History will tell you that a new-age “running quarterback” can’t carry a team to the Super Bowl. Experts and critics will tell you that the read-option offense is a college gimmick that won’t work in the NFL where the athletes are better and defenses are more sophisticated.
Don’t tell Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers that.
The second-year quarterback has defied all odds and silenced every critic during the Niners’ march to the Super Bowl. After taking over for Alex Smith earlier in the season after Smith sustained a concussion against the Rams, Kaepernick took advantage of the opportunity and earned the starting nod over Smith even when the former No. 1 overall pick was cleared to play. Smith is not a Pro Bowl caliber player by any stretch of the imagination, but for a second-year quarterback to replace a healthy established starter who was playing well is a gamble.
Jim Harbaugh knew what he was doing. He drafted Kaepernick in the second round after a stellar career at the University of Nevada where Kaepernick ran Chris Ault’s pistol offense to perfection. Anyone who followed WAC football knew Kaepernick had potential. He had a good arm, great speed, great character and hid the ball as well as any quarterback in the nation on play-action read options.
Kaepernick is the first of the new breed of quarterbacks to truly shine. Michael Vick, Cam Newton and even Tim Tebow have all shown flashes of potential. Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III led their teams to the playoffs as rookies and got more national attention throughout the season. None of them have done what Kaepernick has. Yes, the Niners’ defense is one of the best in the league. Don’t let that fool you; this team would not be in the Super Bowl if it wasn’t for Kaepernick. He does more than simply manage the game: he dictates and controls it.
Harbaugh is not afraid to give Kaepernick the keys to the car. There is nothing Kaepernick can’t do. He’s accurate, he can throw the deep ball, he can throw in traffic and when all else fails he can break the pressure and scramble outside the pocket to extend the play. Most importantly, he is smart and makes great decisions almost every play. The read-option is not easy, especially with the speed of the game in the NFL. One bad decision could get you or your running back knocked out. Instead, Kaepernick keeps defenses guessing, while he and Frank Gore run for big gain after big gain.
The Niners’ offense has been set up to give defenses fits. The Ravens love to rush the passer off the edge with the likes of Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger. In the Super Bowl, the Ravens will have to find a way put pressure on Kaepernick while keeping contain on the outside. If the Ravens decide to stack the box and go to single coverage, the Niners have the weapons to make any defense pay with Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree. If they choose to drop more men in coverage, the Niners can let Kaepernick, Gore and LaMichael James loose through their potent running attack. Pick your poison, Ravens.
None of this would be possible if Alex Smith was under center. Yes, Kaepernick still has his flaws and is not great at taking snaps from under center, which was a significant red flag when he came out of college. However, the risk for the Niners is worth the reward. He brings such a different dynamic to their offense that there is no question he is the best choice. The Niners were a good team with Smith, they are great with Kaepernick. At the time it looked like a risk; no one is questioning Harbaugh now.
If Kaepernick and the Niners win, the impact for quarterbacks like him is huge. I guarantee it, win or lose, you will see more teams go to the read-option as their primary offense. If they win, more teams will be willing to take risks on dual-threat quarterbacks because there will be a proven recipe for success. Winning championships is paramount in any sport. Teams aren’t going to use a system that has no hope of leading to a championship.
Many of the aforementioned quarterbacks are better athletes than Kaepernick, have better arms and more impressive college credentials. None of them are the complete package like he is. He gives coaches and general managers a new mold of quarterback to look at. He is a system quarterback and that system with him running it has proven to be incredibly successful at the highest level. To win the Super Bowl against the legendary Ravens defense would be a statement for Kaepernick, Harbaugh, the Niners and the new breed of quarterbacks everywhere looking for their shot in the NFL. Victory over a defense of that stature would change the game.
Kaepernick has overcome every obstacle in his path so far. If he comes through on the game’s biggest stage, he will have gone from the backup to a legend in a matter of months. As Kaepernick’s history tells us, he thrives as the underdog and loves to prove his critics wrong. It would be unwise to bet against him this Sunday in the biggest game of his career.
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