defense has not really been the Niners' problem this season; that would be an inconsistent offense that goes from being a pass-happy attack to a power-running attack and back again. Consider: Even with all of the attrition and injuries, the Niners' defense is the No. 2-ranked total defense in the NFL. The loss of Willis would seemingly be a crushing blow to a team with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations, but it is cushioned with the inspired play of rookie Chris Borland, who has had 18 and 17 tackles in the past two games, and recovered the key fumble in OT Sunday that led to the game-winning field goal at New Orleans. Borland is no Willis, but then again, no one is.

The Giants gave up 350 yards rushing to the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, their most given up on the ground since the Carter administration. Why should the 49ers not run the ball in New Jersey?

Graziano: The only reason would be if they didn't want to win. What the Giants showed Sunday in Seattle was a complete inability to handle Seattle's basic zone-read run game. They bought the play fake every time, and the only time they stuck with the quarterback was when he did hand it off to Marshawn Lynch. If they'd gone into the game intentionally trying to make the wrong play on every zone-read play, they couldn't have done as good a job of it as they actually did. It was a fiasco.

The Giants are without three of their top four cornerbacks, a couple of whom were actually big helps in run support, and they're without middle linebacker Jon Beason. They'll also likely be without weakside linebacker Jacquian Williams this week, as he's struggling to work his way back from a concussion. So they're thin on defense, but the guys who are playing up front -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Jameel McClain, Mike Patterson -- have to do a better job of stopping the run than they did last week, or it's going to be ultra-simple to control the clock and beat them.

Part of the success the Seahawks had running the ball was the 107 yards Russell Wilson had on the ground, including 64 on read-option runs. How similar is the 49ers' and Colin Kaepernick's run game to what the Seahawks do?

Gutierrez: Are we talking this season, or last? Because while there is no doubt that the read-option was a huge part of Kaepernick's arrival on the national consciousness, it has been virtually nonexistent as a play call this season. Sure, Kaepernick is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and is on pace to rush for a career-high 530 yards, but his running game has been more threat than design, if that makes sense. It's all part of the Niners' desire to keep him healthy, obviously, and to make him more of a pocket passer. Still, given the way the Seahawks shredded the Giants' run defense, I would be shocked -- shocked! -- if the Niners shied away from pounding the rock with Frank Gore to set up the read-option for Kaepernick.

OK, perhaps trite or maybe even a tired question at this stage of his career, but can you still spell "elite" without "Eli"?

Graziano: I never liked getting into the "elite" game, because I don't think there's more than three or four quarterbacks in the world who truly fit that word; otherwise, what does the word really mean? But Manning is the least of the Giants' problems. He's on pace to throw 30 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, which the Giants would have signed up for in a heartbeat after he threw 27 interceptions last year. He has thrown only two since Week 2, and he has clearly taken to a new offense designed to lean on the run game and the short, high-percentage passing game and limit turnovers.

The offense has fallen apart around Manning due to the Cruz and Jennings injuries, but he's got a really nice thing going with rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. right now, and he even got Preston Parker into the mix with a big game Sunday. I think the story of the Giants over the next couple of years will be about how well they can rebuild the team around Manning, who's holding up his end of the bargain as steward of the new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo.

Good stuff, Paul. I know you have another long flight coming this week, so travel safe and I look forward to seeing you Sunday in my home state.

NEW ORLEANS -- The game -- check that -- the season was on the line for the San Francisco 49ers late Sunday afternoon.

Trailing the New Orleans Saints by three with 94 seconds remaining in regulation, the Niners faced fourth-and-10 from their own 22-yard line. Fail to convert and the Saints take over on downs, run out the clock and San Francisco falls to 4-5 on the season. And, as ESPN Stats & Information pointed out before the game, only 13 percent of teams since 1990 to start with a 4-5 record have qualified for the playoffs.

So Colin Kaepernick took the snap, rolled out and surveyed the field as he bought time.

“It turned into a scramble,” Kaepernick said.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick showed his arm strength on a deep pass in New Orleans that kept the 49ers afloat in the NFC playoff race.
As the Saints defenders flushed Kaepernick to his right, near the Niners’ sideline, Kaepernick’s eyes darted about the field, looking for someone, anyone to extend the play, the game, and yes, the goals for this season.

That’s when he spied Michael Crabtree on the opposite end of things. All by himself.

