In our first of three insider reports on the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl XLVII opponent, the San Francisco 49'ers, we hook up with our counterpart over at 49ers101, Mark Ortiz to get the inside scoop on the 49'ers offense.
Ravens101: America has seemed to fall in love with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with his great play and out of nowhere brilliance, as the Super Bowl will be just his 11th start at quarterback. Is it solely the ability to run the read option that makes Kaepernick so good? Or is it because he is a legitimate threat to throw the football all over the field?
Most certainly there is a Kaepernick bandwagon now, however, a closer look at his success reveals that it is not so much his talent, but the talent around him that makes him effective. Sure he has a big arm, and sure he can run as well as any running back in the league, but his success is directly related to the success of Frank Gore. If Gore is keeping the linebackers and offensive line fixated on stopping him, that in turn opens up the option game and the play action passing that Kaepernick has become so adept at. If not for Gore making an impact, the 49ers become one-dimensional. Gore is the catalyst of the 49ers offense and Kaepernick reaps the benefits, as most quarterbacks do. And with an offensive scheme designed around the individual talents of Kaepernick, he is finding avenues of success on a more consistent basis than many quarterbacks that are asked to fit into a particular scheme. So yes his talents carry him over the top, but the talents of his teammates and offensive coordinator is what gets him up the hill.
Absolutely, but to no fault of his own. When Kaepernick took over, the 49ers implemented a new offensive system that revolved around his talents. Unfortunately that left Gore without the benefit of the running lanes he had been accustomed to behind Alex Smith. With the option offense in full swing now, Gore is relegated to a decoy of sorts on many occasions. It garners Kaepernick a lot of yards in the process, but Gore has seen his yards per carry drop considerably. And when he does get ample rushing opportunities, it is still in the option design, so he is rarely afforded open running lanes for big yardage. He still gets his carries, but those carries are generally an attempt to keep the linebackers honest.
Ravens101: Michael Crabtree is by far and away the biggest receiving threat the 49ers have, is the secret to shutting down this offense simply to shut down Crabtree?
Not at all, shutting down Crabtree is not the key to disabling the 49ers offense. It would make it much more difficult on the offense if Crabtree is taken out of the picture, but he is merely a piece of the vehicle that is the 49ers offense. He is no doubt the biggest benefactor of the 49ers passing game, and he has blossomed into a very good football player. But again, the engine that drives this offense is the production of Frank Gore. If Gore does not get the ball consistently, then Crabtree is taken out of the picture by way of the defense laying in wait for the 49ers to throw to him. Sure he can make some amazing catches, and he might break away from some tackles for a big gain or two. But defenses can hone in on or double-team him if Gore is not part of the game plan. The secret to shutting down the 49ers offense is shutting down the Gore running game. In three of the four San Francisco losses during the regular season, Gore’s carries were drastically limited, 12 in the loss to Minnesota, eight in the loss to New York, and six in the loss to Seattle.
No doubt a major concern, just look at the fate of Robert Griffin III. Consistently putting your quarterback in harms way is never a good idea. All it takes is one hit, one twist the wrong way, one buckle to a joint, and the season is over for the quarterback. Yeah that can happen to anyone, but the quarterback is the most important person on the field, on any team, in any offense. As for how Smith will respond if called upon in the event that Kaepernick goes down with an injury, that is a question that 49ers hope they don’t have to answer. Smith thus far has been a consummate professional in regards to how his season unfolded. He has dealt with a career worth of adversity in the past. And he is playoff tested from just one year ago. The question really lies in the offensive scheme, can it change at a moments notice to revolve once again around Smith rather than Kaepernick. One thing is for sure, Smith is not a read option quarterback, that offensive system was built around Kaeprnick. If he goes down, the whole offense changes, not just the quarterback. Sure Smith will put in his best effort to become a Super Bowl champion, but revamping the offense will also alter the rest of the team’s assignments.
The 49ers win the Super Bowl if they utilize the talents of Frank Gore early and often. He is the engine that drives this team. Even with a limited number of yards per carry, his touches forces the defense to be constantly aware of his production potential. Gore opens up the entire offense for Kaepernick and company to showcase their individual talents. If Gore gets 20 to 25 carries, the 49ers offense is very difficult to stop.
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