That said, the 49ers, like the Patriots didn’t respond well offensively, either under Kaepernick or before him, to physical defenses. Kaepernick brings a fresh running component to the table that the team lacked under Alex Smith, but the rest of the cast is virtually the same (arguably worse now minus Mario Manningham). Under Smith the 49ers offense was frustrated by the Giants, Seahawks and Vikings (all physical defenses). With Kaepernick they’ve struggled against the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks again. While the Niners defense is the epitome of a “punch you in the mouth” type of unit, their offense hasn’t responded well against those types of teams.
Kaepernick’s ability to run the ball is a factor. The Packers weren’t ready for it, and they paid the price in a big way. The following week, the Falcons seemed more prepared for it (perhaps overly prepared) and instead allowed Frank Gore to gash them on the ground through the middle. Teams capable of playing defense like the Ravens haven’t seemed to have much trouble at all against it. Heck, good college teams have had little trouble stopping the “gadgety” read option looks that some are touting as the next big thing.
Many will point to the Ravens difficulties against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins read option look to suggest they might struggle against San Francisco. The Ravens were however short handed against the Redskins defensively. They did an OK job of stopping RGIII on the ground, and even knocked him out of the game, but much like the Falcons last week against the 49ers the Ravens allowed running back Alfred Williams to put up big rushing numbers while they committed to setting the edge and containing the QB.
It would be important to note though that the Redskins scored on each of their first two drives in that game. Morris accumulated 66 of his 129 yards on the ground on those first two drives and Griffin 111 of his 242 yards passing too. As the game wore on and the Ravens began to understand the new look offense, they settled in nicely against it.
By contrast, the 49ers have surrendered leads in each of their last 4 games and have managed just 1 first quarter score (against Green Bay) in that span. They were down 17-0 to Atlanta, 14-7 to Green Bay, 6-0 to Arizona and 21-0 to Seattle. If they stumble out of the gates against the Ravens on Sunday, running will likely not be an option thereafter, putting Collin Kaepernick in a position where he’ll have to rely on his arm in the pocket rather than his legs outside of it. Putting a young, inexperienced passer in that spot against a veteran secondary led by Ed Reed would likely spell trouble for the Niners and their Flavor-of-the-Month offense.