Stats & Info: Colin Kaepernick

Inside the matchup: 49ers at Broncos

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsThe 49ers can't afford Manning time to throw if they want to keep him from passing Brett Favre.
Peyton Manning is two touchdown passes shy of Brett Favre’s all-time NFL record (508). Pressure will be the 49ers key to postponing the celebration another week:

49ers: Pressure Manning
Manning has been pressured (under duress or sacked) on 19 percent of his dropbacks in losses, and roughly 13 percent in wins. He's been sacked at double the rate in losses than wins.

Manning has thrown nine interceptions under duress with the Broncos; six have come in losses.

However, the 49ers problem on defense this season has been pressure, ranking 23rd in the NFL in pressure percentage, compared with 10th last season.

The Niners actually matched their season sack total with five Monday night, but that came against Austin Davis.

It could get tougher in Denver if they are missing defensive leader Patrick Willis, when they will already be without Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman.

Broncos: Keep Kaepernick in pocket
Colin Kaepernick leads the NFL with six touchdown passes thrown from outside the pocket this season, and they’ve been unconventional.

Each of the last four have come with Kaepernick running to his left (often throwing across his body), including an incredible off-balance pass to Anquan Boldin on Monday Night Football.

Kaepernick can also beat you with his legs outside. His 185 rushing yards outside the tackles this season rank behind only DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy.

The Broncos have reason to be especially concerned after Russell Wilson beat them with his legs in Week 2, handing Denver its only loss of the season.

On the Seahawks game-winning overtime drive, Wilson threw for three first downs outside the pocket, and scrambled for two more.

In that game, Wilson's eight completed passes outside the pocket were one shy of his career high.

Control tight ends
The name of the game is putting points on the board, and nobody helps their respective quarterbacks do that more than tight ends Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas.

Davis has been on the receiving end of 15 of the 49ers 31 (48.4 percent) touchdown passes since the start of last season. That makes him responsible for the highest percentage of a team’s receiving touchdowns in the NFL over that span.

On the other side, Julius Thomas leads the NFL with nine receiving touchdowns this season, tied for most by any player through his team’s first five games of a season in NFL history (Calvin Johnson – 2011).

Thomas has been tough to guard in the red zone, catching 23-of-27 targets with 15 touchdowns since the start of last season. And if Willis is out, that’s one less defender San Francisco can use to slow him.

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's winningest quarterback since 1960.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins (36) on record at Ohio State (the school first kept such records in 1960). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.

Kaepernick's success leads to big payday

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4

Harry How/Getty ImagesColin Kaepernick has a reported $61 million guaranteed to celebrate.

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year extension with the 49ers Wednesday reportedly worth more than $110 million, including a $61 million guaranteed. That would be the most guaranteed money among current NFL contracts, besting Matt Ryan’s $59 million.

The deal is an extension of Kaepernick’s cap-friendly rookie deal. Last season, the 49ers committed only $2.85 million of cap space on quarterbacks, fifth-lowest in the NFL. That figure will now be among the highest in 2014 and beyond.

Is Kaepernick worth the money, though?

Postseason success
Since making his first start in Week 11 of 2012, Kaepernick is tied for the fourth-most wins among quarterbacks (17) and has the third-best Total QBR (69.6), trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Kaepernick has been even better in the postseason, posting the best QBR (82.7) since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least three postseason starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kaepernick is also the sixth-youngest quarterback to start multiple conference championship games.

Kaepernick has been successful in the playoffs despite playing most of those games on the road. He is already 3-1 in road playoff games in his career. All other 49ers quarterbacks have combined to go 2-9 on the road, which includes Joe Montana (1-3) and Steve Young (0-3).

Areas of strength
Kaepernick’s rushing ability might be the most well-known aspect of his game. Last season, he ranked in the top four among quarterbacks in rush yards, yards per rush, rush touchdowns and rush first downs.

In the postseason, Kaepernick’s 507 rush yards are 87 shy of the most in NFL history by a quarterback, a mark currently held by former 49er Steve Young.

Kaepernick isn’t all legs, though, as he ranks sixth in yards per pass attempt since making his first NFL start.

Kaepernick has been at his best passing when facing the blitz. Opponents have sent five or more pass rushers against him on 38 percent of his dropbacks the past two seasons, highest in the NFL. His 75.2 QBR in those situations is third in the NFL, throwing 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Only Tom Brady (31 TD, 2 Int) has a better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions in that time.

Areas of improvement
Despite all this early success, Kaepernick still has areas of his game to improve, most notably passing from the pocket.

Kaepernick completed 61 percent of his passes in the pocket last season, a regression from his first year as a starter in 2012. His struggles inside the pocket were more pronounced this postseason, as he completed 54 percent of his passes, while throwing one touchdown and three interceptions.

