Breaking Down Colin Kaepernick's Performance Against St. Louis Rams

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Breaking Down Colin Kaepernick's Performance Against St. Louis Rams
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In Sunday’s contest versus the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers suffered a setback when starting quarterback Alex Smith left the game with a concussion. 

Before exiting the game, Smith went 7-of-8 for 72 yards, including a 14-yard red-zone touchdown to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. While San Francisco’s medical staff was examining Smith on the sideline, the Niners gave the nod to their only other active QB. 

In his most significant game since being drafted 36th overall in 2011, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers for three straight quarters.  

In a hard-fought NFC West battle, San Francisco was forced to lean on an inexperienced second-year passer. And despite being thrust into a tough situation, with his team already being down points, Kaepernick was impressive for the most part. 

Unfortunately, the game ended in a tie but in hindsight, the Niners are lucky it was not a loss. The Rams had plenty of opportunities to put this game away, but Kaepernick and the 49ers kept fighting back. 

 

The Good 

Kaepernick finished 11-of-17 for 117 yards passing, while adding 66 yards and a touchdown on the ground. 

For a second-year NFL player that does not have a start to his name, it was surprising to see how cool, calm and collected he was. Kaepernick’s approach looked like that of a seasoned veteran, rather than a project QB filling in for the injured starter. 

It’s clear that he lives down-to-down and has a very short memory. The situation also didn’t seem too big for him, as he could be seen making pre-snap reads and going through his progressions. 

At 6’4”, 230-pounds, Kaepernick has a world of athletic ability. He is a playmaker at the quarterback position and a mismatch for defensive fronts. Because he is a dual-threat, San Francisco can successfully use misdirection and sleight of hand to gash defenses.

It’s hard to defend someone with his particular skill set. 

Following halftime, he really began to display flashes of brilliance. He’s shown that when given a chance, he can come out and make plays for the 49ers. Kaepernick put together a very nice 11-play, 81-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. 

As a threat to both throw and run, Kaepernick was able to keep the defense on its heels. He has a rocket arm, partnered with uncanny mobility—he can throw lasers all over the field, or tuck it and run if the play isn’t there. 

On Sunday versus the Rams, he also displayed quite the bravado, stepping into hits in order to deliver the football. This kind of fearlessness with pressure in his face is a valued commodity to have in a quarterback and leader. 

And as harsh as it may seem, unlike Alex Smith, Kaepernick is a pure playmaker at the QB position. 

The first thing onlookers might notice when No. 7 is behind center is his ability to extend plays with his legs. He gives his playmakers a chance to find space and make something happen. Even when keeping his eyes downfield, Kaepernick is elusive in nature. 

He gave his team a chance to win on a day when San Francisco’s defense did not play well. And given his lack of experience, one had to come away impressed with Kaepernick’s situational awareness. 

He was moving the chains, running out of bounds, stopping clock and not forcing erratic throws. His ball placement gave his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball, while keeping it away from the defenders. In a game that was this close, it was good to see Kaepernick operating on such a level. 

And after the 49ers defense had allowed the lead to slip away once again, Kaepernick was backed into a corner, down 3-points with 1:09 left in the game. And if he hadn’t done enough for his team, Kaepernick led the offense downfield to setup the game-tying field goal that sent this game into OT. 

 

The Bad and the Ugly 

“Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement and a lot of things I would like to do differently. I just went out there and tried to do what I could to help this team.”

Its clear Kaepernick’s mechanics have not received the attention they’ve deserved. His footwork and throwing motion are not the prettiest or most traditional. But being in a backup role, the team has not placed an emphasis on getting him up to speed in that respect.  

The entirety of Kaepernick’s footwork in the pocket needs to be cleaned up. From snap to release, Kaepernick’s moves in the pocket need to be fine-tuned. He could be seen standing upright, throwing off balance, while also failing to set his feet. 

He is very lengthy, and it contributes to his unorthodox dropback.   

Colin Kaepernick 2011 Highlights

It’s clear that Kaepernick needs the kind of one-on-one time Smith has received. It might not even hurt if he were to seek out pitching guru Tom House. 

Early on, it looked like Kaepernick was improvising too much, rather than executing with play-intent in mind. It looked more like a schoolyard pickup game instead of a well-executed NFL game plan.   

Kaepernick lacks the fluidity in his movements after the snap, looking scattered in the pocket at times. He will also try to do too much, holding onto the ball longer than he should—a problem he shares with Alex Smith. 

Going forward, Kaepernick could certainly benefit from making quicker decisions. He can get the ball to his target so quickly, that if he could combine that with rapid decision-making, he’d be awfully challenging for defenses.   

But mind you, Kaepernick is not a traditional quarterback. Coming from the pistol offense at Nevada-Reno, he is not used to the QB-center exchange. Kaepernick fumbled the ball twice Sunday, but luckily, neither was lost. 

At this juncture, accuracy and consistency are his two biggest setbacks as a player. However, Kaepernick is still a No. 2 QB getting second-string reps, so it’s no surprise that he’s still this rough around the edges.

 

Conclusion 

Having Colin Kaepernick behind center adds a whole new dimension to this 49ers offense. He fits the Michael Vick-Robert Griffin III-Cam Newton mold in that he is a strong-armed passer that can just as easily make plays with his feet. 

Thinking long-term, it appears that Kaepernick would be able to provide more explosiveness from the quarterback position. 

And revisiting his poise on the field, it’s important to note that Kaepernick doesn’t get rattled, and in some ways, plays more fearlessly than Alex Smith. While Smith plays risk free, high-percentage football, Kaepernick lets it loose and plays to win. 

They are very different players. When the play breaks down, Kaepernick can use his legs and still turn it into a gain, whereas Smith typically takes a sack for a loss. 

Kaepernick gets out of the pocket, extends the play and keeps his eyes downfield. When San Francisco has the long list of playmakers that they do, it’s a benefit to have a passer that can keep the play alive, giving them more time to get free. 

Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean Kaepernick will always see his targets downfield. For example, Kaepernick moved outside the pocket to avoid pressure, but didn’t see a wide-open Kyle Williams streaking downfield all alone. 

This is why Alex Smith is the better option right now. 

Kaepernick showed great promise for the future—which could be as soon as 2013—but this season, Smith is the guy. Until Kaepernick has a full offseason in the starting role, he will still be a work-in-progress. 

Right now, the second-year man out of Nevada is still adjusting to the speed of the NFL. There are a lot of little things that need to be learned before Kaepernick can assume the starting job in San Francisco. 

The Faithful, as well as the Niners coaching staff, should be impressed with what they saw in Week 10. 

 

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