Monday, February 18, 2013

Still Talking Quarterbacks

Fair enough on Freeman. The eight points his completion percentage dropped from 2011 to 2012 are concerning, but I'm still not ready to give up on him. You could talk me into Alex Smith over Freeman for next season, depending on the makeup of the team around him. I don't know that I'd trust Vick enough to be healthy for an entire season, especially after the beating he took this year, so no way I'd take him over Freeman for 2013. Freeman's mobility is an interesting point though. During his dynamite sophomore campaign, Freeman rushed for 364 yards, behind Vick but ahead of Rodgers for the lead in QB rushing yards. In the two seasons since then, he has rushed for 377 yards combined. I'm not sure if he had a coach in his ear telling him not to run, or wanted to prove he was a pocket passer, but his interceptions have jumped in each year he decided to run less. He has above average mobility for his size and I think it'd be in his best benefit to use it, especially around the goal line (0 rushing touchdowns this season).

We still disagree on Wilson. You said that defenses will adjust to the option offense and force Wilson to stay in the pocket more going forward. I cannot disagree, but is that a bad thing?

Per the above, Wilson is great from inside the pocket. Defenses will certainly adjust with 18 games of tape to study on him, but factoring in his natural progression as a QB and the chemistry he will develop with his receivers, I don't see why he can't duplicate these numbers in 2013. As far as Brees, I hear the comparisons to Wilson but I don't like them. Brees does have great accuracy, but he also forces a lot of passes which leads to interceptions. He did it in college, and he does it in the pros. Wilson just doesn't have a tendency to throw a lot of interceptions. Factoring in his two playoff games, he had an interception rate of 2.4% for 2012. He doesn't have Brees accuracy, but he doesn't really need it because he doesn't force passes the way Brees does. Including the playoffs, Wilson threw the ball around 25 times per game last season. Let's aggressively estimate that Seattle ups that to 30 attempts a game for next season. With an interception rate of 2.4%, that projects to around 12 interceptions over 16 games. I'd gladly take that from a guy with his skills.

Concerning Peyton Manning, have you seen the Broncos schedule for next season? More cake. Another 12 or so wins doesn't really seem that hard with the likes of the Jaguars, Titans and Eagles making visits to Mile High Stadium. Also, if Rahim Moore is playing a couple yards back, he probably breaks up that 3rd down bomb to Jacoby Jones and Denver gets past Baltimore. I'm not ready to give up on him for a full season just yet.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Talkin' QBs

Well, as it turns out, you trust Josh Freeman more than I do.
To me, he is basically where Philip Rivers is now, but without all the solid years before it.  Freeman had one good year.  This past year, he threw for his highest yardage total (4,065), but only completed 54.8% of his passes.  For a guy in his third year starting full time, that's not good.  Sure, he threw 27 TDs, but he also threw 17 INTs.
In any game, I could see him throwing 4 TDs or 4 INTs.  I just don't trust him a bit.
Not that I trust Vick, but at least he can make some plays with his legs.  Freeman is a little mobile, but not overly so.
I think we've seen who Freeman is at this point.  Pretty talented, but prone to long stretches of terrible play.  I would absolutely take Dalton, Smith & Vick ahead of him.

As far as Russell Wilson goes, I don't love him.  He had a great year.  He played for a team that knew how to utilize his talents.  But I don't love him going forward.  Defenses will be better prepared for the option offense next year.  Not saying they'll be able to take it away entirely (I already posted about that), but it will force him to throw a little more from inside the pocket.  And that won't end well.
I know a lot was made about his size before the draft.  Just because he had a good year doesn't mean those concerns go away.  Seattle built their offense around a lot of rollouts for him.  If you get outside the pocket, your height doesn't matter so much.  But, if you're forced to stay in the pocket, you'll run into problems.  Passes tend to get floated.  If you're throwing to the middle of the field, that becomes a big problem.
A lot of people say, "Brees has had great success in the league and he's short."  That's true.  However, Wilson isn't as accurate as Brees.  Also, here's a look at Brees' INT totals (and INT%) since he has come to New Orleans:
2006: 11 (2.8)
2007: 18 (2.8)
2008: 17 (2.7)
2009: 11 (2.1)
2010: 22 (3.3)
2011: 14 (2.1)
2012: 19 (2.8)

This year, Wilson threw 10 INTS (2.5) on 393 attempts.  The Seahawks are more of a running team, so we can't take it as a given that his attempts will increase this year.  But, if he's forced to stay in the pocket more than he would like, it's a safe assumption that those INT numbers will go up.

