Trent Dilfer spoke on KNBR Tuesday morning. Here’s what he said.
Q: What did you think of the 49ers victory over the Packers?
DILFER: I’ve never been happier to be wrong than I was this weekend. Man, I was really scared for the Niners. I just didn’t know if they had an answer for Aaron Rodgers, I didn’t know how Kap would respond. I’m not one of these guys that thinks he has all the answers. I was just fired up to be wrong and that the Niners got the win.
Q: What were you thinking when Kaepernick threw the pick-six?
DILFER: I was looking to see how he responds. From what I know about him, and I don’t know Colin really well, but I a lot about him from people who know him well that he’s got that no-flinch mentality. That’s the first thing I thought when he threw that pick. That’s the challenge of this position is, you’re going to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Brady makes mistakes, Manning makes mistakes, Rodgers makes mistakes. It’s what you do after the mistake. It’s how you respond.
I said, ‘OK, is he going to go into a shell, be safe because he’s got a good team or does he stay aggressive, does he keep trying to make plays, does he stay poised and play within the disciplines of the position?’ He had a couple of rocky throws there for a little while, but the play where he scrambles to his left and hits Frank Gore down the sideline, Frank’s kind of running an out route and Woodson has him and Frank makes that nice move and goes vertical, and Colin just flicks the ball running to his left, after he’s thrown an interception running to his left. That was kind of the signature play for me because it told me that he was playing free and fast at that point, that he wasn’t playing gun shy, that he had exorcised the demons of the first interception, and then the rest is history from there. Then he just single-handedly dominated the rest of that game.
Q: Were you more dazzled by the read option runs, the scramble runs or the passes he threw?
DILFER: The passes and the vertical climbs on third down when he scrambles. I’m not trying to be all nerdy techie here. We’ve had athletic quarterbacks for a long time. He is not the fastest guy that’s ever played in the NFL. Guys haven’t been successful long term with his skill set because they try to run before they pass. Steve Young articulates this better than anybody because he’s the pioneer of it.
Colin was taking his drop, he was looking for the first receiver, he was looking for the second receiver and as he was doing that, he’s climbing vertically in the pocket. And then when he decides to be a runner, he’s unstoppable because of his physicality. But he’s first starting with the passing.
As I’m watching those third downs in the first half I’m like wow, there are going to be some big time throws available later in this game. When you press the line of scrimmage from the pocket, that secondary and that first level of linebackers they’re like, ‘Oh no, not this again,’ and they start coming up. And now you’re going to get those deep crosses open, those seams open, those out routes open. That’s what Colin was able to do in the second half, just knife the defense with these throws. The touchdown pass to Crabtree was obviously a sick throw. The seam to Vernon Davis might have been the best of the weekend anyone made. But there were a couple of out routes where he throws them on time, he locates them well, he throws it over one defender and between the next. He really showed the full arsenal of quarterback skills. I was just blown away by the whole thing.
Q: Can the Falcons defense defend Colin Kaepernick and that arsenal you mentioned?
DILFER: It’s going to be tough to play balanced. Mike Nolan, he’s a defensive play caller who relies heavily on defensive play calling. What I mean by that is he just doesn’t line up and play you. He is dialing up defenses to take away something. He wants to take away your fastball. The problem with playing Colin that way is what is the fastball right now? Is it the zone read? Is it the vertical passing game? Is it the drop-back game? Let’s not forget about one of the best running backs in football and the best offensive line in football just hammering at you straight ahead with Frank Gore. What do you load up to stop when you’re playing the Niners right now with Colin? It’s kind of showing how smart Jim was for making this decision that many of us questioned because it’s added an element to this offense that you just don’t know how to defend it, because you don’t know what the starting point is.
This is a physical mismatch. The 49ers are superior almost in almost every aspect of this matchup. Then you add the scheme into it, with the Niners’ ability and all the dimensions they have offensively. This is a great challenge for the Falcons, but they continue to overcome all these challenges. That’s the only x factor in this game. The Falcons kind of have this mojo, this intangible quality right now to win games they shouldn’t win. You just never know how it’s going to play out.
Q: Are the Falcons thinking they’ve got to put some licks on Kaepernick, get him scared?
