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San Francisco 49ers lean heavily on pistol formation

NEW ORLEANS -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Sunday night he "wouldn't categorize" Colin Kaepernick as a read-option quarterback, but the second-year pro has played that role to increasing degrees in the playoffs.

The 49ers operated out of the pistol formation on 34 of 75 plays from scrimmage in their NFC divisional-round victory over the Green Bay Packers. That 45.3 percent mark was dramatically higher than anything we saw during the regular season. The figure jumped to 54.9 percent against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, with the 49ers dialing up the option on 28 of 51 plays, according to NFL research.

Keep in mind the 49ers never ran more than 17 plays (30.9 percent) out of the Pistol during a regular season game. That high mark came in a Week 14 win over the Miami Dolphins.

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The 49ers ran just five option plays (8.9 percent) against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 and rolled out just two pistol calls against the Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season finale. If it wasn't a big part of strategy over the final two weeks of the campaign, emphasis on the option has been crystal clear in January.

It comes down to more than Kaepernick's mobility. The assumption that he was shut down on the ground against the Falcons is incorrect. Kaepernick didn't attempt to run much, mainly because he successfully fed the ball out of the pistol to a stable of running backs who ate up the Falcons' defense.

Barring a distinct departure in strategy, count on the 49ers to test the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday with plenty of pistol looks in Super Bowl XLVII.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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