Saturday, February 2, 2013

Will Another Running Quarterback Lead 49ers To A Super Bowl Victory?

(Hey! Didja know that two brothers were facing each other in the Super Bowl? Really! I'm serious. We figured that we'd better tell ya since NEITHER ESPN NOR NFL NETWORK HAS MENTIONED IT AT ALL. And now that you know...)

When you're at least 6'2" and in excess of 220 pounds, athletic enough to play multiple positions (and sports) and set NCAA records at a respected west coast university, you're expected to do well in the NFL....and that's just what Steve Young did.

The current version of the San Francisco 49ers multi-threat quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, had almost an impressive of a résumé, and is just a touch bigger (he's 6'4" 230lbs) than Young. Add to that, Young is "jealous" of what Kaepernick has going for him so early in his career. Attributes and assets that have him in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens in what will be his ninth start.

“He’s got a lot of great weapons with the best offensive line maybe since the 2000 Rams, and maybe then since the ’92 or ’93 Cowboys,” Young said, via Pro Football Talk and Matt Maiocco of “I mean, this offensive line is well ahead of most everybody else. That dictates terms...for Colin Kaepernick....I’m actually really jealous about the pistol. I think it’s such a cool thing.” -

The Pistol is a hybrid of the Shotgun formation where the quarterback lines up four yards behind the center rather than the normal shotgun seven yards. It has the advantages of being able to be utilized as a read-option offense, and allows an athletic quarterback such as Kaepernick to be a dangerous X-factor.

Young had maybe the most iconic touchdown run in NFL playoffs history when he ran 49 yards while breaking five tackles on his way to a score. That was from under center. Imagine if he would have had an offense like the Pistol/read option. No wonder he said he's jealous.

As Young admitted, though and as the article made lucid, the 49ers are doing their best to keep him out of harm's way to best utilize his skills. Because a running-styled quarterback opens himself up to being hit more often. He's potentially in greater danger to injury.

How the Ravens attack this will determine their success. They had a look at a very similar offense earlier this season when they faced Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. They didn't fair so well in that one, losing 31-28.

In that game RGIII passed for 242 yards a touchdown and 34 rushing yards, while running back Alfred Morris ran for 129 yards on 23 carries (a 5.6 YPC average). The Ravens had no answer early on, but adjusted as the game progressed. Still, they eventually succumbed to the combination of the multi-threat read-option QB and the bruising runner.

Exactly what they'll face in Kaepernick and Frank Gore on Super Sunday.

But the 49ers are far more than an option team. Kaepernick won't let the bright lights affect him, either. His first ever collegiate start was in hostile territory, the blue turf of Boise State, and all he did was pass for 243 yards and three touchdowns and to run for 177 yards and two more touchdowns.

That said, there are two main ways the Ravens can handle a Pistol/read-option offense: play back and adjust to what they hive you, which is much what they did against the Redskins, or attack with a form of controlled fury where your unblocked defender attacks from the outside to contain. Points which Greg Cosell breaks down very well here:

Team defense is absolutely necessary against a QB with Kaepernick's skill set. They must hit him and hit him often. As said a few paragraphs earlier, a running-styled QB opens himself up to being hit more often. He's potentially in greater danger to injury. Something that Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bernard Pollard are more than willing to do. -

It's that defense that has led the Ravens to winning the last three meetings with 49ers by combined score of 69-19, with the last game being a 16-6 win on Thursday Night Football on November 24, 2011.

But what of their offense? The Ravens have a QB who bears a bit of a resemblance to Steve Young also. Not only Young, but also Joe Montana.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco can join Young and Montana as the only QBs to finish a postseason with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions if he throws at least one touchdown and no interceptions. He’ll tie Young at that point. Less likely is his throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions to tie Montana.

Nonetheless, leading his team to four losses in their last five regular-season games and having the two lowest QB Ratings in recent years, Flacco has turned things around in the postseason. He has passed for an average of 276 yards a game to go along with the absence of interceptions.

On top of that, running back Ray Rice is controlling the ground game. With a balanced offense of Flacco, Rice and Anquan Boldin, the Ravens are a force and at times even surgical. -

However, one reason for that is the lack of pressure on the quarterback. Knowing the Ravens the way we do, Flacco can be rattled when hit. Not grazed, not glancing blows...HIT.

The 49ers defense can and will do just that. With Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and the rest of the NFL's third-ranked defense, they will look to do some purple-people eating. Aldon Smith alone had 19.5 sacks on the season and is likely salivating over the only 20th-ranked Ravens offensive line that allowed 38 QB sacks and 69 QB hits.

But this still comes back to the X-factor: Kaepernick. Gore and LaMichael James can be key for the Ravens to contain, but the amount of physicality the Ravens bring to Kaepernick that will be needed to limit him, intimidate him or even stop him is what will win or lose this game.

If the Ravens can do that, win. But I don't think they will be able to do it enough to get the win. I picked the 49ers in If It Ain't Steel's postseason prediction blog at the end of the regular season, and I'm not coming off of that. Take the 49ers with another multi-threat QB to win the Super Bowl over the Ratbirds. (I just had to...)