Perhaps I am a little harsh on Peyton.  It's a well-known fact that I'm not a fan of his.  It's also true that he had a much better year than I thought he would.  But I don't see him repeating that next year.
Here's what it comes down to for me: next year, we're looking at a 37 year old QB not far removed from 4 neck surgeries.  Like I said, I know he had a great year this past year, but he played a ridiculously weak schedule in the easiest division in the NFL.  Also, by the time the playoffs rolled around, his arm looked shot (as in, more shot than it did throughout the season).  He had absolutely no zip on the ball, and couldn't throw further than 10 yards down the field with any real accuracy.  I'm looking for a QB that could win me the Super Bowl, and I just don't think he has enough games in that arm of his to do it.

Also, Roethlisberger is a bit lower on my list because of this past year.  To me, it looks like all of the hits he has taken over the years really started to catch up with him.  He reminded me of Steve McNair in Baltimore.  Still big, but much less mobile than he had been.  I still like him, but it seems like he has declined a lot even over one year.

And a word on Griffin.  I also did these rankings regardless of injuries.  If he were healthy for next year, that's where I would take him.

First of all, in 7 years, Aaron Rodgers will be 36.  If we're talking 7 years, I'll still take him #1.
But, as far as the other guys are concerned, I'll rank them...
1. Robert Griffin III
2. Colin Kaepernick
3. Andrew Luck
4. Cam Newton
5. Russell Wilson

Saturday, February 16, 2013

More Quarterback Rankings

Solid list. Good work, my man. I have but a few comments on your list.

No issues from #26-42. A lot of these guys are right where they should be, and that's not a bad thing. A few of these guys (McCoy, Cousins, Flynn, Moore and Orton) are backup quarterbacks, where they belong. If one of these guys comes off the bench due to injury to close out a game, you're in decent shape. Starters (Sanchez, Fitzpatrick, Gabbert and Locker) probably mean your team is headed towards a top 10 pick.

My only "gripe" on the middle portion (16-24) of the list is Josh Freeman. He didn't exactly bounce back from a subpar 2011 season, but for next season I'd take him over Michael Vick, Matt Stafford, Alex Smith and Andy Dalton. If Tampa Bay offered Freeman straight up for Dalton, I'd probably take that deal. Freeman is three months younger, but has 24 more NFL starts and a higher ceiling than Dalton.

Getting inside of the top 15, I think Russell Wilson should be higher. He played great ball the last half of the season, and that second half against the Falcons was a thing of beauty. For 2013, I'd take him over Romo, Newton, Flacco and Eli Manning. I feel like Seattle figured out how to better utilize him with each game, and he began running a bit more to keep defenses honest ( Five games of at least 58 yards rushing in his final seven games. No such games in his first 11). I think he has a dynamite sophomore campaign.

I also think you're being a bit harsh on Peyton Manning. If we're considering next season only, I'd take him over Eli, Roethlisberger, Griffin (the injury) and Kaepernick (a whole offseason for defenses to study him). If we're talking one "win or go home" game, I think his track record puts him a little lower on this list. But for next season alone? I think he's got to be higher.

Agreed on Matt Ryan. He was phenomenal this year. I watched quite a bit of the Falcons this season and I'd have to say he improved considerably on every aspect of his game, namely his deep ball. He and Dalton have very similar numbers after the first two years of their career, so I'm hopeful Dalton can make the type of leap that Ryan did this season.

As far as "elite" quarterbacks, the only guys I have as elite are Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Peyton and Roethlisberger.  You give me one of those five guys and I think I can beat any team on any field at any given time. However, I feel like the real story is what quarterback you would take for the next five to seven years. With Kaepernick, RG3, Luck, Wilson, Newton all 25 years of age or younger, who do you take out of that bunch? Good God. Despite having the least amount of starts, Kaepernick is the oldest of the bunch (25). He's also on the best team, has the best coach and is a position to absolutely dominate. He could also tail off as teams start to learn his tendencies. Griffin is the youngest (turned 23 this week) but is coming off of a major injury. I feel like Newton has the most potential of the bunch with his ability to run like Kaepernick and throw like Luck...if he puts it all together. Wilson probably has the lowest ceiling of this respective group due to physical limitations, but I feel like he's likeliest to reach his ceiling. Luck probably had the most responsibility of this bunch last season and is going to be dangerous in a weak division once he gets some weapons outside of Reggie Wayne.

