NFC West: Steve Young

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.

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Kaepernick
Harbaugh
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.”
San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young took a strong stand on how his former team has handled the Ray McDonald arrest for domestic violence and allowed him to play in the season opener.

McDonald
Young, speaking on the set of ESPN’s "Monday Night Countdown," disagreed with how the 49ers have handled McDonald in the course of discussing Ray Rice being cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL in the wake of a video of him punching his then-fiancée in the face being released by TMZ.

“Then Ray McDonald gets arrested, and has visible bruising on his wife, felony domestic abuse, violence,” Young said. “Any company in this country, any big company, if that happens, they send you home. They might pay you, but you don’t play. You don’t come to work until we figure this out.

“You take an affirmative position on it. You’ve got to have no tolerance about it and mean it and then say, 'Look, if something happened and if it’s faulty, it’s a fraudulent assertion, then we’ll work it out in a few days or weeks and miss a couple of games, OK?'

“But we have got to have a policy that, if you get arrested for this, until we figure it out, we’ll call you when we figure it out. We’re going to call you from home. It just has to be that way or you’re not serious about it.”

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have all said they wanted to let due process play out, while CEO Jed York has not yet commented.

“I understand due process; that goes on,” Young said. “Every owner can decide this for themselves.”
Joe MontanaAP Photo
Score: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
Date: Jan. 10, 1982
Site: Candlestick Park

The fans got it right picking The Catch.

Was this really a choice?

That is no disrespect to Joe Montana hitting John Taylor to win the Super Bowl in 1989 or to Steve Young and Terrell Owens hooking up with The Catch II to win a 1998 playoff game. Those were the two other finalists in our 49ers most memorable plays feature this week.

Fine, stunning, unforgettable plays. Both of them.

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However, in reality, The Catch is the only choice for the top play in 49ers history. It might be the most memorable play in NFL history.

Whether you were alive or not in 1982, you know this play. You can see Dwight Clark jumping into the sky over Everson Walls to snag Montana’s desperate heave right now, can’t you?

It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. This play represents so much more than what it simply was at the moment. It didn’t just surge the San Francisco 49ers into their first Super Bowl -- it changed the course of NFL history.

It was the beginning of a dynasty. It was the arrival of Bill Walsh and Montana as NFL legends.

It knocked the Dallas Cowboys off their perch for a bit. It ignited one of sports' greatest rivalries.

Like all things great, The Catch’s impact was great and long lasting. There is no other play like it in 49ers history. It began the history of the 49ers in a lot of ways, and it certainly defined it.

There was no other choice.

49ers' top plays: Catch II

July, 9, 2014
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Terrell Owens BRUCE GORDON/AFP/Getty Images
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in San Francisco 49ers history. Yesterday, we covered the throw from Joe Montana to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII, and Monday we reviewed "The Catch." Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 30, Packers 27
Date: Jan. 3, 1999 Site: Candlestick Park

The Catch will always be The Catch.

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Montana to Clark will forever be The Catch in the NFL for every fan, no matter who they root for.

However, for 49ers fans, there was another catch. Young to Owens. It instantly became The Catch II.

The play itself didn’t have the immediate or future impact as the original catch did. But in its own right, the Catch II remains an iconic moment in the 49ers’ rich history. Other than the 49ers’ five Super Bowl victories and The Catch, it is difficult to imagine a more emotional postseason moment in franchise history.

It involved two wildly different historic figures in team history. There was Steve Young, a beloved Hall of Fame quarterback. Then there was also Terrell Owens. Owens was regarded in San Francisco like he was regarded everywhere in his career -- talented but not worth the trouble.

Yet, the 49ers were happy to have him on this day. It wasn’t a perfect day for Owens, only a perfect ending. He started the day with four drops, including one in the end zone. But when Young needed Owens most, he was there.

The Packers took a 27-23 lead with 1:56 to go. The 49ers had to go 76 yards to win. The drive culminated on a 25-yard pass from Young to Owens. The play was unlikely. Owens was completely unreliable that day. Young went to him while he was tightly covered by two Green Bay defensive backs at the goal line -- with the season on the line.

Yet, Owens found a way to secure the ball, leaving the Packers standing in the end zone in disbelief.

Owens ran to his coach, Steve Mariucci, and collapsed into his arms, sobbing like a newborn. It’s a memory etched in the minds of 49ers fans everywhere -- just like Dwight Clark leaping into the heavens to bring down The Catch.
Candlestick Park StadiumHoberman Collection/UIG/Getty ImagesOn Monday night, San Francisco 49ers fans will empty out of Candlestick Park for likely the final time.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The odds are strong that Monday night will see the final game at Candlestick Park when the San Francisco 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons.