“Crab made a great play getting across the field. Our offensive line did a great job giving us time.”

So much so that Kaepernick was able to stop his running motion, plant his foot, set himself -- truly, that was the key -- and hurl a deep pass across his body. Officially, the pass was a 51-yard completion, though the ball traveled through the air for closer to 60 yards.

And when it came down, it nestled into the waiting arms of Crabtree at the Saints’ 27-yard line.

“He was the third or fourth guy I looked at while I was scrambling,” Kaepernick said with a smile. “So I was happy I found somebody who was open on that.”

Saints cornerback Corey White said a zone breakdown allowed Crabtree to roam free on the play.

“When he was throwing it,” White said, “I didn’t know who he was throwing to. They just made a good play. We weren’t defending that.

“It was a zone and he got behind us. It was a Cover-2 zone. When coverage breaks down, you just have to find someone and cover them. All of the zones get thrown out the window. You just have to find someone and cover them.”

Nobody was within 15 yards of Crabtree, though.

And no, Crabtree was not exactly thrilled with his lot in the game. Not after catching just two other passes for 11 yards.

“I’m a third-down receiver,” Crabtree told reporters. “I mean, I’m like the third option. So I come in and do my job.

“Fourth down, I guess when they need me. I guess that’s when I play.”

Truth be told, Crabtree, who entered the game with seven drops on the season, was targeted eight times.

The reception put the Niners in field-goal position and Phil Dawson’s 45-yarder with 1:08 to play tied the game at 24. Dawson then won it with 5:14 remaining in overtime with a 35-yarder after Ahmad Brooks’ strip-sack of Drew Brees and Chris Borland’s recovery of the fumble.

None of it, though, would have been possible without Kaepernick’s fourth-down heave, and Crabtree’s apparently reluctant catch.

“Great vision and great concentration by Michael,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. “[Kaepernick] escaped in the pocket, bought time and found a receiver.

“That wasn’t the intent of the play. Colin does a great job of that. I’m glad he did it that way. I am glad he has the arm strength to get it that far.”

Plus, it kept the 49ers alive in the playoff race … for at least another week.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Colin Kaepernick is completing a career-best 64.2 percent of his passes. He is on pace to set career highs in passing yardage (3,912 yards), touchdown passes (24) and rushing yardage (548).

And as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch pointed out, Kaepernick would be the charter member of the 3,900-24-500 club. Still, the number that means more to the San Francisco 49ers quarterback is his team’s record.

“I feel like we’re having an average season,” Kaepernick said. “We’re 4-4.”

And in third place, three games behind the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals and a game back of the Seattle Seahawks.

Another stat that should matter to Kaepernick is sacks; he’s been sacked a league-leading 27 at the season’s midway point. It’s the most a 49ers quarterback has been sacked through eight games since J.T. O'Sullivan went down 32 times in 2008.

Because while Kaepernick has been sacked 14 times in his past two games, New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees has been sacked 11 times ... all season.

Yes, the Niners' offense has been struggling, even if, as pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info, it has been on the field an average of 33:16, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

Consider: the Niners have been held to 17 or fewer points in their past two games and they have not been held to 17 or fewer in three straight since Weeks 2-11 in 2007.

Also, Kaepernick, who has lost two straight starts, has never lost three straight.

And, under Kaepernick, the 49ers went 0-for-2 in the red zone last week, dropping their red zone TD scoring rate to a league-worst 40 percent a year after going 56 percent last season.

“We’re a hard-working team,” he said. “Same as we’ve always been. We just have to finish games.”

The New Orleans Saints (4-4) and San Francisco 49ers (4-4) are meeting in the middle.

Both teams are .500, although they've been moving in opposite directions, with New Orleans winning two straight and San Francisco losing two straight en route to their showdown Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But the Saints will hardly take the 49ers lightly, since they've turned into one of their biggest nemeses in recent years.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez discuss this week's matchup:

Triplett: Paul, I was stunned to see the 49ers had given up 14 sacks over the past two weeks. I've always considered that offensive line as their strength. I know you've dissected it quite a bit already this week, but what's the sense going forward? Is that a bit of an anomaly, or is it a genuine weakness as they head into the Superdome?

