San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh appears to have made a permanent change at the quarterback position
I love Colin Kaepernick.
He has tremendous athleticism, a strong arm and confidence. As a Green Bay Packers fan, he reminds me quite a bit of Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback many fans of the San Francisco 49ers wanted the team to select instead of the one Kaepernick replaces, Alex Smith.
As one who has watched Smith get trashed by fans, I have frequently come to his defense. After Jim Harbaugh was hired, I stated that it was more nurture than nature that made the difference in the success of those QBs: Rodgers was put into a position to succeed while Smith was set up to fail.
But there are biases running both ways. After all, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee, within 50 miles of which I spent 95 percent of the first three-plus decades of my life.
Kaepernick is clearly ahead of schedule, and his role as the franchise QB of the future is at hand. There are 20 NFL teams for whom he would be an upgrade over their current starter.
But the 49ers should not be one of them. Here are the top five reasons why...
Too many players have suffered too many concussions, dealing with mental and physical problems for life and even ending their life prematurely in many cases. This is why the NFL and NHL are having to circle the wagons to protect themselves.
New rules limiting head shots, even incidental or accidental, have been instituted. More precautions are being taken when players suffer hits to the head.
That was supposedly why Alex Smith missed a start to begin with. What message do you send when you take away a man's job because he did not hide symptoms that point to a dangerous injury?
I am not saying the team cannot put the best man out there for the job. Just that it has to be because of the play on the field.
If a QB with a top-10 passer rating can lose a job to this injury, almost anyone can. That will likely lead to more hiding of concussions.
Jim Harbaugh is a fantastic coach. But his lies have been almost pathological.
Long after flying across the country to watch Peyton Manning work out, he denied having interest in him and insisted Alex Smith was his desired quarterback. He called those suggesting he was considering a coaching change at the end of October "jive turkey gobblers" and again said Alex was his guy.
Actions speak louder than words. Such defensiveness was followed by the realization he did indeed feel Smith was inadequate, no matter what he claims.
He created a quarterback controversy in the offseason and kept it going unnecessarily. There would have been no such problem making the switch after leaning on his veteran through the playoffs.
But it is not just Smith who should believe nothing Harbaugh says. If he were playing any better, he would be a Pro Bowl QB. Thus, until Harbaugh shows the demotion was particular to Smith by calling him out, any merely good starter with a dynamic backup will worry about losing his job.
That means a lot of players looking over their shoulder. And they cannot believe any assurances they get from the coach. Players that do not trust their coaches are rarely fitted for Super Bowl rings.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh keeps saying that Colin Kaepernick has earned the starting job.
From two wins? By comparison, Smith has been a top-10 QB since he finally got a real offense to work with last season.
He and Harbaugh had earned 20 wins in their last 26 games together. Alex Smith practically carried his team to its first division title and playoff victory in eight years, outdueling likely future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. They had the second-best record in the NFC at the time of his injury.
Nothing he was doing on the field was hindering that.
A lot has been made of Colin Kaepernick's debut performance and his upside. Against one of the best defenses in the world, he was 16-of-23 for 243 yards and two touchdowns without a pick in his first start. His total QB rating was fifth highest in the NFL in 2012.
But Alex Smith has the top performance against the Arizona Cardinals, going 18-of-19 for 232 yards and three scores. On the road. In a dome. Against a division rival.
The Chicago Bears appear to be the better defensive team, but they might not be given the same lack of offensive support, much like they had in the game versus the San Francisco 49ers thanks to Jay Cutler's concussion.
The Cards are on the field more, backed up in scoring range and the opposition can take more chances knowing they will not answer. It is harder to believe he would have done as well against Arizona than it is to believe Smith would have done that well against Chicago.
In the first road start for Colin Kaepernick, he performed well enough to validate his readiness to start.
He went 16-of-25 (.640 completion percentage) for 231 yards (9.2 per attempt) and a touchdown through the air. He added six carries for 27 yards (4.5 average) and a score running the ball. The San Francisco 49ers won, 31-17.
However, the defense really contributed more to the score than the offense. Two interceptions were returned for touchdowns and another turnover set up what should have been another field goal that David Akers missed.
Short fields helped the Niners offense all night, yet the 17 offensive points were the second least given up by the Saints defense all season. San Francisco became the only team to fall short of 400 total yards of offense.
Moreover, the Niners were burning timeouts and taking delay of game penalties as Kaepernick struggled to handle the crowd noise. He made two absolutely terrible passes, one of which was picked.
Neither of these were things Alex Smith would likely have done. Another interception could have let the Saints back into the game that the defense had handed to San Francisco.
The Niners are good enough to win a Super Bowl this year. In the playoffs, the Niners will not be dynamic enough with Kaepernick to overcome the turnovers those better teams can force.
That makes the safe choice the right choice for right now.