Barring a complete breakdown by first-place Seattle, the best the 49ers can do as a playoff seed is No. 5. In that scenario, the only way there could be another game at Candlestick – the 49ers move to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014 – is if they host the No. 6 seed in the NFC Championship Game.

Don’t count on it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since 1990, a No. 5 seed has never hosted the No. 6 seed in a title game. So prepare to say goodbye to Candlestick on Monday night.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some remembrances of the historic but uncomfortable hunk of cement by the bay, as compiled by ESPN:

[+] EnlargeChris Berman
ESPNChris Berman reported from the field after "The Catch" game in 1982 at Candlestick Park.
“It was not the greatest-played game, but you couldn't have had more exciting a game. … The ball looks like it’s going into the stands and Dwight Clark leapt like a basketball player, made the catch. But the game wasn’t over. There was still a minute to go almost. … It caught even the city by surprise. It was fresh and it was fun, and who knew what they were building at the time. The whole thing sends shivers down my spine, that I was fortunate enough to be there and see it. It’s an iconic game in pro football history, let alone Candlestick. That’s what Candlestick will be remembered for more than anything else: that play, that game, even though there were some unbelievably great games, all the playoff games the 49ers have had there.”

-- ESPN's Chris Berman, who covered “The Catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game

“I have a plethora of memories, phenomenal memories of championship games won and lost, Monday night games, big games, December games, games that decided the home-field advantage almost every year it seemed like. The locker room dripping down from condensation. The high tide would come in and you’d get that smell on the field, really soggy when it started to rain. The infield, when the Giants were playing there, with crushed rock, you’d get skinned up all through September and early October. The wind, obviously, early in the season, was always a factor. The stadium needs to close. She’s gone as far as she can go, it needs to be done. But for me, obviously it’s hard to see her go, it’s hard to see it end, and I’ll always miss playing at Candlestick Park. I missed it the second I left the 49ers, and I still miss being in that park. It will be fun to be there Monday night and see the last game.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst and Hall of Fame 49ers quarterback Steve Young

“When the 49ers beat the Giants on 'Monday Night Football' at Candlestick in 1990, I had this old, beat-up car, a Delta ’88. I bought it for $500. It was the worst car you’ve ever seen. The players all made fun of me. They called me ‘Uncle Buck.’ This Giants game is huge, and before we leave for the stadium from the team hotel Charles Haley says to me, ‘I need to ride over with you in that car to the stadium. I’ve got to get in the right state of mind.’ I told him my car might not make it – it was that bad a car. He insisted on riding with me. So he didn’t take the team bus. It’s the biggest game in my life, and my car’s going to break down on the way to the stadium. I don’t have a parking pass or anything. So Haley is out the window yelling at security to let us in. I am a nervous wreck. I think Mike Holmgren and George Seifert are going to fire me – my coaching career is over. Even when we got to the stadium, I was scared to go in the locker room. Fortunately, we won 7-3 and Haley played his tail off.”

-- ESPN MNF analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, who started his NFL coaching career as a 49ers assistant in 1990

[+] EnlargeSteve Young
George Rose/Getty Images"I'll always miss playing at Candlestick Park," Steve Young said. "I missed it the second I left the 49ers."
“My first NFL start was at Candlestick against Steve Young’s 1994 49ers team -- and I was pathetic. But it was going home to the Bay Area, close to where I grew up, buying 75 tickets for family and friends. At the time, you try not to get caught up in the nostalgia, the history and who you are playing because they were just awesome. Though I didn’t play well, it’s still a great memory that I was able to have my first NFL start there.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, a Northern California native and resident who played his first NFL game with Tampa Bay at Candlestick in 1994

“I remember going onto the field at Candlestick and warming up. I would go to every corner of the field and throw the football because the wind was different in every area of the stadium. You think it would go right, and it would go left. Some areas you think it would knock the ball down, it would take the ball up. You wanted to know what the wind was going to do to the football, and I always felt that was to the quarterback’s advantage, knowing the wind current in Candlestick Park.”

--ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski, who played at Candlestick as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles

“The Eagles played the 49ers the last game in the final week of the 1993 season on 'Monday Night Football.' So we play the game and it ends up tied. They played a full 15 minutes of overtime, and with four seconds left Philadelphia was going to try a field goal. The kicker hooks it. He’s going to miss the field goal but the defender came in and roughed the kicker. So the game is over, the overtime period is over, but with a foul on the last play of a period, you extend the period. The Eagles re-kicked and won the game 37-34. It was the longest regular-season game in NFL history -- a full game, a full overtime, plus one play.”