Gutierrez: Look at it this way: The projected line of LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Alex Boone and RT Anthony Davis got to play together for all of one quarter this season. And now a rookie, Marcus Martin, is at center after Kilgore's season-ending broken left ankle suffered in Denver two games back. This is not an anomaly; this is a problem. Because while they have given up 14 sacks over the past two games, including a career-high eight of Colin Kaepernick to the Rams, the protection issues started well before Games 7 and 8.

Kaepernick has been sacked at least three times in five games. Only Jacksonville has taken at least three sacks more often, with six such games. And Niners quarterbacks have been sacked on 8.6 percent of their dropbacks this season, second only to those same Jaguars. That rate is the Niners' worst since 2008, when it was 9.3 percent. Staley raised eyebrows when he blamed "dumb schemes" along with "dumb blocks" and "dumb techniques" in the locker room following the loss to the Rams.

It seems like the Saints' offense is starting to show some semblance of its former high-powered self. Is this fool's gold, or have Drew Brees & Co. finally gotten their legs under themselves? If so, what's been the kick-starter there?

Triplett: It's legit. In fact, the Saints' offense was playing better than people realized when they started 2-4. They rank first in the NFL in yards per play and offensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their biggest problem has been turnovers: Brees has thrown eight interceptions, and they've lost a whopping seven fumbles.

Other than that, Brees has been sharp. He leads the NFL in completion percentage, and he has finally started to hit on deep balls over the past three weeks. More importantly, the Saints are as balanced as they've ever been in the Brees-Sean Payton era, with the run game turning into a real strength. Mark Ingram ran for 172 yards two weeks ago against Green Bay and another 100 last week at Carolina. With other diverse weapons such as Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, they're as "pick your poison" as ever. The "kick-starter" has probably been the improved play of the defense, which has been forcing more turnovers and giving the Saints' offense even more opportunities.

How is Kaepernick playing specifically? Last week, the Saints defense was halfway successful against another dual-threat quarterback, Cam Newton. He broke off five long runs -- but he did zip as a passer, which allowed New Orleans to dominate in a 28-10 win.

Gutierrez: Up and down. Down and up. In a word, inconsistent. I would not say he's regressed, per se, but he has not progressed as much as many observers thought he would by now, or as much as the 49ers hoped he would, so to speak. He put on a show on "Monday Night Football" at St. Louis last month, but then seemed out of it against the same team despite the Niners coming out of their bye week.

Early on, it seemed as though the 49ers were trying to make him more of a pure pocket-passer and wanted him to eschew the run, even as that's what made him such a dual-threat quarterback. He can throw a fastball like no other, but he is still showing a lack of touch on certain passes, especially the corner fade to Michael Crabtree. Hey, if he connects with him on that throw, the Niners are probably two-time defending Super Bowl champs.

But as mentioned earlier, it's tough for him to progress when he's on the run so often, if not already on his back. A number of drops by normally sure-handed receivers has hurt, too.

Such is the lot for an NFL quarterback, though -- too much credit when things are going well, too much blame when they're not. I asked him after Sunday's loss how hard it was to do his job when under such duress, and he said, "That's why I'm here, to make plays regardless of the situation. I have to be better back there."

The Saints don't seem to have a particularly fearsome pass rush -- 17 sacks in eight games -- but the Rams had only six coming into last week before sacking Kaepernick eight times. Is New Orleans' pass rush especially dependent on the coverage skills of the secondary, or do the Saints have playmakers who can get to the quarterback without gimmicks or blitzes?

Triplett: The Saints' pass rush has been the most improved aspect of their team over the past month. Twelve of those sacks have come over the past 13 quarters. That's how it was supposed to be, since the strength of New Orleans' defense last year was Pro Bowl end Cameron Jordan, outside linebacker Junior Galette, end Akiem Hicks and their ability to generate pressure with just a four-man rush. They sacked Newton four times last week, including a game-changing sack-fumble by Galette in the second quarter.

Of course, it helps when the coverage is solid, but it was more of the opposite effect in the first month of the year, when the pass rush was giving quarterbacks too much time to pick apart a shaky secondary. The Saints have one outstanding corner in Keenan Lewis, while the other corners have steadily improved after a rough start.

What about the 49ers' defense? Their sack totals are down as well (only 13 all season). Has the defense overall taken a step back this year?

