Here’s my Thursday column.
Breaking down the 49ers before Week 1 this year was like trying to see San Francisco through the fog.
It’s Week 2 now, and the fog has lifted. What do we see?
1. NaVorro Bowman is NaVorro Bowman
Apparently, NaVorro Bowman is not a human being. He’s some other life form, perhaps from the NaVorro Galaxy.
A human being wouldn’t be able to play every snap in his first game back from a torn ACL and MCL. But NaVorro Bowman can, and did.
Not only did Bowman shut down and totally outclass Adrian Peterson, one of the best running backs in the NFL, Bowman also sacked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater twice.
Bowman is the 49ers’ pass rush and run defense. He looks like a lock to win Comeback Player of the Year, and a candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year, too.
Who IS this guy?
2. Carlos Hyde is a better running back than Frank Gore
Letting Frank Gore sign with the Indianapolis Colts was the best move the 49ers made in free agency this year.
No offense to Gore — he should be a Hall of Famer one day. But if he were still on the Niners, he would be in Carlos Hyde’s way. Gore would have to be the backup.
And Gore would be a bad backup. He doesn’t fit the 49ers’ system anymore. He ran old-school gap-blocking plays like Power and Counter, plays that require patience and the ability to get small to slip through tiny cracks.
The Niners mostly use zone blocking now, and Gore isn’t fast enough to run outside the tackles on those plays. Hyde is more than fast enough. Against the Vikings, it seemed he could pick up yards around either end whenever he wanted.
I’m thinking just about every team wishes they had Hyde right now.
3. The 49ers offense didn’t show us a thing in preseason
And that’s a good thing.
The Vikings had no idea what they were going to get from the 49ers offense. Minnesota was totally caught off guard by San Francisco’s two- and three-tight-end formations, and never adjusted to them. Not even at halftime. It’s like the Vikings couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Who knows how they scouted the Niners last week? The Vikings didn’t have any film to watch. The Niners offensive starters hardly played in the preseason, and the coaching staff is brand new.
All of that’s over with now. The league has film on the Niners. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a book on San Francisco’s offense right now.
Don’t get me wrong, the Niners also have a book on Pittsburgh. I’m saying neither team will surprise the other next week.
4. Colin Kaepernick is pretty good when you roll him out
In 2013, I asked 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh why he didn’t roll out Colin Kaepernick more often. I asked because Kaepernick had just gotten sacked six times in a loss to the Carolina Panthers. Kaepernick rolled out only twice in that game. Harbaugh made Kaepernick stay in the pocket, and he got crushed.
When I asked Harbaugh this question, roughly 90 percent of Kaepernick’s passes that season had come from the pocket. The other 10 percent were rollouts.
“Don’t know that 10 percent is not enough,” Harbaugh said to me. He seemed sure of himself.
Monday night under new head coach Jim Tomsula and new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, Kaepernick attempted 26 passes, and eight were rollouts. We’re talking 30 percent. Of those eight rollouts, he completed seven passes for 66 yards, and posted a quarterback rating of 101.
That’s how you know 10 percent is not enough.
5. Kaepernick still is not so good in the pocket
Let me amend that statement. Kaepernick is fine in the pocket when he can use play action. Against the Vikings, he completed 5-of-6 play-action passes from the pocket, including a 19-yard pass to Vernon Davis.
It’s when he doesn’t use play action that he struggles. It’s when he drops straight back to deliver the pass. That’s the hardest thing a quarterback does. Drop straight back, scan the whole field, find the open receiver and throw him an accurate in less than 2.5 seconds. Think Joe Montana.
Against the Vikings, Kaepernick dropped straight back 17 times. During those plays, he scrambled five times, ran and didn’t throw the ball. When he did throw, he completed 5-of-12 passes for 51 yards. That’s a quarterback rating of 54.5.
Most of the time when he drops back, it seems he wants to scramble, like he’s waiting to abandon the structure of the play so he can just take off. When he sees a wide open receiver and has to throw, it’s almost like Kaepernick wishes he didn’t see him, wishes he didn’t have to pass from the pocket.
He had a wide open throw to Anquan Boldin on third-and-5 from the Vikings 11 with 4:40 left in the third quarter. The score was 7-0 Niners at the time, and if Kaepernick had thrown a semi-decent pass the result would have been first-and-goal.
But Kaepernick threw the 10-yard pass into the grass behind Boldin. It was a gimme, and Kaepernick missed it.
Will Kaepernick ever improve in the pocket, or will he be a play-action rollout specialist the rest of his career? We’ll find out more Week 2. Is it OK for him to be a rollout specialist the rest of his career? We’ll find out this season.
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.