The other big area for concern for Kaepernick is his performance against the 49ers top rival, the Seattle Seahawks. He's just 1-3 in his career against the Seahawks, including the loss in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. Kaepernick has just five losses against all other opponents.

With the Seahawks locking up Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas this offseason, as well, beating Seattle will continue to be a tough task for Kaepernick and the 49ers.

Seahawks defense pounces on 49ers' lapses

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20

Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports Richard Sherman (25) and the Seahawks flexed their strength in the second half
In earning their spots in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks (the NFL’s top scoring defense) and the Denver Broncos (the league’s top scoring offense) rode their strengths to victory in Sunday’s Conference Championship games.

The Seahawks, trailing 10-3 at halftime, made 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick pay for his second-half lapses. The Broncos inflicted the worst postseason thrashing on a Patriots defense in at least the past eight seasons.

Seahawks’ defense rises, Kaepernick’s QBR falls
Entering Sunday’s NFC Championship game, Colin Kaepernick had an 85.4 Total QBR in the playoffs, the highest total since 2006 among quarterbacks with at least five postseason starts. Behind strong running (eight rushes for 98 yards), Kaepernick posted a 96.8 first-half Total QBR, his strongest first half in a playoff game in his career. His best first half had been 88.2 against the Falcons in the NFC Championship last year.

Here’s how his QBR fell apart:

    6:38/3rd: Kaepernick hits Anquan Boldin for a touchdown for a 17-10 lead. QBR: 96.2

    10:17/4th: Kaepernick takes a delay of game penalty and loses a fumble on a sack on the next play. QBR: 83.3

    7:44/4th: On his next pass, he throws an interception to Kam Chancellor that leads to a Seahawks field goal. QBR: 69.7

    0:30/4th: His final interception in the end zone seals the game. QBR: 65.1.

Kaepernick’s erratic second-half play was forced by a revived Seahawks defense. In the first two quarters, the Seahawks defense contributed -3.5 points to the team’s scoring margin, its third-worst first-half mark this season. In the second half, the defense contributed 4.6 points to the scoring margin. The 8.1-point difference is tied for the Seahawks’ second-largest positive swing from a first to a second half (27.4 in Week 4 against Houston and 8.1 in Week 14 against San Francisco).

Kaepernick’s second-half QBR of 27.0 is his worst performance in a half of any playoff game in his career. His previous low was 39.4 in the first half of the Super Bowl last season.

Manning sets QBR Standard in Rematch
Sunday’s AFC Championship game differed considerably from the season’s first meeting between the Broncos and Patriots. Perhaps the most significant difference was the performance of Peyton Manning.

He had a 28.1 QBR in Week 12, a 34-31 overtime loss by the Broncos. On Sunday, with more at stake, Manning posted an 88.8 QBR – not only enough to eliminate the Patriots, but also enough to set a standard against a coach regarded for his defensive acumen. That 60.7 change in QBR was the greatest QBR increase in a rematch game against a Bill Belichick-led defense in the QBR era.

Since 2006, a quarterback has started against the same defense twice in a season 664 times (not including the rare third matchup in a season – such as in Sunday’s NFC Championship game). Looking at all QB-opponent matchups, QBR drops 3.2 points on average from the first to the second meeting.

Quarterbacks have fared worse against the Patriots. Against a Belichick-coached defense, opponent QBR in a rematch has dropped 8.8 points on average, more than 2 times greater than the league average.

Before Sunday, Peyton Manning had faced the same opponent twice in the same season 27 times (since 2006). In the rematch game, Manning’s QBR rose 5.0 points on average, the fifth-highest average change among QBs who have had at least 10 rematches in that span.

Two of the dynamics entering the game were defenses historically improving against a quarterback the second time around and Manning typically improving against a defense in a rematch. But the magnitude of Manning’s improvement and the Patriots’ deterioration would have been hard to predict.

Sunday’s game was the Patriots’ worst defensive effort in the playoffs in terms of points contributed since 2006. The defense contributed -14.5 points to the Patriots’ scoring margin against the Broncos.

In all three games in which the Patriots faced a starting quarterback for the second time this season, he improved his Total QBR from the first matchup, the first time that happened in a Patriots season in ESPN’s data set (since ’06). New England lost all three games.

With his improvement in his second game against the Patriots, Manning surpassed Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins, who had a 29.8 QBR followed by an 82.2 this season for a 52.4 point improvement.

Keys to victory: Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
The Seattle Seahawks had the top defense in the NFL during the regular season.