Gutierrez: If we're talking Q rating, then yes, the 49ers' defense is down. The unit is missing nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and three All-Pro linebackers in Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, whose suspension still has one game to go. As a result, the defense has not been as fearsome as in years past. But it has not been a dog, either. In fact, it's been more than admirable. The defense has not been the problem this season; the blame rests mainly with the offense. So even when the defense gets its three star linebackers back in the fold and another former starter on the line, that's not really going to help the offense.

Still, the thought of Smith and rookie Aaron Lynch, who could supplant Ahmad Brooks as a nickel rusher, teaming up could cause headaches for offensive coordinators. Maybe, just maybe, a fresh defense could be just what a conflicted Niners offense needs at this juncture.

Tough question, I know, but is the organization finally over the stigma of Bountygate, or is it a cross it loves to bear, so to speak, by using that whole "us against the world" mentality?

Triplett: That really feels like an afterthought, to be honest. I'm sure it will always exist on some level, but it's not the motivational tool that drives this team on a weekly basis anymore. Especially not this year, when the message after their 2-4 start was that they can't rely on any of their past successes, either.

In general, though, Payton's "maverick" mentality as a fiery motivator and aggressive offensive schemer will always shape this team's personality. So they will always be a team that plays with that edge, for a number of reasons.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Colin Kaepernick enduring 14 sacks over the San Francisco 49ers' past two games, including a career-high eight against the St. Louis Rams last time out, is indeed cause for concern.

But the Niners' protection problems go beyond their past two outings.

Kaepernick has been sacked at least three times in a game five times thus far this season and only the Jacksonville Jaguars have taken three-sack games more often, with six such games.

Beyond that, Kaepernick has been sacked on 8.6 percent of his dropbacks this season, second-worst to only those same Jaguars, and the Niners' sack rate this season is their worst since 2008, when it was 9.3 percent and Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan were under center for Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.

Maybe left tackle Joe Staley was onto something when he talked about "dumb" schemes," as well as "dumb blocks" and "dumb techniques."

And as ESPN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert wrote, "The sacks and the fumble left Kaepernick with a 13.4 QBR for the game, his worst since Week 10 last season. But whenever a quarterback takes eight sacks, it's a group effort. It's difficult to understand why the 49ers gave only 16 carries to their running backs while calling 41 dropbacks in a close game against an opponent that was consistently bringing pressure."
What, exactly, qualifies as a “s--- ton” in today’s NFL?

Not as much as you’d think, apparently.

It was San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, in the wake of the Niners giving up eight sacks to the St. Louis Rams in a 13-10 loss Sunday, who used the manure measurement to describe the visitor’s proclivity for bringing the house.

“They blitzed a s--- ton,” Staley said at the time.

But did they, really?

Per ESPN NFL Insider Kevin Seifert’s weekly QB report, five of the Rams’ eight sacks came with their standard four-man rush.

Still …

“The Rams blizted Kaepernick on 51.2 percent of his dropbacks,” Seifert wrote, “well north of the previous high mark he had seen this season [40.9].”

Seifert noted that Kaepernick’s 13.4 QBR was his worst since Week 10 last season.

“It’s difficult to understand why the 49ers only gave 16 carries to their running backs while calling 41 dropbacks in a close game against an opponent that was consistently bringing pressure.”

Which brings us to Staley’s other lament: “Dumb blocks. Dumb techniques and dumb schemes.”

Not really sure how to measure that, either, other then Staley’s words. Which make a lot of sense in this case.

The Film Don’t Lie: 49ers

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix.

Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 14 times in his past two games, including a career-high eight times Sunday in a 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams. So, of course, the Niners need to fix their protection problems before heading to New Orleans this weekend.

The Saints don’t exactly have a fearsome pass rush, with just 17 sacks in eight games. Then again, the Rams only had six sacks coming into Levi’s Stadium, and they took Kaepernick down eight times.

I asked Kaepernick how tough it was to do his job while under such duress.

“That’s why I’m here -- to make plays regardless of the situation,” he said. “I have to be better back there.”

Sure, but so does the offensive line.

Per Pro Football Focus, the left side of the Niners’ offensive line was decent. Left tackle Joe Staley had a 0.0 grade, and left guard Mike Iupati checked in with a +0.4 grade. But rookie center Marcus Martin, in his NFL debut, had a -4.1, while right guard Alex Boone’s grade was -3.1 and right tackle Anthony Davis had a -3.0.