Where do you go as far as those guys, if you had to take one for the next seven seasons? My list is below.

1. Robert Griffin III
2. Cam Newton
3. Colin Kaepernick
4. Russell Wilson
5. Andrew Luck

What say you?


Ranking the Quarterbacks

This took me longer than I thought it would, and I'm still not even sure if I totally agree with where everyone ended up.  But, since I have been staring at this for too long already, I thought I would just go ahead and post what I have.
My method was fairly simple: I took every starting quarterback, and the backups quarterbacks that I have seen play enough to pass judgement, and threw them together.  Then I started ranking.  There are a handful of guys on here that can still be considered an unknown quantity (Matt Flynn, for instance), but I put him on here, anyway.  My thought was, "Would I be willing to take a chance on this guy above the guys lower on this list?"
I didn't really think too much of the future.  If I was doing a "list of QBs you'd want for the next 7 years", it would look completely different.  I'm just ranking based on what I've seen, with the thought process of, "If I needed a quarterback for one year that would give me the best chance to win, what order would I take them."
I ended up with 48 quarterbacks on my list.  In an attempt to cut it down a bit, I'll only list the ones down to the lowest starting QB on the list.  (Which doesn't shorten it much.  That puts the number at 42.)
Enough yappin'.  Here's my list:

42. Mark Sanchez
41. Colt McCoy
40. Nick Foles
39. Tim Tebow
38. Kirk Cousins
37. Matt Flynn
36. Matt Moore
35. Jason Campbell
34. Ryan Fitzpatrick
33. Blaine Gabbert
32. Jake Locker
31. Kevin Kolb
30. Kyle Orton
29. Brandon Weeden
28. Matt Cassel
27. Carson Palmer
26. Chad Henne
25. Christian Ponder
24. Ryan Tannehill
23. Sam Bradford
22. Josh Freeman
21. Michael Vick
20. Matt Stafford
19. Philip Rivers
18. Alex Smith
17. Matt Schaub
16. Andy Dalton
15. Jay Cutler
14. Russell Wilson
13. Tony Romo
12. Joe Flacco
11. Andrew Luck
10. Cam Newton
9. Peyton Manning
8. Eli Manning
7. Ben Roethlisberger
6. Robert Griffin III
5. Colin Kaepernick
4. Matt Ryan
3. Tom Brady
2. Drew Brees
1. Aaron Rodgers

If I really thought about it, I may actually put Matt Ryan #2 on this list.  I really loved what I saw out of him this year, and have a feeling he's going to be better next year.
I loved Kaepernick this past year, and feel like he's going going to get better.  But, for now, #5 seems about right, if a little high.
If we're talking "elite", I would draw that line after Ryan at #4.

The reason I did this little exercise is to see where Flacco would rank on my list.  #12 isn't too bad, considering the company around him.  There's a fairly sizable drop-off after Rivers at #19 (and even Rivers might be ranked a little high, based on his past couple years, but I still have hope that he's going to turn it around).  If I didn't get one of those top #19, I would feel pretty terrible about the direction of my team.  There are some younger guys that could shoot up the list over the next year (Tannehill was better than I thought he would be last year), but, for now, my cut-off is #19.

Thoughts?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Good is Nikola Vucevic?

As promised, I wanted to take a closer look at Nikola Vucevic and the unexpected success he has experienced during his first year in Orlando.

I'd go into his background and how he got to Orlando, but it's irrelevant really. The fact is that he is producing right now. And very well, might I add. As of today, he currently sits at 12 points per game (52% FG) and 11 rebounds per game. Solid numbers for anyone, nonetheless a 22 year old that has already this season doubled the number of minutes that he played last year during his rookie campaign with Philadelphia. How rare is the 12 ppg/11 rpg stat line at 22 years of age? The number of active players that have accomplished the feat are as follows: Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, Kevin Love, Carlos Boozer and Blake Griffin. And if he holds suit for another 30 games, Nikola Vucevic will join that list. The point being, is that guys that young don't usually produce numbers like that. And if they do, they go on to have solid careers at the very least. Extremely promising data for anyone that thinks Vucevic was just a throw in to the Dwight Howard trade.

