Whether you agree or disagree with the possibility of Colin Kaepernick starting at quarterback for a second consecutive week, the San Francisco 49ers' showdown with the New Orleans Saints Sunday does represent another perfect testing ground for the second-year quarterback.
A week after beating a Chicago Bears team featuring a top defense and backup quarterback in San Francisco, Kaepernick could solidify his résumé with another strong showing against a surging Saints team led by quarterback Drew Brees.
Of course, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been vague about who will start Sunday. He told reporters (via Eric Branch) in San Francisco Friday that a decision on his starting quarterback hasn't been made.
However, ESPN and several other media outlets have reported that Harbaugh will likely go with Kaepernick Sunday in New Orleans.
...the team is proceeding with plans to start Colin Kaepernick against the Saints, a team source told ESPN...[Alex] Smith told ESPN on Wednesday night that Harbaugh informed the two quarterbacks that Kaepernick would take all the first-team reps in practice this week, a move that suggested Kaepernick would start against the Saints.
Kaepernick helped create the quarterback controversy when he completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears' top-five defense Monday night. The 49ers rolled to a convincing 32-7 win, and questions about who would start Sunday in New Orleans immediately began.
Not to take anything away from Kaepernick, who played a nearly perfect game, but there were some factors in his favor Monday.
The 49ers were playing in the comfort of their own stadium, and the quarterback across the sidelines—backup Jason Campbell—showed exactly why he's no longer a starter in the NFL. Campbell completed 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards and two interceptions as the Bears only had 12 first downs and 58 yards passing.
Such circumstances won't be available for Kaepernick in Week 12.
The Superdome is one of the better home-field advantages in football. The Saints have won five of their last six games (including each of the last three home games), and Drew Brees is again playing at an MVP level.
The cumulative atmosphere will feel as close to a playoff setting as the 49ers can ask for in the regular season. If Harbaugh wants Kaepernick to be the starter into the postseason, Sunday will give him all the information he'll need to know about whether the 2011 second-round pick can handle it right now.
The 49ers would also get to see if there's week-to-week consistency with Kaepernick, even if the Saints are still among the worst defenses in recent NFL history. Kaepernick burst onto the stage in his first start, but will the Saints pick up on some faults with a full game's worth of film to study?
A challenge for all young quarterbacks is not how you throw a first punch, but how you respond to getting one to your chin.
As boxer Mike Tyson famously said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Rarely did the Bears even get a jab in on Kaepernick Monday night.
But the most important challenge for Kaepernick would be how he deals with going toe-to-toe with one of the game's best quarterbacks.
Alex Smith was able to match scores with Brees last January as the 49ers advanced to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Especially in the Superdome, Brees should be expected to play well and score points Sunday.
The 49ers need to be able to trust Kaepernick to beat the game's best quarterbacks. In this day and age in the NFL, it's the only way to get to and win Super Bowls. Brees certainly qualifies as one of the NFL's best.
As is the case in any quarterback controversy, Harbaugh has many factors to weigh in this important decision. A difficult testing ground for Kaepernick is just one of those factors.
If he wants to find out everything he needs to know about his young quarterback, a start in New Orleans against Brees and Co. will likely provide it.