--MNF rules consultant and former NFL official Gerry Austin, who refereed the longest regular-season game in NFL history at Candlestick on Jan. 3, 1994
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Colin Kaepernick finally has a full season as an NFL starting quarterback on his resume.

Kaepernick is in his first full season as a starter after being a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He came into the season with 10 starts under his belt. He started the final seven regular season game last season and played in three postseason games, including the Super Bowl. After six games this season, Kaepernick has now started 16 games in the NFL.

His bottom line -- wins and losses -- is strong. The 49ers are 11-5 with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback. They were 5-2 in the regular season last year, 2-1 in the postseason and they are 4-2 this season.

Kaepernick, who played parts of seven games in his career before becoming a starter, has solid overall numbers in his first 16 starts.

Kaepernick has completed 259 of 433 pass attempts as a starter for 3,627 yards. He has thrown 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He has run for 750 yards on 98 carries with six touchdowns.

His numbers compare favorably to two Hall of Famers -- John Elway and Steve Young -- in their first 16 games. Elway threw for 2,448 yards, 10 touchdown passes and was intercepted 21 times in his first 16 games. Young threw for 2,722 yards, nine touchdown passes and had 16 interceptions in that span.

Pat Summerall never developed a signature call during four decades broadcasting NFL games for CBS and Fox. "Unbelievable" might have been as close as he came.

That probably wasn't by accident.

For Summerall, who died Tuesday at age 82, the broadcasts always seemed to be more about the games than what he had to say about them. That could also explain why I couldn't immediately think of a memorable call Summerall made during the 25 or so years I watched him on TV.

The San Francisco 49ers were the dominant NFL team through the 1980s, when Summerall began his memorable run with John Madden in the booth. The 49ers remained one of the best through most of the 1990s as well. But as things turned out, Summerall wasn't on the call for some of the 49ers most memorable moments.

Vin Scully and Hank Stram had the call for CBS on "The Catch" back in early 1982.

Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen were behind the microphones for NBC when Joe Montana drove the 49ers downfield to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

Summerall and Madden did have the call for Steve Young's winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens against the Green Bay Packers following the 1998 season.

"Three-man rush and Young stumbles on the way back and fires up the middle," Summerall said as the play unfolded. "Pass is caught by Owens. Owens made the catch."

Eleven seconds passed before Summerall or Madden said anything.

"This is amazing," Madden said.

Another 15 seconds passed while 49ers players celebrated and the Candlestick Park crowd roared.

"Three seconds left," Summerall finally said.

A few more seconds went by.

"Terrell Owens was having a rotten day," Madden said, "but on one play here, does he make up for it."

Madden then described the coverage on the play before Summerall spoke up.

"Perfect pass," Summerall said, his first words in 18 seconds.

"Holy moley!" Madden said.

"Three seconds left as they line up for the extra point," Summerall said just as the kick sailed through, "and it's 30-27, San Francisco."

"And the 49ers are getting the monkey off their back today," Madden said.

"Unbelievable," Summerall said.
Super Bowl week can be a bit of a blur with so much coverage coming from so many angles.

That's my excuse for missing the "Secrets of Super Bowl Quarterbacks" package featuring previously untold stories.

NFC West alums Kurt Warner, Steve Young and Joe Montana were among those to participate. Warner explained how he stayed up all night worrying when roommate and St. Louis Rams backup quarterback Paul Justin failed to return til the next morning. Montana described nearly blacking out from hunger during the San Francisco 49ers' winning drive against Cincinnati, all because he'd eaten his halftime Snickers bar before the game.

There were some classic stories packed into this piece, including Brad Johnson hitchhiking back from the game with his pregnant wife. More than one quarterback described obsessing about the game balls and whether they would be too slick.

Here's the one from Joe Namath, reported by Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine:
"One thing that I haven't really talked about is how, a few nights before the game, I went out to dinner with a few Colts players who were old friends. They were so confident -- they really thought they were going to win. At dinner, Lou Michaels flat out told me that they were going to kick our asses, and specifically kick my ass. I felt a little mischievous, so I said, 'Come on, Lou, what you know? You're just a damn kicker.'

"Boy, did that infuriate him. He was an All-American defensive lineman at Kentucky, and he played a lot in the Colts' regular defensive package. But he also was their kicker. I knew calling him that would piss him off, and it did.

