49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 13, 2013
Running story: Nolan's Falcons have struggled with mobile quarterbacks


The bad news for the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick: The Falcons have had good looks at mobile quarterbacks and the read option this season having played Carolina's Cam Newton twice, Washington's Robert Griffin III once and Seattle's Russell Wilson on Sunday.

The good news - Atlanta mostly has done a poor job of stopping them.

Wilson, of course, had a career game against Mike Nolan's unit. He threw for 385 and two touchdowns and ran the ball seven times for 60 yards. Other rushing quarterbacks have had success as well, especially on the ground. Newton ran nine times for 86 yards on Sept. 30. In the rematch on Dec. 9 he had nine carries for 116 yards.

The only rushing quarterback who had a so-so outing was Griffin. He rushed once for seven yards before he was knocked out of the game.

Each of those teams has a mobile passer and has read-option plays in its offense. As the Packers will verify, the 49ers and Kaepernick ran the read option to perfection Saturday. Green Bay could not handle the inside-outside combination of Frank Gore and Kaepernick, and the latter set a record for running yards by a quarterback.

"The execution for the 49ers on the read option was excellent," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "... We did not do a very good job of keeping (Kaepernick) in the pocket. He was able to get out of the pocket for a number of big conversions there in the first half. We weren't able to get off the field and try to make some adjustments in our defensive calls, pass-rushing lanes and so forth. We did not accomplish that.

"I was concerned at halftime frankly, what the time of possession was that the 49ers had over us, because of obviously their ability to run the football. We obviously didn't handle the read option very good, and we didn't handle the quarterback runs from out of the pocket."

Nolan is the 49ers' former head coach (McCarthy was one of his first hires in 2005), and he's getting looks again this year for head-coaching jobs. Statistically speaking, however, his defense ranked toward the bottom of the pack. It finished 24th overall in total defense - 23rd against the pass (242.4 yards a game) and 21st against the run (123.2).

When it came to stopping the run Sunday, Atlanta played to form. Seattle had 123 rushing yards, although they were down so much at halftime that they resorted to the pass and did that very well.

Nolan's defense may give up yards but it has done a good job at taking away the ball. It forced 31 turnovers in the regular season - fourth-best in the NFC - and had two more on Sunday against Seattle. It also bears noting that despite giving up big ground yards to rushing, read-option quarterbacks, the Falcons won three of the four games listed above. The loss was to the Panthers in Carolina.

Personal note: My grandmother passed away recently - she was a vibrant 92 years old - and I'm on my way to the east coast for her funeral. While I'm away, you'll be in good hands with Matt Kawahara, who wrote the previous post. Please pester him about being more prolific on Twitter. I do. He can be found at @MatthewKawahara

- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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