Everyone has a bad day at the office. Unfortunately for quarterbacks, their bad days play out on millions of TV screens, as fans and fantasy players despair. Mark Schofield breaks down how San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick ended up in quicksand on Sunday.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick got off to a disastrous start against the Arizona Cardinals – and then it got worse. He threw an interception returned for a touchdown on his first throw of the game. He followed that up with another pick on the 49ers second drive of the game, also returned for a score. On both plays, scheme, defensive recognition and a bit of panic in the passer played roles.
The 49ers face a 3rd and 10 on their own 13-yard line and Kaepernick is in the shotgun with dual slot formations on the field. Vernon Davis is in the right slot as part of the 11 personnel group. The Cardinals deploy a 2-2-7 sub package, showing Cover 2 Man Under before the snap:
The secondary rolls into Cover 1. Safety Tony Jefferson (#22), lined up in the slot over Davis, blitzes off the edge. Linebacker Alex Okafor (#57) lines up in a wide 9 alignment on the opposite side, also blitzes. Inside Okafor stands safety Deone Bucannon (#20), lined up in the B Gap – he blitzes. Finally, linebacker A.Q. Shipley (#51) lines up off the football and across from the right tackle, but he’s also blitzing as well. The Cardinals end up sending six rushers, from wildly different angles:
The 49ers counter with an out/streak combination on the right. Wide receiver Quinton Patton (#11) runs the deep vertical route while the tight end Davis breaks off a deep out. From the slot on the left side of the formation, Anquan Boldin (#81) runs a deep cross while Torrey Smith (#82) runs a deep curl route:
Kaepernick tries to keep his eyes off the rush and on Davis:
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Cornerback Justin Bethel (#28) picks up the tight end in man coverage, and undercuts this route beautifully. The end zone angle gives us a better indication of how the CB was able to break so decisively on this throw:
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First, watch the quarterback’s helmet. Other than a quick, cursory glance toward Boldin on the left, Kaepernick locks right onto Davis, bird dogging the route the whole way. Second, the protection breaks down in the face of the pressure scheme. Both Shipley and defensive end Calais Campbell (#93) attack the A-Gap. Carlos Hyde (#28) cannot pick up both rushers, and each pose a threat to the QB. As Campbell stunts inside from the edge, fellow DE Frostee Rucker (#92) – who began this play lined up as a 0 technique nose tackle – cuts into the opposite A Gap to put pressure on the quarterback.
Given how long Kaepernick stared at his target, the throw needed to be perfect. But with bodies at his feet, the QB cannot step into the throw. This gives the defensive back enough time to cut in front of the route, snare the ball and score.
While scheme was the driving force behind the first interception, recognition played a huge role in the second. Still in the first quarter and trailing by 7, the 49ers face 1st and 10 on their own 30-yard line. They put Kaepernick in the pistol with 21 offensive personnel on the field, with a slot formation to the right, and Hyde and fullback Bruce Miller (#49) in the backfield. The Cardinals have a 3-3-5 package with the safety Buchanon deployedas an inside linebacker. The defense shows Cover 4 in the secondary:
San Francisco tries play action on this play, with Kaepernick taking the snap, opening to his left and faking an inside zone run to Hyde, before pulling the ball out and working through his progressions. Davis runs and out-and-up on the left, while Boldin and Smith run an out/curl combination on the right:
Kaepernick checks Davis on the out-and-up, finding him covered. The QB then works to the slot side of the field and spots Boldin on the out route. But as he locates his WR – and well before he makes the throw – safety Tyrann Mathieu (#32) is already breaking on Boldin:
To make matters worse, the QB double-clutches this throw, before finally releasing a pass while falling away from the target because of pressure in his face. Lightning strikes again:
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From behind the offense, you get the view of the Titanic as it encroaches upon the iceberg:
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Kaepernick comes out of the fake to Hyde and checks the TE on the out-and-up route. But with a linebacker and two defensive backs on that side of the field, this route is well-covered. Kaepernick hangs with this route a bit longer than he should, before coming to the slot side of the field.
By now time is running out, but the QB still pumps once, perhaps because he wanted to throw to Smith on the deep curl route but notices Buchanon breaking under that route. Regardless of the reason, that just gives more time for Mathieu to close. By the time Kaepernick attempts his falling-away throw, he cannot get the ball to Boldin with enough zip, and the safety is in position for the interception.
Of course the pick-six would not have been possible without the great recognition from Mathieu. Returning to the above still, the safety has planted his foot in the turf and is breaking on this route well before Kaepernick has even finished reading the out-and-up route from his tight end. That is a great job of identifying the pattern and making a play from the young safety.
Kaepernick ended up in quicksand and benched, throwing two more interceptions on the day, finishing with only 9 completions on 19 attempts for a mere 67 yards. If these plays are any indication, the 49ers passing game needs to sort out some issues before next Sunday and the Packers roll into town.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.