"Dinner went well and we all went home friendly and in good spirits. But man, it started off shaky."

Grading the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII

February, 3, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers' tremendous second-half rally came up short. Here's a look at how things played out in Super Bowl XLVII:

PASSING OFFENSE

After a shaky first half, Colin Kaepernick was spectacular as he rallied the 49ers back into the game. Kaepernick led them to 17 points in a span of 4:10 in the third quarter. Kaepernick also scrambled for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Michael Crabtree finished with five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick's second-half play was brilliant. But he did throw the first Super Bowl interception in franchise history. Joe Montana never threw one. Steve Young never threw one. Montana and Young have Super Bowl titles. Kaepernick doesn't.

RUSHING OFFENSE

Frank Gore wasn't much of a factor early on as the 49ers fell way behind. But Gore had a few key runs, including a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and two big runs in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick didn't have any explosive plays off the read option, but his scrambling ability caused major problems for Baltimore's defense. Backup running back LaMichael James lost a second-quarter fumble that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead.

PASSING DEFENSE

Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as San Francisco's secondary struggled and the pass rush was quiet. But, just like everything else, the pass defense improved in the second half. Still, it wasn't good enough.

RUSHING DEFENSE

This wasn't a big problem for the 49ers because the Ravens came out throwing in the first half. But the 49ers held Ray Rice in check when he did run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

San Francisco allowed Baltimore's Jacoby Jones to return the second-half kickoff 108 yards to take a 28-6 lead. But the 49ers did stop a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter and David Akers made three field goals.

COACHING

Jim Harbaugh did a nice job of getting his team back into the game after the power outage early in the second half. But Harbaugh's team, particularly Kaepernick, seemed uptight in the first half. Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense. I can't help but wonder if his high-pressure style might be why his team started so poorly. Harbaugh's play-calling at the end of game, when the 49ers failed to score on four plays from within seven yards of the end zone, also leaves him open for plenty of criticism.



Video: Kaepernick, Young one-on-one

February, 3, 2013
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Colin Kaepernick sits down with Steve Young to discuss his 2012 season.
ATLANTA -- The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons were division rivals for more than three decades until the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. Their matchup Sunday in the NFC Championship Game marks the fifth game between the teams since the Falcons joined the NFC South.

Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information reached into the vault to pull out three memorable games between the teams. The Falcons won two of them, including one on Steve Bartkowski's last-play pass to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson in 1983. I remember living in Northern California at the time and listening to the ending of that game -- or perhaps highlights of the ending, I'm not sure -- on the radio in my dad's old Ford pickup truck.

NFL.com has video from that final play, featuring a prescient announcer's call: "You've got to go to Billy 'White Shoes' and let him do a little dance with the ball and go to the end zone."

The two other games Hawkins singled out included the 49ers' 45-35 victory over the Falcons in 1990. Joe Montana set a career high with six touchdown passes. Jerry Rice caught five of them. Rice finished the game with 13 receptions for 225 yards.

More recently, in the divisional playoffs following the 1998 season, the Falcons scored a 20-18 victory over the 49ers in Dan Reeves' first game back from quadruple-bypass surgery. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Denver.

The 49ers and Falcons faced one another for the first time in 1966 before becoming division rivals the following year. The 49ers hold a 44-30-1 lead in the all-time series, counting playoffs. That includes 43-26-1 as division rivals. The Falcons have won all four meetings since realignment.

The teams played to a 10-10 tie in 1986 when the 49ers played without Montana, who had undergone back surgery following a Week 1 injury that was considered career-threatening. David Archer's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Sylvester Stamps tied the game for Atlanta. Archer completed 16-of-35 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions. Jeff Kemp completed 13-of-29 passes for 146 yards and two picks for the 49ers.

Relief performances such as that one from Kemp contributed to the 49ers' decision to acquire Steve Young from Tampa Bay in 1987.
ATLANTA -- ESPN recently made available analyst Trent Dilfer for a media session focusing on the AFC and NFC championship games.

I've made available below some of Dilfer's comments relating to the San Francisco 49ers-Atlanta Falcons matchup Sunday.

I was not on the call, which took place Thursday.

Colin Kaepernick's fame has taken off since the Packers game, and I was wondering with the magazine covers and Kaepernick on Twitter, why has he captured football's attention this way, and do you think he's an example of evolution at the quarterback position?

