The 49ers have a quarterback controversy.
There is no denying it at this point. The entire nation watched the backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, shred one of the best defenses in the NFL. He did it with his arm, his legs, and showed his mind is able to compete at the top level too. You would think that a performance like his would guarantee a starting spot the next week. On this team, it doesn't.
The problem is that Kaepernick started a game for the defending NFC West champions. He started a game for a team that just missed a chance to go to the Super Bowl last year. He started in place of a quarterback, Alex Smith, who was one pass short of setting a record for completion percentage in a game just two weeks ago.
Alex Smith has played the way he needs to play...most of the time. He has had a good year this year. He had a great year last year. Could one good start from a backup really cost him his job?
So, who starts next Sunday against the Saints?
The Case for
Alex Smith has put together a strong resume over the last two years. He is 20-6-1 as a starter for the last two seasons. This year he has completed 70 percent of his passes. He has thrown 13 touchdowns to only five interceptions.
Two weeks ago, Alex threw an almost perfect game against a very good Arizona defense. He would have had a record for completion percentage in a game if he had completed one more pass.
Last year's playoff win against the Saints may be the strongest case for Smith. He looked like a superstar in that game. You always want your key players to play their best on the biggest stage and that's what Smith did. He matched Drew Brees throw for throw. If he can play that well in this year's playoffs, then he is the clear choice.
The Case against
Alex Smith is a game manager. I actually don't believe that is a bad thing. If you don't need to do a lot, then don't do a lot. Just help your team win. The problem is that Smith's ceiling has probably been seen.
Can he win a game if he needs to? Yes. See the Saints game last year. Can he do that on a regular basis? No. See the NFC Championship game from last year. Smith is a good, safe player, but that's about all.
Smith doesn't see the field as well as Kaepernick. Too many times this year, Smith has missed a wide open receiver. He doesn't go through his progression as well as Kaepernick does. He focuses in on one guy and throws to him, even if there is a better option.
The biggest argument I have against Smith is that we've seen what he can do. Is it good enough? Maybe. Is there a better option? That is the question.
The Case for
Just watch the Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. He looked phenomenal. The Bears have one of the best defenses in the league. Kaepernick went 16-23 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He can run, he can throw, and he also proved he can make the reads that are necessary to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
He has the physical tools that Smith lacks. Alex Smith has good physical abilities. He can run, he has a good arm, but he is no Kaepernick. Kaepernick's running ability is better. His arm is a rocket! He almost took off Moss' finger with one of his throws. He has shown that he has the talent to become a great player.
Colin Kaepernick is the future, why not start now? The 49ers traded up in last year's draft to take the former University of Nevada star. He looks like the long-term option for San Francisco. He has had time to sit and learn. He has a good team around him. His growth will be much more rapid if he is given the reigns to this team now.
The Case against
He has only started one game! Let's not get carried away just yet. Backup quarterbacks often come in and have at least one good start. Matt Flynn, Kevin Kolb and others, have come into a good situation and looked great. Flynn is sitting behind a rookie in Seattle and Kolb hasn't looked like a starter in Arizona.
Defenses get better when they know what they are preparing for. Chicago had no idea what was coming when it took the field against Kaepernick and the 49ers. Kaepernick looked great, but let's not call him the second coming of Montana just yet.
He has no playoff experience. The 49ers want to improve on last season's success. That means they want to go to the Super Bowl.
Alex Smith has playoff experience. He won a playoff game against the Saints. Kaepernick barely has NFL experience. Even if he starts every game from here on out, he would still enter the playoffs without a full season of playing experience.
Winning in the playoffs requires a different personality. Kaepernick might have it, but he might not. The 49ers have seen what Smith can do. He can be good enough to get his team to the big game. They don't know if Kaepernick can do the same.
This season should be Alex Smith's to win or lose. He has done enough to earn his spot. He proved he can win in the playoffs. He is a very good player with a great team around him.
The biggest problem with Kaepernick is his lack of experience. This year is too important to risk an unknown quarterback. I believe Kaepernick has more talent than Smith. I believe that he should be the starter next season. However, I don't believe he is ready to win a Super Bowl, but Smith is. Alex Smith should start.
Will Jim Harbaugh see it the same way? Will Alex be able to show the same sort of confidence that he has shown the last two years, knowing that any bad game could cost him his job? These are questions that will have to be answered.
The 49ers have the talent to win a Super Bowl. Now they have a quarterback controversy in the middle of the season. The decision made by Harbaugh this week will probably define this season.
People will look back and either say he made a great decision or he cost his team a championship. No coach wants to be in this situation but Harbaugh is. He should stick with Smith for the rest of the season, and can reevaluate after.