That unit came through when it was most needed as the Seahawks edged the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Seahawks advance to face the Denver Broncos in what will be the Super Bowl's first matchup of the top offensive team against the top defensive team since the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants in the 1990 season.

Seattle overcame a 10-point deficit to win. The Seahawks won all three games this season in which they trailed by 10 or more points.

Play of the Game- Smith’s interception
Seahwaks defensive back Malcolm Smith did not have an interception until Week 16. Heha s now had three in his past four games.

This one, which thwarted the 49ers' potential game-winning drive, came after Richard Sherman tipped away a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone.

It was only the second time in the past two seasons that Kaepernick was intercepted on a pass intended for Crabtree.

Marshawn Lynch rushed for 109 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run. This was the fourth time in his Seahawks career that he rushed for at least 100 yards in a playoff game. All other Seahawks have combined for four such games.

Lynch had 107 of those yards rushing between the tackles, the most by any player against the 49ers in the past five seasons.

Lynch has the top three rushing touchdowns by distance in Seahawks postseason history. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that his four postseason rushing touchdowns of 25 yards or more are twice as many as anyone else.

Baldwin for the win
Doug Baldwin finished with 106 receiving yards, the second-most he has had in any game in his career. He also had three kickoff returns for 109 yards, including a 69-yarder that set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka. Baldwin had returned only three kicks for the Seahawks all season prior to Sunday.

Containing Kaepernick
Kaepernick had a 58-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but did not scramble much after that. Kaepernick had only three second-half rushes after running eight times in the first half.

Kaepernick also finished 2-for-9 for 33 yards and two interceptions on throws outside the painted numbers, including the 49ers' final play of the season.

Kaepernick threw multiple interceptions in a game for the second time this season. The other instance was a three-interception game against the Seahawks in Week 2.

Seahawks or 49ers: Who has it better?

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks and 49ers will battle for the third time this season on Sunday.
Who’s got it better than the last two teams left in the NFC?

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are built around talented, young quarterbacks who are not even the highest paid signal-callers on their respective teams. The extra cap space has left room to build balanced rosters full of veterans on both sides of the ball.

Over the next two days, ESPN Stats & Info will break down the offensive and defensive position groups to determine which team truly has it better on Sunday.

Let’s start with the offensive skill positions.

Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have gone in opposite directions since the start of their Week 14 matchup in San Francisco. The 49ers have not lost and Kaepernick has been very efficient. Wilson and the Seahawks are 3-2 while averaging just 158 passing yards per game.

Kaepernick and the 49ers are simply the hotter team right now.

But hot teams and quarterbacks have a tendency of cooling off in Seattle. Four quarterbacks, including Kaepernick, posted games with a Total QBR of under 15. Drew Brees couldn’t crack 40 in either of his two starts.

Of Kaepernick’s four worst games as a starter in term of Total QBR, two were in Seattle. The fifth-worst was against the Seahawks in San Francisco.

Seattle has been able to contain Kaepernick with its four-man pass rush. He's completed only 49 percent of his throws, with two touchdowns and five interceptions when facing that rush, one that has also limited his scrambling success (he's gotten first downs on only 22 percent of scrambles against four-man rushes, on 65 percent of scrambles when an opponent sends five men or more).

The biggest issue for Kaepernick in Seattle has been his performance on third down. In his two starts at CenturyLink Field, Kaepernick completed 5 of 16 passes for 35 yards and three interceptions on third down. The Seahawks defense added two sacks and their fans helped add two delay of game penalties.

Pick: Wilson has it better Sunday. He’s 16-1 at home (including playoffs) with 33 total touchdowns. Kaepernick has not been able to figure out the 12th Man yet.

Running Backs
Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch have been two of the most productive running backs over the last decade, with both ranking in the top-10 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns over that span.

As the chart shows, Gore and Lynch are in great company when it comes to rushing production in the playoffs.

Pick: Lynch has it better. He has three 100-yard games against the 49ers over the last three seasons. All other individual rushers outside of Seattle have combined for two 100-yard games against the 49ers in 42 games.

The Seahawks finished the regular season sixth in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) on passing plays. Passing EPA takes into account everything an offense does to affect the score via pass plays.

The success of the Seahawks pass-catchers is even more impressive considering the injuries and poor performance from the top earners. The Seattle receivers who cost the most against the cap in 2013 were Zach Miller ($11M, 33 receptions), Sidney Rice ($9.7M, 15 receptions, placed on IR in October) and Percy Harvin ($4.9M, one reception, PUP list).

Kaepernick has a Total QBR of 82 when Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are all on the field. Davis’ seven career receiving touchdowns in the postseason are second in 49ers history behind only Jerry Rice.

Pick: 49ers have the better receivers Sunday. Wilson and the Seahawks made the most of what they had but the 49ers simply have too many strong options.

