San Francisco 49ers "Quarterback Controversy": A Good Problem to Have
Yeah, I didn't think so.
This is what occurred on Monday Night Football when the second-year quarterback from Nevada had one of the best initial starts in the recent history of the NFL. Facing a vaunted Bears' front seven, Kaepernick showed the poise, field control, pocket awareness and field vision that you rarely see from a young signal caller in the NFL. He did so in front of a national audience in a game that pitted two first-place teams against one another.
With Smith on the sideline decked out in red, Kaepernick completed 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards and two scores. More importantly, the young quarterback did not give the ball away against a Bears' defense that had forced 30 turnovers in the first nine games. In fact, Kaepernick didn't even give Chicago a chance to make a play on the ball in any of his 23 attempts.
Beyond statistics, which can be misleading, Kaepernick looked like a completely new quarterback than we had seen in the first half against the St. Louis Rams or during the preseason for that matter. That "deer in the headlights" look was replaced with a calm demeanor usually reserved for some of the top quarterbacks in the game. Kaepernick stepped away from pressure when he needed to, didn't resort to scrambling when his first read wasn't there, and showed a tremendous amount of awareness in the pocket.
It obviously helped that San Francisco's offensive line held up damn wall against a Bears' front that had been dominating through the first nine games.
They had time to throw the football...We knew that he (Kaepernick) runs the ball well and throws the ball well. Nothing surprised us about him. We saw him on film and he is fast, he makes good decisions. He did whatever he wanted to, he had all kinds of time.
Some of the time that Kaepernick had was also created by his ability to escape the pocket and scramble to the outside, where he has he immediately becomes a dual-threat quarterback.
One play comes to mind specifically. Kaepernick was forced out of the pocket by a great Chicago push up the middle. He then rolled left and saw Julius Peppers running him down. The young quarterback broke a couple tackles and threw the ball away before being forced out of bounds. It is this type of elusiveness that is magnified even further by stellar offensive line play. In short, when an opposing defense can actually get a hand on Kaepernick, he makes it hard for them to actually bring him down.
The most surprising aspect of Kaepernick's performance was how calm he looked in his first NFL start. As many of you already know, I didn't like this matchup for San Francisco if Smith was forced to sit with a concussion. After all, the idea of a "raw" quarterback going up against the No. 2 overall defense in the league just wasn't that appealing from a 49ers point of view.
Well, the young quarterback proved pretty much everyone wrong. Urlacher didn't scare him, Peppers didn't do too much to shake Kaepernick and Briggs was pretty much a non-factor. Those are three of the top defensive players in the entire league.
Of course when your running back blows up one of the best linebackers in the NFL like Gore did last night to Briggs, it helps the quarterback a great deal. As a result, Kaepernick was able to find Vernon Davis in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. In fact, if you look at the entire play, he had Moss running free down the right side too.
A Real Quarterback Competition
At this point I find it hard to imagine that Jim Harbaugh would actually start Kaepernick over Smith. Outside of suffering a concussion, the veteran quarterback has done absolutely nothing to lose his job. He led San Francisco to the NFC Championship game last season and has been even better in 2012.
Smith is first among quarterbacks with a 70 percent completion percentage and ranks third in the league with a mighty impressive 104.1 rating. Even more important, he possesses a .760 winning percentage in the regular season under Harbaugh. In the end it is all about winning football games, and Smith continues to do that. It is especially important to win when you are one of the few teams contending for the Super Bowl.
That being said, it really isn't that clear cut. What Kaepernick did last night against Chicago was so far over the top that it has to lead us to question how Harbaugh could actually sit him after that type of performance. He literally made the Bears' defense look like CAL going up against Oregon. That 96-yard, four-minute drive is a prime example of this.
In the End
As Mike Sando over at ESPN pointed out, Smith's last full game was an 18-of-19 performance against an Arizona Cardinals defense that just intercepted Matt Ryan a total of five times. That seems to be lost in what Kaepernick did last night.
In total, San Francisco quarterbacks have completed 77.6 percent of their passes for 700 total yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and a ridiculous 145.0 quarterback rating over the course of the last three games.
This is definitely a good "problem" to have.
In the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter who San Francisco puts out there under center. If the rest of the team plays the way it did against Chicago last night, nobody in the NFL stands a chance against the 49ers.
While Kaepernick obviously brings another dimension to the table when on the field, Smith has won the second most games in the NFL over the course of the last two seasons and brings 75 starts to the table for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Who should start against New Orleans
The question here is as follows. Does Harbaugh trust a quarterback with one career NFL start to lead his team to New Orleans in February? I have a hard time believing he will do that considering that the alternative was a few plays away from doing that last season.
In all honesty, this is going to be one interesting week at 4949 Centennial BLVD in Santa Clara. It could just end up being what it was two weeks ago. Smith is the quarterback right now and Kaepernick is the man to lead this franchise to its new home in 2014.
I guess this is why Harbaugh and company get paid the big bucks while my compensation over here at Bleacher Report includes some roasted crow, which I am gladly happy to chow down on after dismissing Kaepernick as a viable starter for 2012 just last week.
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