Kaepernick thrives in 49ers' pistol offense
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Despite all those gaudy statistics and impressive physical skills, Colin Kaepernick faced plenty of questions coming out of Nevada about whether he was the product of a gimmicky college offense that would have no chance of working in the pros.
On the big stage of the NFL playoffs, Kaepernick is demonstrating just what he and that pistol offense are capable of against the toughest competition.
With scintillating runs in the option game and downfield passes with his powerful right arm, Kaepernick has the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game for a second straight year and has given more credibility to the offense designed by his college coach less than a decade ago.
“At first, they said, ‘That's just a college offense,' ” said former Nevada coach Chris Ault, who invented the offense and used it in college with Kaepernick. “Lo and behold, somebody came out and said: ‘You can do that in the NFL every so often.' The NFL has been such a copycat league. The formation has expanded the landscape of football collegiately and pro wise. The pros see advantages of what you can do with these mobile quarterbacks in the pistol.”
Never had it been more effective than it was in San Francisco's 45-31 win last week over Green Bay. Kaepernick set a quarterback record with 181 yards rushing on 16 carries, scoring on a 20-yard scramble and 56-yard sprint off a zone read play. He also threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, exploiting whatever opening the Packers gave him.
“The one thing it does is it kind of makes you a little bit indecisive in what you want to do,” Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson said. “You want to shoot in there, but he may hold the ball and take it outside. If you go outside, he might give it to the running back and take it up the middle. It's one of those things that makes you play flat-footed a little bit.”
Kaepernick is far from alone in running a style of offense that until only recently was dismissed by many in the NFL as unsuitable for the pro game.
Cam Newton successfully has used the zone read in Carolina to post prolific numbers the past two seasons, and rookies Robert Griffin III in Washington and Russell Wilson in Seattle used elements of the pistol and the read-option game to get their teams to the playoffs.
Their success has helped remove the stigma that running quarterbacks can't succeed in the NFL.
“I think quarterbacks that have a talent for running the ball can be very effective,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That's been long known in football, the National Football League as well. A quarterback that can get out of the pocket, run, pick up first downs, that's a threat that the defense has to account for.”
Hall of Famer Steve Young calls the offense a bridge to help athletic quarterbacks with limited pocket experience transition from college to the pros but said it is still essential to be able to beat defenses from the pocket.
Kaepernick prides himself on his ability to do it all, dismissing the question of whether he's a running or throwing quarterback.
“I don't want to be categorized,” Kaepernick said.