ESPN Stats & Info found Kaepernick was sacked at least once on seven separate drives, and the Niners were unable to score on each of those possessions. Plus, two sacks came on third down, while another led to a missed field goal and yet another ended a drive due to a Kaepernick fumble.

The two Saints the Niners must pay special mind to at the Superdome? Outside linebacker Junior Galette, who leads New Orleans with six sacks and defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has four.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The last time Colin Kaepernick faced the St. Louis Rams, less than three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback shredded their pass defense for 343 passing yards with three TDs and no interceptions.

 So why should this weekend at Levi’s Stadium be any different?

“They have a lot of different things they can do,” Kaepernick said. “Very good defense. We have to be ready for them.”

Kaepernick said it with a straight face.

Why is that important? Well, the Rams are last in the NFL in completion percentage defense (70.4 percent), sacks (6) and Total QBR (86.4).

And yet, St. Louis loves to bring the heat ... to no avail.

The Rams are blitzing at the highest percentage of any team this season, 44 percent of dropbacks per ESPN Stats & Info, but that did not faze Kaepernick at the Edward Jones Dome on Oct. 13.

Two of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes came against the blitz and, in his career, he has a 21-3 TD-INT differential against blitzes.

It’s as if he welcomes the additional pressure.

And now, Kaepernick regains the use of a healthy security blanket in tight end Vernon Davis, whose 28.4 receiving yards per game is his lowest average since 2008.

Plus, his drop percentage of 13 percent and his receiving percentage of 60.9 percent are his worst since 2006. The nine-year veteran’s yards-after-catch average of 2.2 yards is his worst ever.

Still, just having Davis, who has missed two games, on the field has been a boon for Kaepernick in his career.

Consider: Kaepernick’s completion percentage with Davis in the game is 62 percent, compared to 56.7 percent when he’s off the field. Same with yards per attempt (8.3-6.1), TDs to interceptions (38-11, 4-5) and total QBR (74.2-41.1).

So what is Kaepernick expecting from his injured teammate coming back healthy this weekend after the bye?

“Production,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing we look for. Come back, make plays.”

The Film Don't Lie: 49ers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

The 49ers enter their bye week licking their wounds, physical and mental, after Sunday night's 42-17 thumping at the Denver Broncos.

The Niners receivers should spend their time off standing in front of a JUGS passing machine, catching ball after ball after ball. Or track down Lester Hayes or Fred Biletnikoff across the bay and borrow some old-school Stickum in time for their next game, Nov. 2 against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium.

Of course, Stickum is now illegal, but the 49ers' pass-catchers were dropping passes nonetheless.

Especially receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. The trio combined for four drops, per Pro Football Focus, with Crabtree clanging two.

Particularly galling was the normally sure-handed Boldin, quarterback Colin Kaepernick's Mr. Dependable, dropping one in the end zone that hit him in the hands on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line midway through the second quarter.

If Boldin holds on to the ball, the 49ers creep to within 14-7. Instead, they had to settle for a 22-yard Phil Dawson field goal, and the rout was on.

Asked specifically about the drops after the game, coach Jim Harbaugh evaded the question.

"The Broncos played a great game," Harbaugh said. "They really were good and better at every phase and played a heck of a ballgame."

And if you're scratching your head over that particular answer to that specific of a question, imagine Harbaugh's reaction watching his receivers drop catchable passes.

DENVER -- Peyton Manning put on an absolute clinic Sunday night in the Denver Broncos' 42-17 beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers.

Sure, he set a new NFL record for career touchdown passes with Nos. 507, 508, 509 and 510, and he also had as many TD passes against the 49ers as he did incompletions -- four -- in completing 22 of 26 passes for 318 yards and a passer rating of 157.2.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Jack DempseyIf you're keeping score, Colin Kaepernick is just 468 touchdown passes behind Peyton Manning on the all-time list. But Kaepernick would do well to learn from Manning's record-breaking night.
But perhaps the most important thing he accomplished on his record-setting night, at least as far as the 49ers are concerned, was setting an example for Colin Kaepernick to follow in his nascent career.

No doubt, they are two different quarterbacks with polar-opposite skill sets. But Kaepernick had a front-row seat to, well, the greatness that is Manning when he is firing on all cylinders.

