Why Jim Harbaugh Has No Choice but to Bench Alex Smith, Start Colin Kaepernick

John Rozum@Rozum27Correspondent INovember 22, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers rolls out to pass against the Chicago Bears during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on November 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 32-7. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick is expected to start for the San Francisco 49ers against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12.

According to Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated:

BREAKING: Jim Harbaugh has informed Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick will start Sunday, per source. Said decision not based on health.

— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) November 22, 2012

That said, Jim Harbaugh made the right move, because Kaepernick is in a good position. For one, the young signal-caller showed impressive confidence against the Chicago Bears, and secondly, he faces a weak Saints defense in Week 12.

What's also important is to see if Kaepernick can play at a consistently high level. One game may say a lot—however, performing well on a weekly basis says much more about a quarterback.

Let's look at why Kaepernick deserves the start after the kid totally eviscerated Chicago on Monday.

Note: All screen caps are courtesy of NFL.com's Game Rewind.


Performance vs. Bears

Against the Monsters of the Midway, Kaepernick diced the Bears for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also went 16-of-23 and was sacked just one time.

This is a Chicago defense that, entering Week 11, had recorded 19 interceptions and forced 17 fumbles. Kaepernick didn't turn the ball over, and his poise at the helm prevented Chicago from creating pressure and getting turnovers.

On San Francisco's first drive, Kaepernick faced a rather tough situation on 2nd-and-9. It's tough, because not converting or gaining any yards results in an even more difficult situation on third down.

Here, Kaepernick sets up from under center and then fires a dart after play-action to Vernon Davis for a first down. What's impressive is that Kaepernick quickly read the Cover 2 scheme and made a fast throw to beat the sitting outside corner for a completion.

The bottom receiver is key to this as well, because he gets inside leverage on the corner, who ends up getting depth and coming up late to the pass.

Kaepernick steps up in the pocket and sees the immediate read, and the bottom corner is shielded by the receiver with inside leverage. The decision and throw, however, must be quick to get the first down.

You can see the width between Davis and the corner as well as the linebacker in coverage. Kaepernick makes the quick decision, and the pass is completed

Although this isn't the tightest of windows, it's still a rather difficult throw. The width between Davis and the corner had significantly closed, but it remained wide enough to reach the first-down marker.

Had this velocity on the pass and the actual read been any slower, then it's either incomplete or a turnover.

The next pass we see is an excellent combination of arm strength, accuracy and touch on the ball. Kaepernick reads the blitz but doesn't panic as he takes the shotgun snap.

He then senses the outside rush and calmly steps up into the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield. Notice the deep safety and Kaepernick's intended receiver, Kyle Williams.

Williams beats his man-coverage defender, and Kaepernick sees the distance from the safety and tosses one up and over. Courtesy of Williams' speed, he can run under the catch to make the play.

There's just enough on the pass for Williams to catch it in stride, but not too much as he nears the boundary. The ball is caught, and Williams gets a bit more after the catch.

Say this pass was underthrown. Chances are one of Chicago's two defenders in the picture records an interception. After all, the coverage isn't incredibly awful. There's simply no defense for a perfect pass.


Saints Field Weak Defense

Entering Week 12, the Saints rank No. 31 against the pass, No. 32 against the run and allow 462.8 total yards per contest.

New Orleans has also recorded only seven interceptions and has given up 21 passing touchdowns: Tied for the most in the NFL (New England). Still, when we're comparing defenses, there isn't one similarity between the Bears and the Saints.

Chicago is undoubtedly better than New Orleans at blanketing in coverage, stuffing the run, forcing turnovers and applying consistent quarterback pressure. The Saints don't present the capable playmakers like the Bears and they're also a defense that allows a 63.8 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks.

Although it's a road matchup and the Superdome is not an easy place to play, Kaepernick's debut versus the Bears warrants another start against the NFL's worst defense.


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