Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The key to Colin Kaepernick getting the upper hand on Richard Sherman might come from where he takes the snap

The 49ers may have found a cure for what troubled Colin Kaepernick, and it might lead to an improved performance against his nemesis Thursday night.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Colin Kaepernick hasn't fared well against the Seahawks. And a lot of that has to do with cornerback Richard Sherman.

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown six interceptions and no touchdowns when targeting Sherman in coverage, good for a passer rating of 20.4.

That's played a large part in Kaepernick going 1-5 as a starter against the Seahawks, including January 2014's conference title game, when Kaepernick played well for two and a half quarters before things unraveled quickly, when San Francisco's devastating 23-17 loss was culminated by Sherman's tipped pass to linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone with 30 seconds left.

Of course, the changes since that game have been well documented. After that defeat, San Francisco was no longer a contender in the NFC under Jim Harbaugh. Seattle disposed their rival by a combined 36-10 in their two match ups in 2014.

In the first loss Thanksgiving night at Levi's Stadium, Sherman intercepted Kaepernick twice. Two weeks later, Kaeperick tried just 19 passes and didn't throw an interception or a touchdown, as the 49ers tried to win the game on the ground. But Seattle prevailed 17-7 after Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde both left with injuries.

Kaepernick will have a shot to improve his record against Seattle Thursday.

"Yeah, it’s a huge opportunity for us...to get back to 1-1 in our division, to give us an opportunity to get to 3-4 overall and start stacking wins together,” Kaepernick said Tuesday.

Both teams enter the short week at 2-4, for different reasons. The Seahawks still have the league's fourth-ranked defense, but have given up leads late in games the last two weeks to the Bengals and Panthers, losing both in the final moments.

On the road against undefeated Cincinnati, the Seahawks squandered a 24-7 lead before falling in overtime, 27-24. Last week in Seattle, the Panthers scored with 32 seconds left, coming back from a 20-7 third-quarter deficit to win, 27-23.

The 49ers won Sunday for the first time since the season opener. And with the exception of the loss two weeks ago to the Giants, San Francisco was accustomed to getting blown out, getting outscored 107-28 in Weeks 2 through 4.

But the offense has turned things around over the last two weeks, with Kaepernick acting as the catalyst.

In the loss to New York and the win over Baltimore, Kaepernick completed 39 of 62 (63 percent) for 602 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That came after arguably the worst two-game stretch of his career, when he threw five picks and no touchdowns in losses to Arizona and Green Bay.

"He’s trusting what he sees," Sherman told reporters this week. "They’re doing a great job of putting him in positions that he’s comfortable with."

Part of that success has come from emphasizing playing under center. According to Pro Football Focus, Kaepernick spent just 12.1 percent of his snaps under center in the first four games. In Weeks 5 and 6, those numbers jumped to 60.3 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

"It puts any quarterback under rhythm, has a chance to look at the defense for the entire time instead of briefly looking down to catch the ball and he’s comfortable playing either way,” 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said.

Kaepernick said, "It’s helped this offense. It’s part of a game plan that we’ve done the last couple weeks. And, depending on what Geep wants to do, we’ll either be under center or in the gun depending on what he feels is most advantageous.”

The advice Kaepernick has received from former quarterbacks and experts has been all over the map. Steve Young has said Kaepernick needs to master playing from the pocket, while Joe Montana said recently the 49ers need to channel Kaepernick's college offense that relied heavily on the pistol and utilizing Kaepernick in the running game.

To be sure, the 49ers have tried a number of different things with Kaepernick since he became starter in 2012. But with 51 starts under his belt, the sample size is big enough to make some assertions.

Here's what the passing numbers say:

Kaepernick: Comp. Att. Comp. % Yds TD INT Rating Adjusted Yds/Att.
Shotgun 508 825 61.58 6,323 25 20 85.3 7.18
Under Center 274 470 58.30 3,416 31 6 97.6 8.01

Kaepernick has thrown six more touchdowns in 355 fewer attempts under center, while throwing interceptions at roughly half the rate. But there's a rub.

The 49ers' read-option game works almost exclusively out of shot gun (or the pistol, which falls under the umbrella of shotgun). Kaepernick averages 7.1 yards per run out of shotgun with 10 touchdowns, to just 4.3 yards under center with two touchdowns.

Sacrificing plays from shotgun to be under center might mean less effective running for Kaepernick. Given how dynamic he's proven to be in the running game, it might be difficult to move away from that direction completely.

But if Kaepernick is going to evolve into a better passing quarterback, continuing the gradual move under center appears necessary given his recent success, and what the numbers have said throughout his career.

Could Kaepernick get the better of Sherman with a renewed approach under center? Perhaps.

There are more numbers to consider. Sherman in coverage, according to PFF:

When targeted: Games Att. Comp. Yds. TD INT PD Rating
2015: 6 21 14 215 0 0 2 100.3
2014: 16 65 31 422 1 4 4 48.8

Maybe Sherman isn't the same player in new coordinator Kris Richards' defense, which asks Sherman to move around more, instead of staying on the left side of the field. And maybe things aren't quite the same for Seattle's secondary after Kam Chancellor's two-game holdout and Earl Thomas' offseason shoulder surgery.

Or maybe Seattle will turn it around this season as they did this time last year, when they started 3-3 before making a return trip to the Super Bowl following a 12-4 finish to the regular season.

A lot is on the line Thursday night.

————————————————————————————

Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

E-mail Niners Digest: NinersDigest@gmail.com

Get updates from Niners Digest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis.


Niners Digest Top Stories