Here's the thing though: He's getting better. Considerably.  Check his month-by-month breakdowns:

November (15 games) : 28 MPG,  9.5 PPG (46% FG), 7.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG.
December: (16 games): 33 MPG, 12.1 PPG (54% FG), 12.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG
January (14 games):      36.1 MPG, 14.4 PPG (57% FG), 12.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG
February (5 games):      35.1 MPG 16.6 PPG (49% FG), 13.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG

Exactly the type of improvement that you would want to see from a young player. His 49% FG thus far in February is the only real "blemish" here, and it can be chalked up to him receiving more field goal attempts as he becomes a bigger part of the offense. I have little doubt that he can get it up over the 50% mark by the end of the month. The increased workload is not in vain: In February he matched his career high in points (with a 20 points/12 rebounds/6 assists performance against Milwaukee) and set a new career high less than a week later (with a 25 points/13 rebounds/3 assists performance against the Cavaliers).

Career games against the Bucks and Cavaliers of the world are good signs, but hardly anything to get excited about. So I took a look at how Vuc performed against 2013 All Star big men (Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh). In a combined 14 games against our All Stars, Vuc held his own with 13 PPG, 11 RPG and 1.3 BPG on 52% FG. This includes notable performances against Howard (17 pts/12 rebs /4 blks), Bosh (20/29!!!/2, Noah (20/12/1) and Garnett (14/14/2).

Among centers playing at least 30 MPG (I picked 30 in an attempt to weed out guys that have the luxury of playing at maximum effort off the bench for their 15 or 20 minutes), he ranks a respectable 11th in Player Efficiency Rating, sandwiched right between the underrated Al Horford and our aforementioned All Star, Joakim Noah. His rebound rate is third in league amongst guys getting 30 MPG, right behind Anderson Varejao (out for the season) and Omer Asik. He's third in the league with 28 double doubles in 50 games played this season. And he doesn't turn 23 until the start of next season.

My next bit of research on Vucevic lead me to wonder not so much about the points he scores, but about how he scores them. I headed over to HoopData.com to see how his bread is buttered. Again, breaking the numbers down to centers that played at least 30 minutes per game, I wanted to see where he did most of his damage offensively and where he needed improvement. On shots at the rim, he's at a respectable 66% FG which puts him one notch behind Marc Gasol (more on him later) and one notch above Demarcus Cousins. On shots 3-9 feet away from the rum, he's at 40% FG. This sounded extremely low to me, but is respectable when compared to the other centers I looked at. Hes right below Al Jefferson and right above Chris Bosh. Shots 10-15 feet away from the hoop is where Vucevic excels. He's at 55%, which puts him right behind Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah for tops amongst big men. This is a bit unfair though, as those two combine to take about one third of the shots Vuc alone takes from mid range. He's taking considerably more jumpers than they are and making them at a great clip. At shots from 16-23 feet from the basket, he's right in the middle of our data. This puts him right in the middle of Andrea Bargnani and Brook Lopez, two big men known for their shooting touch. These type of numbers early in his career, the fact that he hit 35% of his three pointers during his last year at USC and this pure shooting stroke lead me to believe that he could potentially expand his range to knockdown the NBA three pointer comfortably. Even the threat of a big man that can hit the three is enough to open the floor tremendously for his teammates.

Brett Koremenos of Grantland, writes a fine article here suggesting that with a few tweaks to his game, Vucevic could be the next Marc Gasol. Koremenos covers some of the strengths that I've mentioned above, but also goes into his weaknesses. First of which, is his defense. His defensive rating (used to show about how many points a player will allow on defense per 100 possessions) ranks around Al Jefferson and Brook Lopez, two guys not known for their defense. His lack of athleticism will probably keep him from ever becoming a dominant defender, but as Koremenos notes, Omer Asik is not known for his athletic prowess but has excelled defensively due to his use of positioning. Marc Gasol has used to the same tactics to counteract his lack of elite athleticism. This is a time where I wish Stan Van Gundy was still around in Orlando. He worked wonders at turning Dwight into the best defender in the league and made passable defenders out of Rashard Lewis and JJ Redick because of his emphasis on position and communication. I am hopeful that Jacques Vaughn will be able to bring out the best defensively in Vucevic. Koremenos also notes that a high dose of long two pointers keeps his field goal percentage from being even higher, and suggests the use of pump fakes to help him in getting to the free throw line more often. Incorporating these minor changes will be vital in helping Vucevic take his game to the next level.

