This is my Thursday column on Colin Kaepernick.
When Colin Kaepernick says he sees pass coverages, does he really see pass coverages?
It is the essential question about him as an NFL quarterback.
The question might have seemed impertinent before Sunday night. But, at his postgame press conference, Kaepernick kept bringing up the Bears’ coverages without being asked about them. He was coverage-obsessed. This after he had thrown three interceptions.
A reporter asked Kaepernick if he felt he was in control of his game. Kaepernick’s response: “I’m not going to say I felt good about the game or what I did but as far as my decisions, I mean, I saw the coverages. I went where I wanted to with the ball.”
Right. He’s supposed to see the coverages. But did he see what he thought he saw?
Later in the press conference, a reporter asked Kaepernick what he saw on the incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree on fourth-and-9 from the Bears’ 17, the play that ended the game for San Francisco.
Without anyone prompting him or pressing him, Kaepernick said, “They had Cover 3, we got the look we wanted, we just have to make that play.”
Coverages again. He didn’t need to go there. And he shouldn’t have, because he was wrong, dead wrong. The Bears were playing Cover 1.
I’ll explain the difference in simple terms. Cover 1 is man coverage – defensive players chase specific offensive players around the field. Cover 3 is zone coverage – defensive players defend specific areas of the field. Simple as that.
If the Bears were playing Cover 3 – a zone – Crabtree would have been the correct read and the 49ers probably would have scored the touchdown. Crabtree ran a route across the goal line and would have been wide open in an empty area of the field between three deep zone defenders and four underneath zone defenders. That’s if the Bears were playing Cover 3.
But the Bears were not playing Cover 3. They were playing Cover 1. So, Crabtree was not wide open. He was smothered by the Bears’ No. 1 cornerback, Tim Jennings. And that means Crabtree was the wrong read, just wrong against Cover 1.
Was there a right read?
Yes. Anquan Boldin was the right read. He was matched against a rookie fourth-round-pick safety, Brock Vereen. No one ever heard of Vereen. Vereen can’t cover Boldin, not in his dreams. And Boldin beat him easily, faked him out with a double move. Boldin raised his right arm to show Kaepernick he was open, that he had beaten Cover 1 man coverage. Boldin raised his arm as he entered the end zone with Vereen hopelessly behind him. The raised arm meant, “Throw me the ball.”
Kaepernick didn’t see the arm go up. Kaepernick didn’t see Boldin. Kaepernick never even looked for Boldin. Kaepernick thought he saw Cover 3, so he made up his mind he was throwing to Crabtree all the way.
It gets worse. Even if Kaepernick had seen Boldin, Kaepernick wasn’t in a position to throw to him. He scrambled as soon as he dropped back, reacting to pressure that had not arrived. HE dropped his hands and turned his feet to the left, parallel to the line of scrimmage. He was physically incapable of throwing back to his right where Boldin was.
Kaepernick threw over the middle to Crabtree, the pass was high and late, Crabtree dove to catch it and the ball flew through his hands. It would have been a miracle catch if Crabtree had held onto the ball. No miracle for Crab and Kap.
Let’s recap what Kaepernick did:
1. Misdiagnosed the Bears’ coverage during the play.
2. Never looked for Boldin, the 49ers’ best receiver.
3. Dropped his hands and turned his body away from Boldin. Couldn’t throw to him even if he saw him.
4. Unprompted, announced the wrong coverage with confidence at his press conference and indicted himself. Yes, he indicted himself.
It’s one thing to misread coverage – every quarterback does that, I’m sure. It’s another thing not to realize he misread the coverage more than 30 minutes after the game, after he’d had time to think it over, after he spoke to Boldin and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Kaepernick still was in the dark.
I’m not saying Kaepernick can’t read coverages. The final play may have been the only coverage he misread all game.
But it’s troubling he misread the coverage on the crucial play, down eight points – the crisis moment. Kaepernick never has passed or run for a game-winning or game-tying touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. Count the times. None. He failed at the end of the Super Bowl, he failed at the end of the NFC championship game last season and he failed at the end of the Bears game. That’s 0 for 3.
Most of the time, Kaepernick is an excellent quarterback when he’s winning. Last season, his passer rating was 101 when he had a lead. But when he was losing, his passer rating was 72. And in the fourth quarter, his passer rating was 61. Do you notice a trend?
We ask: Is Kaepernick a frontrunner? Can he handle the pressure at the end of a close game when he’s losing?
Kaepernick is emotional. He may not have a quarterback’s temperament. Quarterbacks are supposed to be detached. Joe Montana was detached. He was Joe Cool. He’s the guy who spotted John Candy in the stands and pointed him out in the huddle before leading the drive and throwing the touchdown pass that won the Super Bowl.
You think Kaepernick could do something like that? Not on your life.
He is a hothead. He let the Bears get under his skin.
After his second interception of the Bears’ game – his first pass of the fourth quarter – Lamarr Houston walked over to Kaepernick on the field, patted him on the chest and seemed to say, “Nice pass.” Mocking Kaepernick.
What Houston did probably wouldn’t have bothered a detached quarterback. It bothered Kaepernick. He pushed Houston and seemed to shout something in his face. The official flagged Kaepernick for using inappropriate language and the NFL fined him more than $11,000. Kaepernick says he didn’t say anything.
Even if he didn’t say anything, the push showed the Bears and the rest of the NFL how to get to Kaepernick, how to bother him. Just condescend to him. Treat him like the little kid on the playground. No league rule against that.
After that final incompletion to Crabtree, Bears’ defensive end Willie Young put his hand on Kaepernick’s shoulder and patronizingly left it there, as if to say, “Don’t cry – it’s just a game.”
Kaepernick angrily pulled away his shoulder like Young’s hand was made of fire. Young got to Kaepernick. A lot of things get to Kaepernick. Maybe he was upset about Lamarr Houston and Willie Young after the game. How else do you explain Kaepernick not knowing the difference between Cover 3 and Cover 1?
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.