Manning makes most of limited yards

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning had modest traditional stats Sunday but broke the 90 barrier in Total QBR.
Peyton Manning passed for 230 yards Sunday in the Denver Broncos’ 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs. Manning’s passing yards were his second-fewest of the season. But Manning piled up those yards when it counted the most, leading to a milestone Total QBR for the Broncos quarterback.

Manning’s final statistics (25 of 36 passing, two touchdowns, one interception) might not seem like the high-flying numbers fans got used to during his record-breaking regular season, but the circumstances surrounding his big plays helped him post a career playoff-best 91.1 Total QBR.

In the first quarter, Manning completed 7 of 9 passes for 71 yards and one touchdown, helping the Broncos build their 7-0 lead; his Total QBR was 98.9. By halftime, Manning had thrown for 100 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, completing 11 of 16 throws and leading the Broncos to a 17-0 lead; his Total QBR was 90.4.

The Broncos held a double-digit lead until there was 3:53 left in the fourth quarter, making Manning’s second-half performance less relevant than the plays he made in the first half. His Total QBR did not drop below 85 after his first completion, with 8:41 left in the first quarter.

Manning has the most games (including the postseason) of 90+ QBR since 2006 – and it’s not close. Sunday’s game was his first in the postseason with a QBR that high in the eight seasons for which ESPN has QBR data.

Panthers go nowhere inside the 10
The Carolina Panthers’ offense was locked down inside the San Francisco 49ers’ 10-yard line in the 49ers' 23-10 victory. The Panthers’ offense contributed -9.5 expected points, the Panthers’ worst showing in that part of the field in the eight seasons of ESPN’s data set.

The Panthers rushed the ball four times from the 49ers’ 1-yard line, getting stopped all four times for a combined loss of one yard, including one failed fourth-down attempt in the first quarter. In all, the Panthers ran eight offensive plays inside the 10-yard line and came away with three points.

Expected points reflect strength of Patriots’ rushing game
As if six touchdowns weren’t impressive enough, the New England Patriots on Saturday had the second-greatest expected points of any team’s rushing game in a playoff game since 2006. LeGarrette Blount (four touchdowns) and Stevan Ridley (two) powered the Patriots’ offense against the Indianapolis Colts, combining for 38 rushes and 218 yards. The Patriots’ rushing game added 12.2 expected points, the team’s best rushing EPA in a playoff game since 2006 (their previous best was 4.2).

Brady posts high QBR despite no TD
The Patriots’ win over the Colts on Saturday marked the fourth time in 25 postseason games that Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass. Brady posted a 75.1 Total QBR, the greatest mark for any quarterback without a touchdown pass in a playoff game. He completed six of his nine third-down pass attempts, all completions for first downs, including five on touchdown drives.

Compared with Brady’s 66.7 percent conversion rate, the Colts’ Andrew Luck (7 of 14 third-down passing) posted a 42.9 percent conversion rate. The regular-season league average was 39 percent.

Wilson's low QBR doesn't stop Seahawks
Russell Wilson had a 25.9 Total QBR on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, the second-worst rating in a playoff victory in the last five seasons. Wilson completed nine of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards. He was sacked three times and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. Wilson also owns the third-worst Total QBR in a playoff victory, posting a 36.0 QBR in a win against the Washington Redskins last year.

The Seahawks’ special teams added 7.6 expected points to their net scoring margin, their highest total in a playoff game since 2006, helping them overcome Wilson’s low QBR. Steven Hauschka hit three field goals, including a 49-yard kick. The Seahawks had an average starting field position of their own 33-yard line and held the Saints to a starting field position of their 25-yard line.

Keys to victory: 49ers 23, Panthers 10

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
What were the keys to the San Francisco 49ers' 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers?

49ers chew up the clock with long drives
The 49ers had five scoring drives in this game and they lasted a combined 52 plays.

The key drives in this game were the 49ers last one of the second quarter and first one of the third quarter, each of which resulted in touchdowns. In those two drives, the 49ers ran 25 plays that gained 153 yards over a span of 8 minutes and 18 seconds. The Panthers went three-and-out in between those two touchdowns.

It helped that Phil Dawson made all three of his field goal attempts. He has now made 35 of his last 36 attempts since going 0 for 2 against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4.

Kaepernick was able to throw it
Despite being heavily pressured through much of the game, Colin Kaepernick was successful when passing downfield. He was 6 for 8 for 136 yards on throws longer than 10 yards downfield in this game. He was 0 for 6 against the Panthers in the Week 10 loss.

His 23-yard throw to Quinton Patton and 45-yard throw to Anquan Boldin were longer than any throw he completed in the previous game against the Panthers.