Trent Dilfer: Why do I think he's so popular so early? I think he's everything you kind of want wrapped up in one. He's big. He's good-looking. He's athletic. He can throw. Very articulate. And at the same time he's a little different. He doesn't necessarily look the part. And I think that's kind of cool and cutting-edge. And he's performing. I think at the end of the day you get famous in the NFL when you light it up. And he lit it up on a huge stage. He's had a couple of big stages where he's played excellent football this year. So the math kind of adds up. But between the performance, his persona, his giftedness, and the edge that he carries, too, that makes  I guess there's intrigue about him that people are curious about and excited about.

Is he revolutionizing it? I was thinking about the statements, it's funny in today's football if you try to be wise and discerning and think about things before you say them and not knee-jerk react, you're abnormal  why aren't you reacting that he's the greatest thing ever? I think I'm fortunate that I get to work with these quarterbacks at a very young age. So, for a few years I've been kind of seeing this coming: that the biggest baddest dude is now playing quarterback. And that was not the case for a long time.

Now they take the 6-foot-6, 250-pound great athlete -– the biggest, baddest dude on the block -– and they make him a quarterback and he gets this great training growing up and because of that, they're bigger, they're faster, they're stronger. They still have the passing skills. They're going to be more durable. It's a natural progression that the quarterback run-driven game is going to enter the NFL. And the NFL purists are going to continue to say, 'Well, they'll write a book on it, figure it out," and that's not true. They've never had to deal with the Colin Kaepernick, the RG III, the next generation of quarterback coming up that are pass-first guys but also have this physicality and this expertise in the quarterback run-driven game. They've never had to deal with it before. So Colin is one of many coming up that are the biggest, baddest dude that are pass-first guys that are highly athletic and gifted in the run-driven, quarterback run-driven game.

[+] EnlargeMichael Crabtree, Colin Kaepernick
Harry How/Getty ImagesBoth Colin Kaepernick, left, and Michael Crabtree can dominate any given game, Trent Dilfer said.
Obviously you think that the quarterback running game is here to stay, but to what extent? You still have to keep the guy healthy. Colin has only played eight games this year. Almost like a convergence of events that he was able to be so healthy as to be able to run like that. If he played 16, maybe not so much. Is there still a concern about keeping the quarterback healthy? Or Chip Kelly is going to be in the NFL now. Do you see a quarterback, you know, 12 to 15 running plays a game or will it be less than that?

TD: No. I think you'll see games where it's that many carries. But, no. Once again, big question -- I'll tell you the simplest -- Steve Young and I just spent 45 minutes talking about the same thing before I got on this call. The answer, believe it or not, for defenses, because there's a numbers advantage -- so the run-driven game, you have to first look at it conceptually. The quarterback run-driven game, you're always going to have a numbers advantage on offense when the quarterback's the runner, if you formation it right. Unless the defense plays what we call Cover 0 where there's no safety.

Nobody does that in the NFL because they're NFL receivers, beat the corner, quick touchdown. Setting that aside, everybody thinks the most dangerous part of the zone read or all the wrinkles off the quarterback running, when in reality what you want to do is the defense gets the quarterback to run. For the same reasons that all the purists are saying because eventually the quarterback running too much, getting hit too often is not going to survive. All that is true.

The issue, though, is it's going to be situational. You may not see him run for three and a half quarters. Still show run, and read and defense is taking it away, yada yada, looks like a normal offensive day and then on the third-and-6, in the fourth quarter, out to the fourth quarter, they're going to get you in a pass-first defense where they're defending the pass and they can run these quarterback runs, zone read or whatever it is, and they have not just a one-man advantage. Many times there's a two-man advantage, depending on formation and how the defense is set up.

I know this is a long-winded answer, but this is what people need to understand. It's not going  it's never going away if the quarterback is athletic enough and skilled enough to read it, because there always will be a situation in the game where it's an advantage for the offense to run it. And it really comes down to discretion of the playcaller not to abuse it. Because what happens in football is when something's working, we live in a snap-by-snap world. There's so much pressure on these coaches. There's so much urgency to -- we're not just winning a game but to win the snap, but now because of fantasy football, it's not just winning the game it's how you win. So, it puts a lot of pressure on the playcaller to not go to the well too many times, so to speak. You have to be very judicious in when you call these runs, because you know you can save them for late in the game and certain packages and they're going to knife the defense.

So, I know it's a long-winded answer, but I wanted everybody to understand. I’ve been talking for three years now to high school coaches, college coaches that have run this and gone to the zone read and studied it ad nauseum and it's not going away; you're just not going to see where the quarterback's running 10 to 12 times a game because he'll never last.