Vucevic has the unfair position of following the footsteps of a great player. Despite how it ended, Dwight Howard was a hell of a player in Orlando and it will be difficult impossible for Vucevic to match his production on both ends of the court. Offensively his game could mimic Mehmet Okur, who had some solid years in Utah drawing defenders away from Boozer in the post, giving Deron Williams room to drive and making defenders pay with his three point shot. Rebounding wise, Vucevic is less than half of a rebound away from the league leader in rebounds (coincidentally, Howard). His rebounding is already elite, and appears to be something he can sustain for the duration of his career. Defensively, with some work on his positioning he can have an Asik/Gasol like impact, despite his limited athleticism. (Sidebar: I found out that Vucevic played his college career and the NBA combine at 260 pounds. The video I posted of him nailing jumpers, was him at 7'0, 260 pounds. All the combine numbers that listed him as a subpar athlete were when he was 260 pounds. He's now listed at 240, so he's shown he can play effectively at 260). All of the factors above lead me to optimistically believe that Vuc can be in the All Star game as early as next season. Combine that with the fact that he's making a combined $6.4 million for the remainder of this season and the next two, and at the very least, he is one of the league's biggest bargains. Hopefully, his tenure in an Orlando uniform extends long beyond those two seasons.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Post Super Bowl Thoughts and Read Option Sustainability

Damn good Super Bowl we had, technical difficulties aside. My preview was looking great at halftime before the 49ers decided to stop playing unsustainably bad football. I'm happy that my man Ed Reed got a ring and hopefully he decides to hang it up. Ray Lewis really laid on the pretentious over the past couple of weeks, but I will miss him as a player/character. The 49ers have no reason to hang to hang their head because they are in amazing shape going forward. Colin Kaepernick, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Michael Crabtree, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith: all 25 years of age or younger. Yikes. That doesn't even factor in the "older" guys like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and the stylings of Jim Harbaugh. They should be in Super Bowl contention for a long time to come.

I really enjoyed your write up on the read option and couldn't agree more with you about the personnel making the system work. I don't see any reason that the read option/pistol offense can't have long term success in the NFL for the reasons you named. You mentioned Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, but I'd also add in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson as guys that have the tools to make this offense work because they have the arm and the legs to keep a defense honest running it. I especially like the way San Francisco/Kaepernick execute it because it leaves minimal risk for Kaepernick to take big shots. RG3/Alfred Morris were working the option extremely well, but RG3 was getting blasted because of his ability to stay up longer than he should, and last second pitches left him open to brutal, but legal, shots.

 Articles like this claim the offense is unsustainable because quarterbacks will get injured and defenses are getting faster. This completely ignores the fact that Wilson/Kaepernick have done well to avoid big hits and that Cam Newton is bigger than many of the linebackers trying to hit him. It also doesn't account for the fact that, as you mentioned, the threat of the pass is what keeps the option going. If well executed, the way the Redskins and 49ers have been able to do so, it doesn't matter how fast defenses are because one misstep while reading the option is all it takes for a receiver to get wide open. And the Kaepernick/Wilson/Griffin/Newtons of the world will be able to find them consistently in a way that the Michael Vick and Vince Youngs couldn't. If anything, I think defenses getting faster means bad news for stationary quarterbacks with guys like JJ Watt and Von Miller getting into the backfield with ease.

The worst argument that the option won't have long term success is that "no one has ever won with it". Nobody ever won with the forward pass...until they won. Running the ball is the way to victory in the playoffs...until passing took over. You know why the read option probably wasn't successful in the days of Roger Staubach? Because he wasn't 6'5, 235 with 4.5 speed, a rocket arm and great accuracy like Colin Kaepernick. You'd be a fool to try to limit athletes like that with the bounds of a "traditional" offense. Hell, Tim Tebow made it to the playoffs because he has above average mobility and an offensive coordinator willing to dictate to his strengths. I think Geno Smith will be an interesting case. Early word is that the Chiefs are looking to take him at #1. While I don't think he is a #1 overall pick type of player, he certainly has the tools to succeed. He throws a nice deep ball, improved his accuracy every season and is an underrated athlete. Andy Reid developed Donovan McNabb, got some phenomenal football out of Mike Vick (if even for a limited time), sold HIGH on Kevin Kolb and got some passable efforts out of AJ Feeley, Jeff Garcia and Nic Foles. I'd like to see how he works with Smith (should they draft him), and if he looks to incorporate some read option with he and Jamaal Charles.