Boldin was the biggest beneficiary of Kaepernick’s passes. He finished with eight catches for 136 yards. Kaepernick was 4 for 4 on his second-half throws, all of which went to Boldin. Three of those passes resulted in first downs. The fourth was a yard shy of the first down.

Vernon Davis also had a touchdown catch. His seven postseason touchdown receptions are tied with Dave Casper for the most by a tight end in NFL history.

Newton struggled when pressured
The 49ers were successful when they were able to get to Cam Newton.

Newton had more passes caught by the 49ers (two) than his teammates (one) in the four instances in which he got a throw away under duress.

Newton was sacked five times. The Panthers went 0-4 this season in games in which Newton was sacked at least five times.

The Panthers failed to capitalize on the opportunities they did get. They ran eight plays inside the San Francisco 10-yard line during the game and did not score a touchdown.

Stats of the Day
The 49ers snapped their four-game road losing streak in the divisional round. This was their first playoff road win in that round since beating the Minnesota Vikings during the 1970 postseason.

The 49ers are the fourth NFL team to win 30 postseason games, joining the Dallas Cowboys (33), Pittsburgh Steelers (33) and Green Bay Packers (30).

This will be the 49ers' 15th appearance in an AFC/NFC championship game, tying the Steelers for the most all-time.

The 49ers are the first NFC team under the current playoff format (since 1990) to return to the Conference Championship the season after losing the Super Bowl.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Jim Harbaugh became the first head coach to lead his team to the AFC/NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons.

Matchups to watch: 49ers vs. Panthers

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
The Carolina Panthers defeated the San Francisco 49ers 10-9 in Week 10 as the defense clamped down and forced a career-worst performance out of Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick’s 7.7 Total QBR that day was his lowest in any game. How the Panthers were able to slow him is just one of the key matchups to watch Sunday.

49ers’ offensive line vs. Panthers’ pass rush
The six sacks taken by Kaepernick in Week 10 were the most in his career, but he was also put under duress on an additional four dropbacks. Kaepernick went 0-of-3 passing and scrambled for 1 yard on those plays.

The Panthers finished the regular season with an NFL-high 60 sacks and the pass rush was only getting stronger as the season ended. The Panthers were able to sack Drew Brees and Matt Ryan a combined 15 times the last two games of the season, with Greg Hardy accounting for nearly half (7.0).

Crabtree, Boldin, Davis vs. Panthers’ secondary
It's worth noting that Michael Crabtree wasn’t available for the Week 10 game.

With Crabtree joining Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, the 49ers may be able to ease some of the pressure and better take advantage of a secondary that allowed opponents to complete two-thirds of their passes this season, the third-highest opponents' completion percentage in the NFL.

Kaepernick has completed 64 percent of his passes this season when Crabtree, Boldin and Davis are all on field. If any of them leaves the field, his completion percentage dips to 56 percent.

Crabtree was targeted 13 times in the wild-card round against the Green Bay Packers, his second-most targets in a game in his career.

The 49ers' offense may have its hands full, but the Panthers' offense will also have some key matchups to win.

Cam Newton vs. the 49ers’ adjustments
Newton may have gotten the win in Week 10, but he finished the game with a season-low 50 percent completion percentage and a 19.6 Total QBR (third worst of season). Newton may have actually benefited too from an atypical 49ers strategy.

The 49ers sent four or fewer rushers 81 percent of the time this season (second highest in the NFL), but did so only 68 percent of the time in Week 10. Newton was solid against five or more pass-rushers (6-of-10 passing), but went 10-of-22 with an interception against four or fewer.

If the 49ers send rushers at their normal rates, Newton may struggle even more.

Panthers’ rushers vs. 49ers’ tacklers
One of the keys to victory in Week 10 was a 27-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams late in the first half.

The play was notable because Williams was able to gain the final 16 yards of the rush after being contacted. Prior to that play, the 49ers hadn’t allowed 16 yards after contact on a single rush in any game since the start of the 2010 season.

The Panthers finished the game with 61 rush yards after contact, an average of 1.97 per rush. Both remain the most this season against the 49ers, who finished the regular season as the NFL's best in both categories.

Challenges await Kaepernick, Newton

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8

ESPN Stats & InformationColin Kaepernick’s game-by-game QBR has varied based on the strength of his opponents.
Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game features a matchup between two exciting, young, dual-threat quarterbacks looking to lead their teams one step closer to the Super Bowl.

Both Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton led their teams to 12-4 records in the regular season this year, but they have been relatively inconsistent compared with other good quarterbacks. Each of them has at least five excellent games with a Total QBR of at least 80 this season, but each also has three abysmal games with a QBR below 20. Besides Andy Dalton, no other quarterbacks have that number of both great and terrible performances this year.