But, if you save it and you're judicious about it, now Colin Kaepernick, [against the] Miami Dolphins didn't have much success running the ball, but 4-minute drill, third-and-8, he goes 50 to seal the game, goes 30 the other night against the Packers. Russell Wilson with Seattle, they would save it for the red zone against Buffalo, long touchdown runs on it. I can go on and on. When the playcaller is judicious about it, there's some huge plays to be made.

I wanted to ask about wide receiver Michael Crabtree. What are your impressions of his development and how important that has been to this San Francisco offense kind of going to the next level?

TD: It's not surprising for those of us that have been around him. It's been, what, four years now in the league? It's surprising that he's starting to emerge [only] now. I have a chance to work out with Crab a lot, just after I retired, I was in town. He needed a guy to throw to him. I threw to him. And I remember saying this is  of all the players I picked, I never played with a stable of great receivers. But in my 14-year career he was the most electric guy I've ever worked out with, outside of the four walls. And I knew it was just a matter of time before he got in the system that kind of enhanced the skill set.

He was also banged up for a while. When you have a foot injury like he had for a couple of years, it's really limiting. There's also rumors about him not being a team guy and all that. I understand why he's just starting to surface. But he's always been this guy. I think the best thing that staff has done, especially the offensive coordinator, they've really  because they're a run-driven offense and they can create so many defined looks, like they know where the ball's going to go in the passing game a lot of times because they kind of dictate the looks, they put him in a position, they moved him around to where he's most of the time the primary read. So he's going to get involved in the game early. And every good player I've ever played with and guys I've talked to, you can talk to Key(shawn Johnson) about this or Cris (Carter) about that. If they get involved early and they know they're a focal point of the offense, they're naturally going to play with greater energy, more momentum. They're going to be more dominant.

And I think the Niners have done an incredible job, every game you study, those first few passes that they're designing for specific purposes, you know, emphasize Crab. And they get him going early. And then as the game wears on, he just naturally becomes the dominating force throughout it. He obviously is a very good run after the catch. He was that way at Texas Tech. I think the best thing he does which doesn't get talked about a lot is his conflict catches, when he's getting hit and catching the ball. That's the hardest thing for receivers, tight ends, when they're in conflict, tight cover -- still catching the ball. He's got some huge conflict catches this year that have moved the chains and led to points for the Niners.

The question I have is with Colin Kaepernick and the Falcons' defense. They struggled with all their running quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson last week. Watching film of how he picked apart Green Bay, what do you see Mike Nolan is doing to kind of improve their chances this week?

Now they take the 6-foot-6, 250-pound great athlete - the biggest, baddest dude on the block - and they make him a quarterback and he gets this great training growing up and because of that, they're bigger, they're faster, they're stronger.

-- Trent Dilfer, on Colin Kaepernick and the new generation of quarterbacks
TD: I think all the defensive coordinators are starting to learn from other coordinators' failures defending the quarterback run-driven game. And I spent all day yesterday trying to put on my defensive-coordinator hat and studying Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and RG III and the similarities of these zone-read games and all the wrinkles off of it. And what all coordinators do is what I did yesterday is they go through hours and hours of film and they kind of see what fronts and coverages and spacing is working most often. You don't want to get knifed as a defense.

You don't mind if you get the little incisions every once in a while. You're not overly concerned if  make them march the ball we don't want to give away the big play. Mike Nolan, he's doing the same thing, trying to develop a plan that increases his odds of not giving up the big play, the big knifing play.

The similarities have been defensive fronts have moved around at the line of scrimmage before the snap, kind of confusing the blocking schemes. Linebackers with their eyes very much on their gap, not necessarily the mesh between the running back and the quarterback. And then in the passing game, you know, really eyeballs on the quarterback. And that's all the big plays that these running quarterbacks are making, whether they're scrambles or quarterback-driven runs, the eyes of the secondary players and the linebackers are getting caught up either focusing on receivers or focusing at the line of scrimmage. The teams that have slowed it down have really good eye discipline.

So, he's going to build a bunch of fronts. So front-seven spacing, easiest way to say it. That's going to confuse the blocking schemes of the 49ers, and where all the eyeballs of those defenders are very keyed in to the quarterback, especially in the pass drops. When that's happening, you're forcing these quarterbacks to be passers like everybody else. They're really getting in trouble when they're diving in the line of scrimmage or chasing receivers around the field, that's when a lot of these big plays are happening.

Do you think that will help them from having the experience from those other guys, just everything they did wrong to help them get it right this week?

