When the 49ers Have the Ball
Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore waves the championship t-shirt after his win against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. The 49ers defeated the Falcons 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
While absolutely no discussion is allowed here about Colin Kaepernick’s biological mother, his abilities as a quarterback are what have made this offense a formidable pairing with their defense. Many describe the pistol offense as a gimmick, but the 49ers are actually running schemes that are more old-school power football than any other team in the league.
Power blocking in Wham, Power O and Trap plays date back to the Bill Walsh days in San Francisco. Pulling guards and downhill runs are prevalent in the offense, but the only wrinkle is that by allowing Kaepernick the ability to keep the football, he essentially acts as another blocker by evening the numbers up front.
Ray Lewis is a step or five slower than he was in his prime, and strong safety Bernard Pollard will have to become very involved in stopping Kaepernick. But even more important is that Haloti Ngata and gang do not get bowled over by a mauling 49er offensive line. The 49ers, like Sid Gillman originally hypothesized when he created the modern passing game, using every square inch of the field to create mismatches. Kaepernick is a talented passer that does not have to take risks because, again like Gillman, he can put stress on a single defender and make a decision easily based on his multiple talents.
Now, Lewis and Dannell Ellerbee have to pick their poison. Do they try to stop the run or the pass? Do Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger commit to the cornerback or the running back. A young quarterback benefits from easy decisions, and the mathematical advantage of the read-option and the inverted veer provide that.
When throwing the ball, the 49ers have one of the best wide receivers against man coverage in Michael Crabtree. If Bernard Pollard is forced to play in the box, then that will come to the forefront quickly because the Ravens often play either Cover 1 or Cover 3. Randy Moss is not the receiver he once was, and the loss of Mario Manningham depleted their wide receiver depth. Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have done an outstanding job of using multiple formations and methods of attack to make up for the lack of depth, however.
Like last week, tight end Vernon Davis needs to be a big weapon against the far less athletic linebacking corps. But, to counteract their slow feet, the Ravens are a very smart defense in the box. They will want to collapse the middle of the pocket and contain the outsides, making Kaepernick uncomfortable in a dirty pocket with no escape. They will not make the same mistake that the Packers did and play exclusively man coverage for this reason, so expect a good dose of Cover 3 with Pollard playing the robber role.
This could go down as one of the greatest championship games in recent memory if the brothers Harbaugh make this as in-depth of a chess match as many expect. If nothing else, we all long for the moment when the talk of antlers, retirement, adoption and familial relations go out the window and we are treated to a Super Bowl.