Will Niners Unleash Kaepernick in Playoffs?

The 49ers, who riddled the Packers with Colin Kaepernick running the read-option in last year's divisional playoff game, haven't shown much of the scheme this season. With the season at the stake, it's a good bet the Niners will take the read-option out of mothballs on Sunday night.

It's been almost 12 months since Colin Kaepernick burst onto the national scene by running roughshod through the Green Bay Packers' clueless defense. The final, record-setting carnage: 16 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

From that point forward, the Kaepernick portion of the 49ers' read-option scheme has been more decoy than anything. He carried the ball just twice in the NFC Championship Game at Atlanta and seven times against Baltimore in Super Bowl. This season, only twice has his two-game total matched his 16 carries against the Packers. Over the final three games, Kaepernick carried the ball a total of 16 times.

"They certainly last year through the playoffs did," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said when asked on Tuesday whether he expects the 49ers to unleash Kaepernick more now that the playoffs are here. "They changed quite a bit of what they were doing. They had two weeks to prepare for us. They did a lot more of things they hadn't done much of during the season."

Last season, the 49ers hadn't shown much read-option until their 45-31 dismantling of the Packers at Candlestick Park in the divisional playoffs. The reasons are varied on why the Niners haven't made it a major focal point of their offense this season.

Teams – including Green Bay, which limited Kaepernick to just 22 yards on seven carries in Week 1 – had all offseason to find answers to a scheme that essentially was sprung on them in the playoffs. The Packers, memorably, consulted with coaches at Texas A&M and Wisconsin to pick the brains of coaches who have had to scheme against read-option schemes for years rather than months.

"Well, Dom Capers and his staff are as good as they come," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said during a Wednesday conference call. "It's a challenge every time we play them. You know you're going to get really good scheme, you're going to get players that are in position to make plays and good players that really play well together. We understand the challenge and the task. Few do it better than Dom Capers."

The big question – and one that undoubtedly will be answered on Sunday evening at Lambeau Field – is whether Harbaugh put the read-option on the back burner for the regular season so he can turn it loose in the postseason.

Harbaugh, for what it's worth, said he didn't put the reins on Kaepernick's running ability in the regular season.

"I don't think so," Harbaugh said. "It was tough to get through the regular season. It was very competitive in this regular season and we really had to do everything that we could to win each and every one of those ball games."

Still, Harbaugh -- knowing the quality of his team and how it never had its playoff hopes in jeopardy -- perhaps took a big-picture view of the season when weighing the risk vs. the reward.

When a quarterback becomes a running back, he's no longer treated as a quarterback by officials. Even though Kaepernick is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and about as big as a lot of linebackers, a 16-game diet of read-option would have been taxing on his body. So much of being an accurate passer is about mechanics, and even the slightest injury can impact a passer's mechanics. Moreover, while Kaepernick might be bigger than most running backs, he's not padded like a running back.

During the regular season, Kaepernick carried the ball 92 times. That 5.75 carries per game includes everything from read-option to scrambles to kneeldowns. In the final 11 games of last season, he carried 75 times. That's an average of 6.82 carries per game.

"How much and what they're going to do this week, that's why you game plan, that's why you practice," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're preparing for it. Obviously, it was a factor in the outcome of last year's (playoff) game."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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