Break It Down: Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow
Colin Kaepernick: 5 rushes, 50 yards, 1 touchdown.
Tim Tebow: 2 rushes, 0 yards; 1 completion, 9 yards.
Those are the backup QB stat lines from Sunday’s 34-0 49ers’ win over the Jets — numbers that hide that Tebow’s lone pass completion ended in a fumble (partially for reasons we’ll get to) and that Kaepernick slid at the Jets’ 3 to avoid running up the score after breaking a 30-yard run late.
So why is it that San Francisco was able to turn Kaepernick loose when the Jets, through four weeks, have yet to find the proper outlet for Tebow?
The 49ers’ defense caused a lot of the problems Sunday (as opposed to the Jets’ D vs. Kaepernick), but the Jets also don’t look like a team that’s particularly ready to run zone-read and triple-option plays.
Example numero uno from Sunday: A 2-yard run by Tebow on the Jets’ second offensive play of the game. Tebow had fullback John Conner lined up next to him, and one of his wide receivers went in motion pre-snap. Tebow faked a handoff to him on a speed sweep and kept it — a variation of the zone-read Tebow has run so successfully in the past.
The main goal of the zone-read or any option attack, really, is to get the ball to a playmaker in an area where the offense has a numbers advantage. By that, I mean that the idea is to create enough confusion among the defense so that there are more blockers than defenders wherever the ball ends up.
To some extent, Tebow’s fake did that — in the shot below, there are seven 49ers defenders highlighted by red Xs, plus an eighth several yards back, and eight Jets blockers in front of Tebow. This should be advantage: Jets.
Why that edge doesn’t result in yards:
1. None of the Jets’ linemen are able to get upfield to the second level, which allowed San Francisco’s linebackers to collapse down on the line and eliminate any extra space Tebow might have had.
2. There may have been some space outside to Tebow’s right, only Ahmad Brooks stayed home when the Jets’ receiver went in motion, leaving Austin Howard one-on-one with him out wide. That’s a fine matchup for the Jets in a passing situation, but if Tebow were to try to bounce to the sideline, Howard would have had no chance to stay with Brooks.
As a result of those things, Tebow gets stuffed:
On San Francisco’s next possession, Kaepernick made his first appearance. The 49ers lined up Kendall Hunter to Kaepernick’s left, then motioned TE Delanie Walker in behind their QB. From there, with Kaepernick in the pistol, the 49ers ran a triple-option. Kaepernick faked the handoff inside to Hunter (which drew the attention of multiple defenders), then kept it and went wide left with Walker.
Remember how Brooks stayed home on that Tebow run? David Harris failed to do the same.
That allowed Kaepernick to get into space with Walker on his hip as a pitch man/decoy. This is what you’re looking for when you run a play like the one San Francisco called …
In the second quarter, on a 3rd-and-6 from the Jets’ 7, Kaepernick scored on a touchdown on a play that looked different but resulted in a similar situation. Here, he had Frank Gore next to him and fullback Bruce Miller went in motion from the right side of the line to the left:
Miller’s block would wind up being the key, as he sealed the edge against a blitzing Garrett McIntyre, while left tackle Joe Staley (No. 74) pulled and Gore led the way as a blocking back.
And again, the 49ers managed to put Kaepernick in a plus situation. He wound up with a convoy to the end zone — the blockers well outnumbering the defenders.
Even when the Jets somewhat successfully utilized Tebow as a passer, the 49ers were able to negate any positives. Just as they did on that 2-yard Tebow run earlier, the Jets brought a receiver in motion at the snap and had a lead blocker in front of the QB.
Tebow again faked the handoff to the receiver and broke toward the line, as he did on the run. Dedrick Epps released upfield as he did this and slipped behind the 49ers’ linebackers to catch Tebow’s pass. Even there, though, the 49ers had someone waiting for him — in this case, Dashon Goldson, who read the play, stopped tracking the motioning receiver and jumped on Epps.
Give a lot of credit to the 49ers for how they played the Jets’ Tebow-based formations, and especially for how the defenders stayed home. But where was the deception in New York’s attack? The speed? The threat of breaking a big play?
Later, Tebow ran a read-option and handed off to Shonn Greene. That play picked up all of four yards. The 49ers, as they did on Tebow’s earlier run, simply covered all the holes.
Tebow read the defender off the end — Brooks again — which encouraged him to hand off to Greene. Except Greene didn’t have any space, either. The Jets again had the numbers — there are six blockers at the line of scrimmage matched up with four defensive linemen and two waiting linebackers (Patrick Willis, 52; and NaVorro Bowman, 53).
But the 49ers’ DL managed to stand up the Jets’ front, even forcing multiple double-team blocks in the middle. As you can see, that left both Willis and Bowman unattended.
Blame that on play calling, if you want, or on the offensive line for not getting the job done. Heck, blame Greene for hesitant running or Tebow for failing to make plays with the ball in his hands. The fact of the matter is that the Jets did not show a single sign that they are capable of succeeding with the option-based, Tebow offense like Denver did.
In contrast, even when San Francisco failed in its Kaepernick moments, the opportunities were there.
Kaepernick’s lone pass attempt fell incomplete — he lined up under center, ran a play-action fake, then tossed one deep into triple coverage for Randy Moss.
Check out the field just before he threw the ball, though. There’s an opening over the middle, where Kaepernick could have thrown it for a 10-plus-yard gain; there’s also tons of room for Kaepernick to take off and run to his left, if he had chosen to do so.
The Jets can go back to Sunday’s tape and watch how the 49ers used Kaepernick, then try to employ some of those uses for Tebow.
Step one would be getting Tebow out of the pocket. Not a single play when he was in the game was run outside the tackle box. Granted, the Jets’ offensive linemen may not have the agility to clear room wide, but forcing Tebow to operate within a tiny window in the backfield almost totally negates the benefit of having him out there.
The 49ers let Kaepernick get to the boundaries, and he succeeded as a result.
San Francisco’s defense also handled the run-QB looks much better than New York did — a surprise, given that the Jets’ defense should be familiar with Tebow’s plays.
Until the Jets can make a defense uncomfortable, force it to lean the wrong direction as San Francisco did with Kaepernick, the Tebow experiment is doomed.