One explanation for this apparent inconsistency that applies to both Kaepernick and Newton is the difference in how they perform based on the quality of opposing defenses. If we divide up the 32 NFL defenses in half by opponent QBR rank – that is, defenses 1 to 16 in terms of lowest opponent QBR allowed in the top half, and defenses 17 to 32 in that category in the bottom half – and then break down each player’s performance across those categories, some startling differences emerge.

First off, Kaepernick dominated below-average QBR defenses in the regular season, going 9-0 with 18 total touchdowns and no turnovers, good for a league-best 91.2 QBR against those 16 defenses. That doesn’t include another stellar performance (88.8 QBR) against the defensively challenged Packers last Sunday at Lambeau Field.

On the other hand, his performance against upper-half QB defenses has been poor. In those games, he has more interceptions than touchdowns and has a QBR of 31.2, good for 24th out of 34 QBs with at least 150 action plays against those opponents.

The chart above shows all nine of his games (10 if you count the playoffs) with a QBR greater than 70 have come against poor QBR defenses, and he’s had a QBR significantly better than average in only one out of seven games against upper-half QBR defenses.

While the split is not as extreme for Newton, he, too, has cleaned up against bad defenses while struggling against good ones. Newton, Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks to be undefeated with at least five starts against below-average QBR defenses, but Newton’s production and his team’s record are mediocre against defenses more adept at controlling opposing signal-callers.

Below are Newton’s QBR game scores plotted by opponent strength. While the line is not as steep as with Kaepernick, most of Newton’s top performances this year have been against average-or-worse defenses, and almost all his bad performances have come against solid opposition. One exception is his 74.7 Total QBR against Seattle, good for second-best by any QB against the league’s top-ranked QBR defense this year.

ESPN Stats & Information

The difference in performance for Kaepernick and Newton is well beyond the average drop-off for this split. The NFL average QBR this season is about 45 against defenses in the top half, compared with about 63 against the lower tier.

Compare that 18-point swing to Kaepernick’s 60-point drop and a near 40-point difference for Newton. Among the 27 quarterbacks who have had at least 150 action plays against each group of defenses, those are the two largest such QBR differences.

The domination of poor defenses by these two quarterbacks is what got them to this point, but the bad news is there are no more such opponents left in the NFC playoffs. The competition gets tougher right away, as Kaepernick and Newton will face each other’s defenses, units that ranked sixth (49ers) and seventh (Panthers) in terms of Total QBR allowed in the regular season.

Neither quarterback wants a repeat of the regular-season meeting between these teams in San Francisco back in Week 10. The defenses limited them to a combined total of 218 net yards (including passing, rushing and sacks), no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 10-9 Carolina victory. Newton’s 19.6 Total QBR was the third-lowest score he put up this season, while Kaepernick’s 7.7 QBR was his career low as a starter.

One of these quarterbacks will have to play well against a top defense to help his team to the next round. But if each quarterback continues the trend of poor performance against quality competition, we could be in for another defensive struggle Sunday in Charlotte.

49ers ride Kaepernick's legs past Packers

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato Colin Kaepernick already is among the all-time leaders in postseason rushing yards by a quarterback.
The San Francisco 49ers’ 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers was the second game of the weekend’s Wild Card round to be decided on the final play of the game.

In the win over the Packers on Sunday, Colin Kaepernick rushed seven times for 98 yards. He had three rushes for 31 yards on third down (converting two), including an 11-yard third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson.

The scramble increased the 49ers’ win probability by 19.8 percentage points, to 84.8 percent. It was the the largest win probability swing in the game.

Kaepernick’s rushing against the Packers increased the 49ers’ win probability by a total of 36 percentage points, the second-greatest increase attributable to a quarterback’s rushing in a playoff game since 2006. First is Kaepernick in last season’s playoff win against the Packers.

Strength vs strength
During the regular season, the San Diego Chargers boasted the NFL’s second-best road offense, adding 12.5 expected points per game; the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense added an NFL-high 11.3 expected points per game at home. EPA uses the result of every play to evaluate what each unit contributes to a team’s net scoring margin.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Chargers’ strength came out on top, as the offense added 8.2 expected points. This was only the second instance of the Bengals’ defense having a negative EPA at home this season.

Saints' running game delivers
The New Orleans Saints rushed for 185 yards in their win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday after averaging 92.1 rush yards per game in the regular season.

When running the ball in the regular season, the Saints added -1.6 expected points per game; on Saturday, the Saints added approximately 7.0 expected points on the ground. Had the Saints had a rushing performance similar to their regular season averages, and everything else had remained the same, they would have lost in Philadelphia.