Stay tuned, because I have a Nikola Vucevic appreciation post coming up. You care.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Thoughts

I think the Ravens are going to win tonight. Despite everything I've read these past two weeks. Despite what I've seen on the field from these two teams in the playoffs. Despite my gut telling me that San Francisco is the better team. I'm going to rationalize why I feel this way. Or attempt to do so, at least.

Baltimore offense vs. San Francisco defense: Joe Flacco is playing the best football of his life, and not a moment too soon. Flacco has been sacked just four times in three playoff games and the San Francisco pass rush has generated just two sacks in two playoff games this season. Flacco should have plenty of time to stay in the pocket and beat San Francisco deep. Julio Jones was able to feast on the San Fran secondary as Matt Ryan had plenty of time to throw. Torrey Smith isn't as good as Julio Jones, but he's faster. And Flacco has plenty of arm to get it to him deep. Roddy White also had a good day against San Francisco last week. I think Anquan Boldin will be able to do the same. The 49ers probably have the best front seven in the game, but with Justin Smith at less than 100%, they haven't played up to par lately and I think the secondary pays dearly for it. Atlanta and Green Bay struggled running the ball against San Francisco, which should surprise no one as they were 20th and 29th, respectively, in team rushing yards during the regular season. Baltimore, on the other hand, was 11th during the season and has topped 120 yards rushing in each of their playoff games, despite Ray Rice having a lackluster postseason. I think Rice/Bernard Pierce will be able to cobble together enough of a threat to keep the defense honest and give Flacco some room to work.

San Francisco offense vs. Baltimore defense: This is the show. Colin Kaepernick has been a man possessed, Frank Gore/Michael Crabtree are looking great and Vernon Davis finally woke up with a huge game last week. But a las, the Falcons have been getting gashed by opposing tight ends. Davis SHOULD have had a great day last week. I don't think he has as much luck this week, just because the Ravens will probably remember to cover him (something the Falcons genuinely struggled with). Crabtree has played well, but I still don't know if he can beat you by himself. Moss doesn't generate the attention he used to, so I think Ed Reed will be able to help with keeping Crabtree from doing too much damage. That leaves San Francisco's running game to beat the Ravens....something they are MORE than capable of doing. The Ravens gave up 100+ rushing yards in each playoff game this season, but only the Colts did it on over 4 yards a pop. As you mentioned, it takes a disciplined team to stay in their lanes against a good rushing attack and I think the Ravens are disciplined enough. They lack the big play ability they had in defense in prior years, but with less athleticism they have been forced to reply on more discipline. I don't know if Kaepernick/Gore can be stopped on the ground at this point, but I think Baltimore will be able to contain them within reason.

Special teams: Eh. Kicking wise, the game is in a dome. Both teams legit threats to break a big return in Jacoby Jones for Baltimore and Ted Ginn/LaMichael James for San Francisco. Baltimore has the top ranked special teams unit during the regular season, before Trindon Holliday killed them in the Denver game. San Francisco has been toward the top of the league in special teams over the past two seasons. With the unpredictability of special team play, I can't really call a decided advantage here.

San Francisco seems to set for a long time with the Kaepernick/Crabtree/Davis/Willis/Smith core in place. They will have many opportunities to get back here, and I don't think that is something that will be lost on them. But at the same time, Kaepernick looking to trademark "Kaepernick" the week of the Super Bowl is probably not what Jim Harbaugh wants to hear. This might be it for Baltimore. Anquan Boldin has tasted Super Bowl defeat before. Ed Reed is running on fumes. And apparently Ray Lewis (he plays linebacker for Baltimore, if I'm not mistaken) is retiring. Who knew? And with the postseason Flacco has had, he can pretty much get a blank check from someone ready to throw 10 years and $60 million in guaranteed money at him. He might be outta there, as well. After playing the background during their playing careers and most of their coaching career, I think John Harbaugh gets one up on littler brother.

Ravens 27, 49ers 20

Super Bowl & Thoughts on the read option

I was planning on doing a big Super Bowl preview on both teams.  Watch a lot of games.  Note tendencies. And so on.
Obviously, I didn't do that.  I've seen enough of their games to know what they want to do, so I thought I would just roll with that.

