Sports Out West

Kaepernick, 49ers have a different approach in the playoffs

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The Colin Kaepernick we saw playing for the San Francisco 49ers in their 23-20 Wild Card victory over the Green Bay Packers looked very familiar. The quarterback played fearless and confident, moving his team down the field with his arms and legs and making some of his biggest plays when it mattered most during the game’s final drive. This was the player most expected to see for much of 2013.

When you look at Kaepernick’s season as a whole, it’s the story of a young quarterback experiencing ups and downs in the NFL. His Week 1, 412-yard and three-touchdown performance was not typical of him or the San Francisco offense and may have set a standard that he had no way of living up to. The 49ers are not a team that passes that ball 39 times a game as they did in Week 1. In fact, the 49ers had the least pass attempts of any team in the NFL with 417.

In the weeks that followed his opening day onslaught, Kaepernick struggled. In games 2-10, he averaged only 154 yards passing and threw seven of his season total of eight interceptions. The 49ers went 5-4 during this span. It became apparent that Kaepernick would need to make adjustments in his play and in games 11-16, it appeared he had done so. He completed 61.8 percent of his passes and averaged 232 yards a game. He had a 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and the team finished the year on a 6-0 run. The return of Michael Crabtree in Week 13 was a huge boon to the offense and a big factor in the quarterback’s resurgence, but Kaepernick was still the one who had to facilitate it all.

Another topic of discussion during the regular season was Kaepernick sometimes being reluctant to run, either by design or when plays break down. The thought was that the 49ers coaching staff wanted to keep him in the pocket and keep him healthy. Kaepernick had 31 yards rushing or less in 11 of 16 games. But should that have come as a surprise? Looking back at 2012, he had 31 yards rushing or less in five of his seven regular season starts. It’s unrealistic to think that a quarterback can survive all season running at a high rate. The 49ers understand that and so does Kaepernick.

So how does all of this relate to Kaepernick’s Wild Card performance?

It’s apparent, based on trends during the season and in the postseason, that the 49ers are going to let Kaepernick play differently in the playoffs than they did during the regular slate. In 23 regular season starts, Kaepernick is averaging 5.8 carries and 33 yards rushing per game. He has scored six rushing touchdowns. In four playoff games, Kaepernick is averaging 8 carries and 90 yards rushing per game with three touchdowns. This more wide-open approach appears to translate better to Kaepernick’s style of play.  He is also averaging 44 more yards a game passing (256) in the playoffs than he does in the regular season (208).

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as the 49ers face the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Panthers’ defense held the 49ers (who were still without Crabtree when the teams met) to 151 total yards in Week 10 and Kaepernick only threw for 91 yards while rushing for a mere 16. With a different philosophy in the playoffs, both Kaepernick and the offense as a whole should be much more explosive than the one that was on display in the first game. 

Photo: Getty Images 

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a staff writer for 49erswebzone.com and 49ersgab.com. He is also a contributor to Yahoo! Voices.