Colts had (almost) no chance
Only one team since 2006 has successfully overcome a lower probability of winning a playoff game than the Indianapolis Colts did in their game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After the Chiefs received the second-half kickoff and scored a touchdown for a 38-10 lead, the Colts’ probability of winning was 0.86.

Andrew Luck completed 17 of 24 passes with three touchdowns in the second half to spark the Colts’ rally. He finished the game with a 93.5 Total QBR.

The only other team to win a playoff game after having a lower win probability was the Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs. Trailing by seven with less than 90 seconds left, the Ravens forced the Denver Broncos to punt and took possession with a win probability of 0.74 percent. Jacoby Jones scored on a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and the Ravens won 38-35 in overtime.

Keys to victory: 49ers 23, Packers 20

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
What were the keys to the San Francisco 49ers' 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers?

Kaepernick’s scrambling ability
Colin Kaepernick had four scrambles for 85 yards, including one that got a first down on the 49ers final drive of the game.

That was the second-most scramble yards in a game this season (Russell Wilson had 91 against the Colts in Week 5).

Kaepernick finished with 98 rushing yards overall, his second-most in any game in his career (he had 181 against the Packers in the playoffs last season).

Kaepernick has 362 career rushing yards in postseason play, already the fifth-most among quarterbacks in NFL postseason history.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Kaepernick has two playoff games with at least 200 passing yards and 95 rushing yards. There have been only two other quarterbacks to have one such game—Otto Graham (in 1950 against the Rams) and Donovan McNabb (in 2003 against the Packers).

Crabtree and Davis make big impact
Michael Crabtree had a season-high eight catches for 125 yards. He has had at least 100 receiving yards in three of his last four postseason games.

Kaepernick was 5 for 6 for 95 yards on throws that targeted Crabtree more than 10 yards downfield, with one of those completions coming on the 49ers’ final drive.

The 49ers are 6-0 this season when Crabtree plays.

Vernon Davis caught his sixth touchdown pass in six career playoff games. That total is tied with Freddie Solomon and John Taylor for the second-most touchdown catches in 49ers history, trailing only Jerry Rice’s 19.

Pressuring Rodgers
The 49ers sacked or put Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers under duress on 14 of his 32 dropbacks (44 percent), despite sending five or more pass rushers on only three of Rodgers’ dropbacks (9 percent).

Rodgers was sacked four times (tied for his most in any game this season) and finished with 177 passing yards, his fewest in a postseason game.

Matchups to watch: 49ers at Packers

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
Last season, the San Francisco 49ers knocked the Green Bay Packers out of the postseason on their way to the Super Bowl. The Packers look to return the favor at home in Sunday’s wild-card game. A few matchups to keep an eye on:

Colin Kaepernick versus Dom Capers

The talk heading into their Week 1 matchup this season was how Dom Capers would scheme against Colin Kaepernick after he ran for an NFL-quarterback record 181 yards against the Packers' defense last postseason.

The Packers held the 49ers to 10 yards on seven zone-read rushes in Week 1, but Kaepernick threw for a career-high 412 yards. That included 350 from inside the pocket, which by itself would stand up as his career high.

Kaepernick has two of the four highest Total QBR games against the Packers in the last four seasons.

Kaepernick has been even better with his full complement of healthy receiving options.

Since Michael Crabtree returned in Week 13, Kaepernick has averaged nearly 50 more passing yards per game compared with his first 11 games, and his Total QBR of 73.3 ranks fourth in the NFL over the last five games.

Also, Capers will have to plan without Clay Matthews. Matthews had a season-high eight tackles, including three for a loss and a sack against the 49ers earlier this season.

Anquan Boldin vs. Packers' secondary

Anquan Boldin had 208 yards and a touchdown on 13 receptions against the Packers in Week 1, his most receiving yards since recording 217 in his NFL debut in 2003.

He was specifically a headache for the Packers out of bunch formations (three skill players clustered together, stacked on one side of the center). Boldin caught all five of his targets for 92 yards in those sets.

He also caught 4 of 5 third-down targets for 63 yards and a touchdown in Week 1.

That third-down success wasn't an aberration; Boldin ranked first in the NFL this season in third-down receptions (33), receiving yards (529) and first downs (27). Additionally, he caught 75 percent of his third-down targets, tied for the best catch percentage in the NFL among wide receivers (minimum 20 targets).

The bright lights won't intimidate Boldin. His 380 receiving yards in last year's postseason were the fourth most by a player in a single postseason under the current playoff format (since 1990).

Aaron Rodgers/Randall Cobb vs. 49ers’ secondary

Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb returned to the field against the Bears in a big way, hooking up for two touchdowns, including the game-winning score on fourth down with 46 seconds left.

