Watch Colin Kaepernick’s feet this Sunday.
The 49ers play the Cardinals in Arizona and the game means very little to the Niners. Win or lose, the 49ers will make the playoffs. They’ll be a wild-card team if the Seahawks beat the Rams, and the Seahawks probably will beat the Rams.
And the 49ers probably will beat the Cardinals. You already know the Cardinals’ quarterback, Carson Palmer, will throw at least one interception. He’s already thrown 21 this season.
After Palmer takes his first big hit of the game, he will want to crash on the couch next to you and drink hot cocoa. He doesn’t like taking hits. That’s why he quit on the Bengals in 2011.
Consider this game against the Cardinals a dress rehearsal for what the 49ers will face in the playoffs. It’s a road game and the Cardinals are playoff-caliber. If the 49ers make it to the Super Bowl, they most likely will have to win three straight playoff games on the road. That’s the challenge ahead of them. If anything could hold them back from rising to that challenge, it is Kaepernick’s feet.
He still can run with them, but his footwork and technique in the pocket are poor. If he can show some improvement in those areas on Sunday against the Cardinals, who’s to say he can’t win three straight road playoff games? The sky is the limit.
Bill Walsh always said the quarterback defines the limit of the offense. Kaepernick does certain things to increase the limit of the 49ers’ current offense – he’s very good at throwing on the run – but he does other things that limit the limit. His technique in the pocket is junior varsity. And that’s problematic, considering Jim Harbaugh makes Kaepernick drop straight back about 90 percent of the time.
You saw issues with Kaepernick’s footwork against the Falcons Monday night.
His second pass of the game he threw off his back foot, and it almost got picked off. He threw off his back foot at least three times against the Falcons, and he attempted just 21 passes.
Kaepernick has a tendency to throw off his back foot on short throws, and to over-stride on long throws. Quarterbacks can’t stride 6 or 7 feet like Tim Lincecum, because quarterbacks don’t have a mound. When Kaepernick over-strides, he looks like he’s reverting to his pitching mechanics – he played baseball in high school, and the Cubs drafted him to be a pitcher.
He over-strode twice against the Falcons. The first time was a deep pass to Michael Crabtree, who was running a corner route on the right side of the field. The ball was snapped from the left hash. It was a long throw. Kaepernick dropped back, the pocket was perfect, Crabtree was open, Kaepernick set and strode but strode too far and the pass flew over Crabtree’s head.
Later, Kaepernick threw another deep pass to Crabtree, this one over the middle. Again, Kaepernick was overzealous, he over-strode and threw the pass high and behind Crabtree, who jumped and twisted and made an acrobatic catch.
Sometimes, Kaepernick doesn’t even bother to point his feet toward his target. On one short pass to rookie tight end Vance McDonald, Kaeperinck’s feet were parallel to the line of scrimmage when he released the ball. The pass was low and McDonald dropped it.
Kaepernick’s best pass against the Falcons may have been his worst play. It was a great pass because he reset his feet in the pocket and didn’t over-stride and, as a result, threw a strike to Anquan Boldin between two defenders. The problem was Kaepernick stared at Boldin the entire play and never saw Crabtree, who was wide open deep behind Boldin.
If you have access to the coaches’ film, you’ll see a shot from right behind Kaepernick on that play. You’ll see him lock his head onto Boldin. Kaepernick never scans the field. There is no progression, no reads. Just hoping and choking the football. And cheering the wide receiver, “Please get open. I’m waiting for you to get open.”
I’m leaving you with one more image, but I won’t interpret it.
Hours before a game, quarterbacks warm up on the field in shorts and T-shirts. Every quarterback warms up his arm and his legs.
Before throwing, Drew Brees spends 20 minutes working on his footwork in an imaginary pocket. He sets his feet and resets them and resets them over and over again quickly, going through imaginary progressions, avoiding imaginary pass rushers, always re-calibrating his feet, making sure they’re in perfect position.
Kaepernick does wind sprints.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.