The 49ers' QB Decision Wasn't Close, Kaepernick Was the Pick

Bryan GoldbergSenior Writer IJanuary 3, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers in action against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 30, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last week, the web was aflutter over the San Francisco QB Debate—which technically ceased to be a debate six weeks ago.

Pundits pointed out that both QBs threw the ball 218 times, which creates a very easy sense of comparison. They also pointed out that both men had similar stats in the major categories. Kaepernick led in YPA (8.32 vs. 7.97), while Smith led in QB Rating (104.1 vs. 98.3). Most other metrics—such as total yards and completion percentage—rolled up into the two above metrics.

Both Smith and Kaepernick won the games they needed to win, carrying the 49ers into a coveted first-round bye in the playoffs.

But to say that this was a "close call" would miss a few key points.



Kaepernick Played Under Much More Difficult Circumstances


Let's start with the injuries, which were plentiful.

Kaepernick played without Mario Manningham. He played without Manningham's backup on the depth chart, Kyle Williams. And don't think that the key defensive injury to Justin Smith did not have any impact on the offense.

The 49ers "front seven" was simply not as dominant without The Cowboy, allowing the opposing QB to stay on the field for much longer. This was particularly notable against Seattle, who kept No. 7 on the sideline all night.

Then let's discuss the competition. Going into New England—and winning—was the challenge of the year for the 49ers, and there is no way that Smith could have put up the points needed to outgun Brady.

And Seattle? Going into that stadium in the pouring rain, with that noise and stakes as high as that was completely different compared to the first match earlier in the year. While it was probably Kaepernick's lowest moment, it still shows how his stats would have been all the better were it not for insane competition.

His performance against the Bears and Saints—who were both red hot at the time of play—should also not be discounted.

Smith faced some tough competition too, most notably against an ill-prepared Packers in the opener. But he also benefited from a string of weak competition (Lions, Jets, Bills, etc.). 



Alex Smith Was a Deer in the Headlights When It Came to Sacks


Colin took far fewer sacks than Alex Smith—a stat which will not appear in QB Rating or on many pundit tongues. 

But that stat matters. And Smith is particularly vulnerable to being sacked.

Sure, Alex throws very few interceptions (albeit, he was more blunder-prone this year than last). But how much does one value a sack versus throwing an interception? Sacks can be drive-killers just as much as a pick. Is it a 2-to-1 ratio? 3-to-1? Either way, if you assume that giving up sacks should count in the same spirit as a turnover, Smith is suddenly far less of the "no mistakes" mold. 

And in Smith's case, a sack is particularly demoralizing. Because he is not the kind of guy who can throw a 50-yard pass to revive a drive. He needs to hit seven or eight passes to get the ball in the end zone, and sacks were constantly breaking "the chain" that he needed to complete to get in.

Kaepernick, in contrast, can throw two passes and hit the end zone. Especially with Crabtree around. So if he takes the occasional sack, he can still overcompensate. When Smith faces 3rd-and-17, it's over.



QBs Need to Run. It's That Simple.


Was Alex Smith the worst scrambler in the NFL? No. He has had a few memorable runs to get those critical first downs.

But he ain't Colin. Not even close. In fact, very few QBs can make the game-changing running plays Colin can.

And if the Niners needed any more proof that running matters, how about they look in the mirror? Or at their own calendar.

Two of their biggest losses were the "shocker" to Minnesota (in hindsight, we shouldn't have been that shocked) and the beating at the hands of Seattle. Guess how those games were lost?

A mobile QB ran circles around us. 

Russell Wilson is not a fluke. He is changing the game of football, and the Niners need to answer back. The era of the QB who can run but not throw is over. This is the era of incredibly gifted QBs who are multi-dimensional.

And it's just starting. Maybe Kaepernick is not quite Russell Wilson or RG3, but he has their upside.

Smith does not.

In summary, if you count Colin's running TD in with his passing ones, his total ratio of TD-INT becomes 15 TD vs. 3 INT—which is incredible. 

And I think that stat is a great place to end this article.