That greatness includes touch passes, reading defenses and calling audibles in and out of plays depending upon what the defense shows him at the line.

"He's a great player," Kaepernick said. "He's able to put up a lot of points. He's proven that. We knew we were going to have to score points regardless."

Kaepernick actually had more passing yards than Manning at halftime, though the 49ers trailed 21-10 at intermission. And Kaepernick, who is only 468 touchdown passes behind Manning, flashed by leading the 49ers 80 yards in seven plays with no timeouts to close out that first half.

His 4-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 11 seconds remaining in the half gave him a touchdown pass in 14 straight games, the third-longest such streak in franchise history behind Steve Young (17 games, from Oct. 9, 1994, through Oct. 15, 1995) and Jeff Garcia (15, from Dec. 3, 2000, through Dec. 2, 2001).

But with the 49ers playing catch-up and Kaepernick needing to pass, the Broncos merely pinned their ears back and dominated the Niners' decimated offensive line. Kaepernick was sacked a season-high six times and he passed for only 74 yards in the second half to finish with 263 yards on 24-of-39 passing with a touchdown and an interception.

Still, having a front-row seat to history should allow Kaepernick to glean something from Manning going forward, no? Well, so long as Kaepernick wants it.

It sounds like he does.

"He's a very smart player," Kaepernick said. "He knows where he wants to go with the ball, how he wants to attack different defenses."

So, you could add that your arsenal, your QB bag o' tricks, so to speak?

"Very much," Kaepernick said.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh is not one to compare players, but on this night, the former quarterback seemed in awe of Manning. (A bit of trivia: The last QB to start a game for the Indianapolis Colts before Manning was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft? Harbaugh.)

"I'm sure there are some things [he can glean from Manning]," Harbaugh said. "He's one of the greats, and that certainly was on display tonight."

And then some.

"You're playing against a coordinator when you're out there," 49ers free safety Eric Reid said.

Whatever lessons Kaepernick took home from Denver will have to wait for a while. The only way he will see Manning this up close and personal again would be if the 49ers and Broncos meet in the Super Bowl.

"I hope we do," Kaepernick said.

He's not the only one who feels that way in the 49ers' locker room.

49ers vs. Broncos preview

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Prime time is the right time for a game between teams that entered the season at the front of the Super Bowl conversation.

At least that is how Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. sees it.

"You face any other top teams in the league, you always want to get up for them," Harris Jr. said. "It’s Sunday night prime time, so we want to have a good showing. We want to go out there and show we’re definitely a contender, definitely one of the top teams. ... They have a great team; they’ve been together for a while, so they know how to play together in these big games."

The San Francisco 49ers will be the fifth team the Broncos (4-1) have played this season that won at least 10 games in 2013 -- "we’ve had a salty schedule," is how Broncos coach John Fox has put it -- and the 49ers (4-2) own the only win against the Dallas Cowboys this season and have won three in a row.

ESPN's 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the matchup:

Legwold: Paul, it seems, at least from the outside, like there has been plenty of turmoil this season with reports 49ers players are tuning Jim Harbaugh out and that Harbaugh won’t return after this season. What’s the mood in the locker room? And how do you think Harbaugh interacts with the team?

Gutierrez: It’s important to note that most, if not all, of these reports have come from national reporters, particularly from a certain league-owned media outlet. And to the conspiracy theorist in me, that means the leaks are coming from within the 49ers and above Harbaugh’s pay grade. As I’ve said before, Harbaugh likes to make his players uncomfortable because he believes that brings out the best in them. I wonder if that same mentality is being thrust upon Harbaugh’s coaching skills. As far as the locker room goes, to a man and on the record, the players say they have Harbaugh’s back, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick saying he would go to "war" with his coach. And technically, Harbaugh still has a year left on his deal. It’s just that talks of extension have been tabled until after the season. It has made for a wild ride thus far, no doubt, and Harbaugh has made a point to wander through the locker room to chat with players during media access periods during the week.

Speaking of bedside manner, Fox has been seen as a folksy players' coach from yesteryear, at least, to the outsider. How much of his personality has rubbed off on the players, and is that a reason the Broncos have been able to shake off the sting of last February’s Super Bowl disaster?