Cobb played 37 of the Packers' 76 offensive snaps (48.7 percent) in that game, but made his only two targets of the game count. In fact, no quarterback and wide receiver combo has connected on a higher percentage of passes the last three seasons (minimum 150 attempts).

Rodgers was 7-of-9 passing with 108 yards and a touchdown targeting Cobb against the 49ers in Week 1, including 3-of-4 for 74 yards when he targeted Cobb at least 15 yards downfield.

The 49ers’ secondary has allowed a touchdown on such throws in four straight games, after allowing a total of two in their first 12 games this season.

This was also a weakness exposed last postseason when the 49ers allowed more touchdowns on throws at least 15 yards downfield (four) than in the entire 2012 regular season (two).

Did you know?

Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits. Since the start of 2008, his first year as a starter, Rodgers is 12-4 with the temperature at or below freezing and has the highest Total QBR (73.7) of any player to make at least three starts in such conditions.

Keys to victory: 49ers 34, Falcons 24

December, 24, 2013
What were the keys to the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff-clinching win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night?

Kaepernick comes alive in second half
Colin Kaepernick threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown in the second half, and totaled more than twice as many yards as he had in the first.

This was the second game of the season in which Kaepernick threw and ran for a touchdown (Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars).
Kaepernick completed all four of his passes when targeting Michael Crabtree in the second half after only completing 1 of 2 passes for 3 yards in the first half when targeting him.

Kaepernick has eight touchdowns and only one interception during the 49ers' five-game winning streak.

Play of the Game: All-out blitz comes through
The 49ers entered the day having blitzed on only 19 percent of opposing quarterback dropbacks, the third-lowest rate in the league.

They continued to sit back throughout much of this game, sending five pass-rushers at Matt Ryan only four times in his first 41 dropbacks.

But desperate times called for desperate measures, as the 49ers sent a seven-man rush at Ryan with the Falcons driving for a go-ahead score in the final two minutes. It worked, with NaVorro Bowman returning Ryan’s intercepted pass 89 yards for a touchdown that clinched the game.

It was the longest interception return for a touchdown for the 49ers since a Zack Bronson 97-yarder in 2001.

Stat of the Night: 49ers like Mondays a lot
The 49ers have won six consecutive “Monday Night Football” games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL. The only team with a longer streak is the Seattle Seahawks, who have won eight straight.

Top stats to know: Falcons at 49ers

December, 23, 2013

Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesThe 49ers host their last regular-season game at Candlestick Park Monday night against the Falcons.

The San Francisco 49ers will look to close out their final season at Candlestick Park in the same manner in which they often have performed there-- with a win. Here's a look at some of the top stats to know from their "Monday Night Football" meeting with the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The 49ers will clinch a playoff berth with a win, but if they lose, they will have to win or tie on the road against the Arizona Cardinals to make the playoffs. The 49ers have the NFL’s longest winning streak. They’ve won four straight games overall.

2. As Colin Kaepernick goes, so go the 49ers. Entering the week, his Total QBR in wins (85.8) ranked fourth-best in the NFL and his Total QBR in losses (17.4) ranked next-to-last, ahead of only Geno Smith.

Kaepernick has made two previous starts on Monday Night Football and posted QBRs of 97.4 against the Chicago Bears and 90.6 against the Washington Redskins.

3. Tight end Vernon Davis enters the day with a touchdown catch in five straight games. It’s the longest streak by a 49ers player since Terrell Owens had a five-game streak in 2001. The 49ers record is a 13-game streak by Jerry Rice, spanning 1986 and 1987.

4. The one thing that the Falcons have going for them: They are 6-0 on the West Coast under Mike Smith, which dates back to the 2008 season.

The biggest problem they will face on offense is trying to throw deep on the 49ers defense. The 49ers have allowed opponents to complete only 32 percent of their throws at least 15 yards downfield this season, the lowest opponents’ completion percentage in the NFL.

The 49ers are also the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in a game this season. They are allowing 99.4 yards per game on the ground (sixth-best in the NFL) and 1.2 yards after contact per rush.

5. This will be the last regular-season game played in Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960 and ranks as the NFL’s third-oldest active stadium, behind Soldier Field (opened in 1924) and Lambeau Field (which opened in 1960).

The 49ers have won 62 percent of their regular-season games at Candlestick and are 20-7 there in the playoffs, including wins in the 1981, 1984, 1989 and 1994 NFC Championships.

This will be the 36th time Monday Night Football has visited Candlestick Park, the most of any stadium. (Sun Life Stadium is next at 32.) The 49ers are 24-11 in in those games and have outscored their opponents by an average of just under 10 points per game (9.4).