DILFER: That’s what they’ll be saying, but I’ve stood next to Colin. Good luck with that. The dude’s a beast. I don’t think he’s real scared of getting hit, by the way. I don’t think he has a whole lot of flinch in him.
This is going to be difficult for some people to understand unless you’ve played. Talent is a huge part of it, don’t get me wrong. Physicality, talent, matchups, depth of roster – I don’t ever want to discount that. Trent Baalke’s built the most talented roster in the NFL, the best roster in the NFL. Like I said, they have a physical dominance to them.
Confidence and that bunker mentality sometimes is bigger than the talent gap. If you have that bunker mentality – dig yourself out of a hole, us against the world – and you have supreme confidence, that to me is greater than talent. And if I had any hesitation if I was on the 49ers right now, it would be that the Falcons are hearing that you have no chance, you’re a four-point home dog, this team’s going to squish you, going to roll over you. And they’re sitting there going yeah, that’s what everybody says about us. But we believe in ourselves.
Q: Do you think this is a think Falcons team or do you think they deserve more respect than they’re getting?
DILFER: They have some holes. They have all year. That’s why people have called them the paper mache champion this year. There are some holes there, but they make up for them with different qualities. The offensive line isn’t very physical. Their defensive front can be thin. There’s gaps in the defense. A lot of different things. But one thing they do is, they score points, they come up with big stops and they tend to play their best football at the end of games in one-score games and that’s typically a formula for great teams.
Q: Matt Ryan is 34-6 at home in his career. Tony Gonzalez said Julio Jones and Roddy White could be better than Jerry Rice and John Taylor. Is that what’s best about the Falcons, Ryan and his receivers?
DILFER: I’m never going to say anybody could be better than Jerry Rice. I won’t do that. I’m not making that mistake, especially on Bay Area radio. They are as talented two receivers as we’ve seen in a long time, especially Julio Jones. Roddy is a very good player, I’m not knocking Roddy at all. Excellent player. Julio Jones is uniquely gifted and supremely confident as a competitor. He has all the traits you’re looking for in a big-time receiver and creates fear in the hearts of defenses, I guarantee you. Right now, the 49ers are going, ‘Holy smokes, what do we do about this guy?’ And then Tony works so well in space, maybe the best tight end ever. Roddy is dangerous. Matty Ice is making decisions like Brady and Manning. He reads defenses mail so quick. Just brilliant with his reads, and playing so decisively and playing aggressively.
This Falcons offense has more dimensions than it’s ever had before. Dirk Koetter, their offensive coordinator, has done a great job in protecting this offensive line. It’s more of an athletic, lateral offensive line at time. So they developed an outside stretch run game with Jacquizz Rodgers. They have a great screen game that you have to defend, so they’re putting linebacker in conflict all the time. They run the screens with the backs AND the receivers and the tight end.
The vertical passing game is really what I have my eye on in this game. You can play great defense, stop everything and win the x’s and o’s battle but you can give up like four, five or six big plays in the passing game and it negates everything you did on defense. You can defend Julio Jones perfectly and he can go up and snatch one out of the air. NaVorro can have tight coverage on Tony Gonzalez and he’ll go up and one-hand stab it for a big third down conversion. Roddy White can toe-touch on the boundary a corner route to convert a third-and-14 with tight coverage by Culliver. You can do it perfect on defense and still get beat by the Falcons. Sometimes I call it playing beyong the x’s and o’s – when you win the x’s and o’s battle but you still lose the play. That’s what the Falcons can do to you. It is a scary team for the Niners to be playing for that reason.
The Niners have one flaw that is kind of strength, too – they have the best linebackers in football and they play 90 percent of the snaps. Sometimes when you’re so good, you become overly-predictable. The offense knows where you’re going to line up and they know where you’re going to be on the field, so they can throw some bells and whistles at you to give you some bad matchups. Like the James Jones touchdown the other night. They put the 49ers in a bind by putting Jones inside by the tackle. They put base personnel on the field and they got Jones matched up on a linebacker. I think the 49ers have to be careful. They’ve got to add one more wrinkle to the defensive game plan, show something the Falcons haven’t seen before so that they don’t play with so much confidence knowing where they’re going to line up.