I did want to point out how to slow down the read option.  I went back and watched some film on the Packers/Niners game.  There were a lot of big runs (obviously), but there were also some read options that didn't really go anywhere for the Niners.  I thought I would focus on those plays as a way to show how the Ravens could slow this part of the Niners game down.  I looked at two plays in particular, each of which went for 3 yards, and each showing their own way to slow down the read option.  (Neither of these plays were in full-house pistol formation they seem to like, but we'll no doubt see that formation quite a bit today.)

Play 1


Pre-snap.  The Niners are in a single-back pistol set.  The Packers are in 2-4-5 formation.  With the safety sneaking down, the Packers have 8 men in the box.
The man to pay attention to here will be Moses, the linebacker at the bottom of the formation.


At the snap, Kaepernick fakes the handoff to the back.  He's reading Moses on the end.  As you can see, Moses is moving towards the inside of the formation.  With this move, Kaepernick's read is to pull the ball back in and run through that vacated zone.


This shows just how deep Moses is.  Pulling the ball out for a keeper definitely looks like the correct read here.


At this point, Kaepernick has kept the ball.  But Moses was able to penetrate pretty well, so he's up on Kaepernick faster than he thought he would be.  Kaepernick is faster than Moses - and doesn't have his momentum working against him - but he won't be able to get the corner.


You can see Moses chasing Kaepernick down.
One more thing to point out in this image.  I circled Williams at the bottom.  He's coming up to help with the tackle.  But, at the same time, he's in good position in case Kaepernick decides that he wants to get the ball to the receiver.  He could still try to throw it at this point, but the throw would have to be perfect.

Play 2


Pre-snap.  The Niners are in a two-back pistol set.  It's basically an offset I formation, but with the QB in pistol.  Once again, the Packers are in 2-4-5.


Where the last play relied on the athletic play of one man, this is a two-man technique to stop the read-option.  The outside linebacker (Moses) will crash the inside to take away the run.  The difference on this play is that the Niners kept a man back to block him.  So the inside linebacker (Jones) will scrape over the top to take away the QB keeper.
As we can see here, Kaepernick is faking the ball, Moses is crashing, and Jones is starting to break to the outside.


At this point, Kaepernick has kept the ball.  Moses is caught up inside, and Jones is breaking hard to the outside.  The other back is running around the outside in an attempt to block Jones.


A defender has broken loose from the scrum inside, eliminating the cutback for Kaepernick (if he was able to cut back, this had potential to be a huge gain).  The back missed the block, and Jones is still in hot pursuit, trying to cut off Kaepernick before he can get the corner.

Those are two ways to stop this running game.  If the Ravens are going to be able to stop this running game, they're going to need to excel in the second method.  Perhaps Ellerbe could make some plays by himself, but, for the most part, the Ravens don't have athletic enough linebackers to stop this by themselves.

To stop the running game in this kind of offense, your defense needs to be talented, but it also has to be extremely disciplined.  Everyone needs to stay in their lanes.  No overpursuit.  No abandoning your assignments.
That was the Packers problem.  The talent was there, but the execution was not.  Guys were out of position and over-pursuing.  As you remember, it got ugly.

Now, that's not to say that stopping the running game is as simple as this.  You're not just playing against the running game of Kaepernick, Gore and James.  You're also playing against the passing game of Kaepernick, Crabtree and Davis.
For the read option to work - really work - in the NFL, there has to be the threat of a pass.  Otherwise, defenses can stack the box and force the QB to beat them with his arm.
And that's why this works with Kaepernick.  You have to respect his arm.  If you come in to stack against the running game, he'll throw on you.  He is extremely accurate.  But, if you stay back and play pass, they'll shred you with the run.
The read option can work long-term in the NFL.  But you have to have the correct QB to run it.  Guys like Kaepernick and Griffin don't grow on trees.  You can't expect to stick Colt McCoy in this kind of offense and make it work.

I don't think the Ravens will be able to stop the Niners offense.  Not for the whole game, anyway.  I can see the Niners starting a little slow out of the gate, but then being unstoppable for the entire second half.
The Ravens offense was able to consistently move down the field against the Patriots - as they dared Flacco to beat them with a series of shorter throws instead of connecting on a big one - but I can't see them doing that here.  I think the Ravens will get a little lead early, only to lose it by halftime, and never really threaten the Niners again.

Final score: 27-17.