TD: I think so. I'm not saying he's going to come up with the genie-in-the-bottle plan, but I think every coordinator learns from other coordinators' mistakes. One of the best ways I've seen coaches coach, they get in the film room with the team and say here's 15 plays, this is where the teams playing this guy have gotten in trouble so let's avoid these situations. So we built a plan to keep you guys away from these situations.

So, I think you're going to see a lot of people on the line of scrimmage and zone-based schemes. That's the easiest way to say it. It's seven, eight guys around the line of scrimmage, kind of moving around, and then as they  if it's a pass, as they pass-drop, really standard zone pass-drops where all their eyeballs are on Colin Kaepernick. And in the run game you try to create as many people around the line of scrimmage as possible. You don't always have the numbers advantage. But if you've confused the blocking schemes you can get off blocks easier and get in the gaps quicker.

Continuing with the Falcons. They got the monkey off their back, so to speak, with the playoff win last week but seems like they're not getting a lot of respect at least for a No. 1 seed. Underdogs at home. Experts are picking the 49ers to win. Does it surprise you? Is it warranted that Atlanta still has some doubters now?

TD: I kind of see both sides of it. We're so -- as analysts, as writers, as a football-consuming audience, we love the quantifiable. We love being able to say, hey, they're this because here's a number to support it. And we don't dive into the psychology of it and the intangible qualities teams have. So from the quantifiable, it's very understandable why people don't believe in the Falcons. They don't do anything outside their passing game that just jumps out at you and says wow they're really good at A, they're really good at B. They also play a lot of tight games against opponents that are, quote/unquote, not top-tier teams. For all those reasons, I understand it. And at times I find myself getting caught up in that, too.

[+] EnlargeJayron Hosley
AP Photo/John AmisJulio Jones "is really the fear-factor guy" for the Atlanta Falcons, Dilfer said.
I just know that sometimes the most powerful thing in football is confidence, which you can't quantify. It's momentum that you can't quantify. It's will, competitive will, to make big plays in big moments. There's no number to support. When I look at the Falcons in that light, I see a lot of that stuff. I see a lot of the unquantifiable stuff that goes, that I go, wow, this team's really good. Seven fourth-quarter comebacks. Some of their comebacks are 30 seconds on the clock and getting the ball where they get it. Stops in games where they've been gashed on defense. But a big third-and-3, they come up with a big stop. They force a turnover. They don't flinch. So for all those reasons I really like the Falcons. But from a personnel, quantifiable matchup, they don't match up against the 49ers. So to me the game comes down to kind of the hidden intangible qualities of each team and which one is going to surface the most. I hope I answered your question. Trying to give you both sides of it.

Could you give a quick scouting report of what makes the Falcons wide receivers so tough and how you think the 49ers' secondary matches up against (Julio) Jones and (Roddy) White?

TD: And a great question. I've studied them a lot especially last week, I studied both of them a ton. I'll start with Julio, because I really believe -- I'm not taking anything away from Roddy. But I think Julio is really the fear-factor guy. When you're a dynamic passing game, you have a skill-position guy that creates fear in the defense. Like how they line up changes because that guy's on the field and that's Julio. He creates a lot of attention. And I don't like to just use the word double-covered, because we've ruined that whole term. A lot of eyeballs, a lot of attention on where Julio lines up. They know on the defensive side if they make the slightest mistake with how they line up, what their personnel shift is, what the personnel grouping is, their spacing, that they're one play away from just getting gashed. So why he's very good at the line of scrimmage, for a big man, he has very sudden feet.

It's not just quick. It's quick and explosive. That's why I use the term "sudden." He's very hard to jam. He's very competitive at the moment of truth catching the ball in contested coverage. He runs very good routes. And he's diverse. This year he's very diverse as a route-runner. Last year there were four or five things he did well. Everything else is kind of not quite sure if he would be in the right spot at the right time. Now they move him around. He's very precise in his route-running. He's explosive after the catch. He catches the ball in all three levels of the defense. The first level, second level, third level. Creates a lot of fear for the defense.

Roddy, the best auxiliary receiver in the league because he really could be a 1. But in this offense, he serves as a 2. And he gets the benefit of a lot of that attention that Julio gets from the defense. They run a lot of stuff where Julio will take the top off the coverage, for lack of a better term, or generate a lot of interest by the defense and Roddy's explosive enough and crafty enough to find those spots. And then you add (Tony) Gonzalez on there, obviously there's middle-of-the-field attention. So Roddy is more of a space guy, he works well in the space for the defense. Julio is more of a guy that creates space in the defense.

