If ever the Ravens needed two weeks to determine and practice a strategy for defending a Quarterback, that time is now. Colin Kaepernick has been generally electrifying in the run game, while also being more than competent as a passer in most games this season. All this after replacing a guy – Alex Smith – who completed 70% of his passes before losing his job following an injury. The bar has been set high for Kaepernick and he has produced with a combination of quality play and an element of option football that is still unfamiliar in the NFL.
Potential Ravens Strategy vs. Kaepernick
What to Take Away – Wide escapes. When Kaepernick has been allowed to gain width before getting downfield, he has been difficult to deal with, often picking up chunks of yardage before getting out of bounds. He is not as dangerous when forced to shuffle one or more steps forward (between the OTs) and then begin his escape. In this way, the 49ers’ QB is different than, for example, a Russell Wilson, who is shorter – and just as quick as he is fast. While no NFL team should willfully try to injure an opponent, it is important that Baltimore get as many legal hits on Kaepernick as possible to discourage the 49ers from featuring him in the zone read run game.
What to Allow – On passing downs, Baltimore can survive surrendering basic, interior run plays, short check-down throws in front of Ravens’ LBs, and Kaepernick scrambles between the OTs. The obvious vulnerability in allowing any puncture in the defensive interior is that Frank Gore has been very effective running the ball in the regular and post-season. But, if the Ravens choose to align 7+ defenders at or near the LOS, the strategy would be to force Kaepernick’s hand into checking to more pass plays than Jim Harbaugh might like.
What to Try – Defensive Ends that crash hard to the interior as part of their huddle call assignment. This, coupled with LBs or a safety providing edge pressure in which their outside arm remains free, can force Kaepernick to avoid outside escapes and potentially limit his open-field explosiveness when he keeps the ball on read plays. Also, Kaepernick has been less effective throwing the ball against teams that bring as many 7 or 8 defenders to the LOS, only to have 7 players drop into basic zone coverage looks (see St. Louis, Week 13). It is wise to keep in mind that Kaepernick, despite a great season, is still very young and learning to deal with disguised coverages.
What to Avoid – Interior blitzes that take time to develop. While the Ravens can be effective with D-Line stunts in which defenders sometimes twist two gaps away from their original gap of responsibility, that type of pressure requires complimentary LB blitzes that can flush Kaepernick wide – and outside pocket containment.