Legwold: When Fox missed four games last season because of heart valve surgery, the word most of the players, as well as the coaches on Fox’s staff, used to describe what was missing while Fox was away was "energy." Those who have worked with him say Fox’s greatest attribute, beyond the on-field work, is giving those in the organization the belief their job is an important part of the process, no matter where the job fits within the organization. Yes, the Broncos have won plenty of games along the way, and having Peyton Manning at quarterback is a spectacular starting point for any head coach, but Fox has support in the locker room, in the executive offices, and a contract extension signed this past offseason. That said, he has also been the guy in charge when the Broncos have come up short, and in the case of the Super Bowl, 35 points short.

Moving toward the field, how have the 49ers' wide receivers helped Kaepernick?

Gutierrez: At first, it was a hot mess. The 49ers seemed to forget they were a team built on a power running game, and Kaepernick looked out of sorts with all of the shiny toys at his disposal, with Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd joining Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin as wideouts, and tight end Vernon Davis. Then, about Week 4, the 49ers rediscovered their identity behind running back Frank Gore and, voila, the passing game blossomed. This past week, Kaepernick threw three touchdown passes to three different wideouts without an interception. Crabtree might be his favorite receiver, and Lloyd has become his most explosive down the left sideline, but Boldin is his Mr. Dependable underneath. It is, without a doubt, helping Kaepernick’s maturation process. Especially since there does not seem to be any selfishness going on with the receivers. Just healthy competition. At least, that’s how it looks when the team is winning.

Manning, meanwhile, does not seem to have missed a beat after losing receivers Eric Decker to the New York Jets and Wes Welker to injury. Is Manning simply so good that he elevates the play of those around him, or is it a scheme thing in Denver?

Legwold: In all that Manning has done in his career, the fact he has lifted his play to its current level following spinal fusion surgery in 2011 -- his fourth neck surgery -- is a remarkable achievement. The guy has started 37 games for the Broncos and thrown 107 touchdown passes in those games. The offense was built for him; he runs it with complete freedom to change any call to any play at any time. And at this stage of his career, with his work habits, he might think the game better than anyone who has played the position. But all of that said, there is a perfect-storm effect in Denver as well. Adam Gase is an innovative risk-taker as an offensive coordinator who paid his coaching dues to earn his spot. Receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are elite players, Welker is routinely called the best slot receiver in the NFL by opposing coaches, and in his time with Manning, Emmanuel Sanders will go from a player folks thought was pretty good to Pro Bowl worthy. So Manning has been very good for the Broncos, and the Broncos, with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway calling the personnel shots for the team, have built a quality landing spot for Manning.

Some teams have been aggressive coming after Manning with the blitz, like the Cardinals, while the Jets consistently dropped eight into coverage last weekend. How do you think the 49ers will approach it?

Gutierrez: Let’s just say, both ways. Yes, the 49ers brought the house against the St. Louis Rams’ Austin Davis, sacking him five times (the total doubled the 49ers’ season sack total to 10) and pressuring him on 44 percent of his dropbacks (a season high for the 49ers), but, as you know, Manning loves it when teams blitz him. His 2.25-second release is the second best in the league, again, per our friends at ESPN Stats & Info. Yet, his 92.8 total rating when not pressured since joining Denver in 2012 is the league’s best, and the 49ers rank 23rd in pressure percentage. So yeah, the best way to affect Manning is by bringing pressure. Just pick your poison in doses, I guess, right? What might make it all a moot point is the potential loss of All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who injured a toe Monday night. We’re talking about a linebacker corps already missing the suspended Aldon Smith and the recuperating NaVorro Bowman.

Manning, who needs two touchdown passes to tie Brett Favre's career record (508), always comes across as disinterested in records and his legacy. But surely, holding the passing touchdown record would mean something to him, right? How important do you think holding the mark would be to him?

Legwold: This is all something he will have to get used to as many of these records approach, especially if he plays one or two more seasons following this one. Certainly his legacy is important to him, but it gets lost sometimes because he is so competitive. People talk about his intellect and his ability to digest information and recall things he has seen in his career. But it would be impossible to play as many consecutive games as he played before his spinal fusion surgery kept him out of the 2011 season (208 consecutive regular-season games) and to push himself as hard as he does if he were not one of the most competitive people in the game. So, in that vein he wants Super Bowls and knows his career clock is winding down. So, though the records will be something he respects, and at some point enjoys, his desire to play for a Super Bowl champion trumps everything right now, including the touchdown mark.