This week I was excited to watch and analyze the play of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick against the Cardinals. Kaepernick is a fearless competitor with a rocket arm and has the ability to extend plays and do things like run 90 yards for a touchdown, which we fans rarely get to see.
What transpired in Week 3’s 47–7 loss was hard to watch for two reasons. First, I am a huge Kaepernick fan, and second, I have felt first-hand the awful feeling all competitors dread when you have a day as bad as he did. Let the pundits talk and the prognosticators cast doubt. There's nothing he can do but get back to practice and listen to his coaches.
The following five plays illustrate what Kaepernick must address and others that show what he can build on.
On his first pick-six, all I needed to see were his eyes and feet. Coverage on the play was man-to-man, and the Cardinals brought a blitz. With some anticipation and rhythm on Kaepernick's drop, this could be an easy completion, but his eyes are staring directly at his No. 1 option, Vernon Davis, on an out route. And his drop is lazy—there's no crossover on his three-step drop, and he bounces at the top instead of planting and throwing on time with authority to a wide-open Davis. Note how Vernon drifts at the top of his route and waits for the ball, thus creating the space needed for Justin Bethel to cut in front and take it to the house. Bad play, no excuses. The nightmare begins.
No quarterback ever wants to start a game with a pick-six, but it happens sometimes. The good quarterbacks can forget about it quickly and get back out there as if it never happened. In Colin's case, this nightmare only gets worse.
Out of a slot formation, the 49ers run a play-action pass in hopes of getting the ball to Davis on a clear/go route. The Cardinals counter with a five-man rush and a zone defense that takes away Kap’s first option, forcing him to go through his progression. Again his feet are bad. Instead of trusting them, he fades in the pocket, double pumps, stares down his receiver and throws late off of his back foot to Boldin, who I believe is his third option, on a sit route. The ball never gets to Boldin as Tyrann Mathieu reads Kap's eyes, steps in front of the ball and takes another one to the house, on Elm Street.
This next play is a good play. It’s a simple inside slant route that he throws on rhythm with accuracy and authority to Anquan Boldin. These are the easy throws he must make in order to regain his confidence and keep his offense in manageable down and distances.
I guarantee Kaepernick is working on his drop at practice right now.
On this next play you see him drift into the top of his drop, there is no three-big, two-quick footwork taking place, and he is shuffling his feet in the pocket. A simple remedy for this is to get back to basics, take some good, old-fashioned five-step drops, step towards your target and make the easy throw to a wide open Torrey Smith on the shallow cross. This is fixable and I imagine offensive coordinator Geep Chryst is having him rep this route a few times this week.
The last play I found interesting is the third pick of the game.
The Niners are in a trips formation, running a scissors route with a sit route underneath. Kaepernick is throwing towards Vernon Davis again on a corner route. He's on rhythm, makes a good read and anticipates the throw. I put part of the blame for this pick on Vernon Davis. At the top of his route Tyrann Mathieu is on his inside hip, level with him, therefore forcing him to flatten his route and turn it into an out route. Vernon takes it high on the corner route but Kaepernick's ball is already in the air, and Mathieu undercuts the route for an easy interception.
This is a miscommunication by both players, Kaepernick gets the blame, but any honest tight end knows he could have helped out by flattening his route and giving his quarterback a target.
All in all, Kaepernick looked uncomfortable in the pocket last Sunday. Don't forget about the defense he was facing—they will make many quarterbacks feel the same this season. This young quarterback is a competitor, and he will get coached up this week. He must remember that to have success as a quarterback in the NFL you have to trust your lineman and receivers, make the simple throws and stand in there and take it for the team, like Carson Palmer does here.
The sun came up on Monday and Kaepernick is still the starting quarterback—time to get to work and prepare for next week's game. Good luck this week, Kap. I'm still rooting for you.