Most of us have a tendency to lump Kaepernick in the group with RG III and Russell Wilson and some of the quarterbacks of that style. And that's probably true to some extent. I'm wondering is he unique in his own way compared to some of those guys?

TD: It's a great question. I'm a big believer in what separates the better players in the league is a unique trait. You just go any position in the NFL. You say, OK, what separates person A from person B. It's usually one dominant unique trait that he has, another guy doesn't have. You know, Colin, RG3, Russell Wilson, one thing they're all very similar in -- this is what I'm trying to keep hammering home to people -- is between the ears. They're very smart kids. They're very poised individuals. They're highly, highly competitive. Their competitive temperament is built for the position.

And that is more important than the physical skill sets. But I think what maybe makes Colin unique to the other two is he's got the thickness, kind of the strength of Russell Wilson in a 6-foot-6 frame with the foot speed of RG III. You don't see many athletes like that. Like people keep talking about Colin is going to get hurt like RG III got hurt. I've been next to Colin. I'm 6-4, 238, and he makes me look tiny. I mean, he is 6-5. He's huge. I mean, he has big, thick joints in his upper body. Big wrist. Big neck, big shoulders. Wide hips. I know he's got skinny legs, but he's a thick dude. Works very hard in the weight room. He's going to be durable.

That's what makes him unique physically is that he's not only a great foot athlete, but he's got the stature of a tight end that can take, that can absorb some punishment. So I'm blown away -- even when I studied him coming out of the draft, I was like he's different. I didn't want to say better. He was just different than anybody else you studied because of his physical makeup. And he had the mind to fit it as well.

Around the NFC West: Year of QB surprise

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
9:40
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This will go down as the year of the unconventional quarterback decision in the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks went with third-round rookie Russell Wilson over free-agent addition Matt Flynn even though Flynn had signed a $19.5 million contract months earlier.

The Arizona Cardinals went with 2010 fifth-round choice John Skelton roughly one year after committing $12.5 million per season to Kevin Kolb.

Now, with the San Francisco 49ers charging toward a second consecutive NFC West title, Colin Kaepernick is taking over for Alex Smith even though Smith has a 19-5-1 record over his past 25 regular-season starts.

The video from Smith's media session Wednesday captures the quarterback's emotional state following Colin Kaepernick's promotion over him as the San Francisco 49ers' starter.

Check it out here.

I also recommend listening to Steve Young's recent appearance on KNBR. Young breaks down the decision with great insight.

"Alex is going to man up," Young said. "It's going to be brutal. I'm sure these are some of the most brutal days of his career despite all the things he has seen. This is a hard, hard time to walk into work and see that his job is gone and still stay strong, do the work, be ready to play, not let the resentment get to you, not let the double talk you are getting from the building -- because they don't know how to say it.

"They don't know how to tell him, 'You have set records for most consecutive passes without an interception in 49ers history. You led the most yards an offense has ever had [for one game] in 49ers history. You were 18-of-19 [against Arizona], the best passing percentage in the history of the 49ers this year. We're 7-2 and running away from the division, but you are benched. That's a tough one."

NFL32: Mort on Seahawks, Young on Vick

September, 22, 2012
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Good morning. I ran across this video with Chris Mortensen's thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks and Steve Young's thoughts on Michael Vick, the quarterback Arizona will be trying to stop Sunday. Wanted to pass along.

Young notes that Vick has struggled throwing down the middle in particular.

Vick has completed only 6 of 16 passes for 44 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions over the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His highest completion percentage has been throwing left (68.2), but he has been most efficient throwing right (103.4 NFL passer rating).

ESPN loading up NFC West coverage

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
9:45
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The latest NFL programming note from ESPN stood out for its heavy dosage of NFC West coverage:
  • "Sunday NFL Countdown" features Trent Dilfer's look at the "different paths" Vernon Davis and Mike Singletary have taken since Singletary sent Davis to the locker room during a 2008 game. The timing is right for this one with Davis and the 49ers facing Singletary's Minnesota Vikings. This show begins Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.
  • "NFL Matchup" features Sal Paolantonio, Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge looking at how the Arizona Cardinals' disguised coverages fouled up Tom Brady, and if they'll bother Michael Vick; how Seattle's blitz will be key against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers; and how Alex Smith uses pre-snap adjustments to benefit the 49ers' offense. This show airs Sunday at 3:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
  • "Monday Night Football" features the Seahawks and Packers from CenturyLink Field. A two-hour pregame show features Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Stuart Scott, Dilfer, Steve Young, Rick Reilly and Lisa Salters.

What, nothing on the St. Louis Rams? Must be another case of West Coast bias.

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