Colin Kaepernick Has Plenty of Time to Turn Around Slow Start to Season

Joseph Akeley@@Jakeley_BRAnalyst IOctober 22, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20:  Jurrell Casey #99 of the Tennessee Titans rushes quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have scored more than 30 points in their last four games—all wins—and yet even during the winning streak, Colin Kaepernick hasn't been exceptional.

And then there's San Francisco's two losses, in which Kaepernick was abysmal. 

It's all added up to Kaepernick posting the third-worst score of 38 qualified quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus (subscription required).  

And for those who still aren't convinced he's been relatively subpar, his completion percentage is 28th in the NFL, and his passer rating is 17th. 

Frank Gore has been the centerpiece of the 49ers offense in 2013.
Frank Gore has been the centerpiece of the 49ers offense in 2013.Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his struggles this season, all is good in San Francisco. The 49ers are 5-2 and have won their last four games by a combined score of 132-51. They've forced 12 turnovers and have a run-pass ratio of 155-94 (62 percent run percentage) during that span. 

They haven't asked Kaepernick to do too much, and in fairness, he's protected the ball and sprinkled in a few big plays in every game.

Still, you can't help but wonder if Kaepernick has what it takes to lead the Niners to a Super Bowl this year.

An optimistic 49ers fan would say a major reason for Kaepernick's subpar play is a lack of quality receiving weapons. And that issue could be solved when Michael Crabtree returns. 

However, coming off a fully torn Achilles, will he be the No. 1 receiver he was in 2012?

A source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that Crabtree will be ready to contribute "come playoff time." Who knows if he'll be healthy enough or in game shape to be a legitimate threat.

Instead of expecting Crabtree to solve all his problems, Kaepernick has nine more regular-season games to fine-tune his game without him.

Colin Kaepernick Stats

First, Kaepernick has to throw more accurately when under pressure. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kaepernick is tied with Michael Vick as the least accurate passer when pressured. In the same stat for 2012, Kaepernick was fifth in the league. 

Secondly, he needs to get rid of the ball faster. His passer rating goes down 32 points when he holds onto the ball for longer than 2.5 seconds, per PFF (subscription required). 

The first two issues go hand in hand. The faster he gets rid of the ball, the less often opposing defenses will blitz him. And if he's facing fewer blitzes, he'll face less pressure, which should improve his accuracy.

Lastly, Kaepernick needs to find the 2012 magic he had when throwing deep passes. His completion percentage has dropped 17 percent from last year on passes that travel at least 20 yards downfield in the air, per PFF (subscription required). 

There's no doubt that Kaepernick's numbers would improve with a healthy Crabtree, but if the No. 15 of last year isn't walking through that door, he'll have to make do with what he has. 

Whether it's establishing a rapport with Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams or soon-to-be-activated Mario Manningham, Kaepernick has to get a second receiver involved in this offense.

To get past the Seattle Seahawks (in Week 14 and/or the playoffs), the 49ers won't be able to move the ball if they play in the big personnel groupings for the majority of the game like they did in their 29-3 loss in Week 2.

As the Seahawks will do everything in their power to shut down Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, it'll be up to Kaepernick to connect with San Francisco's other tight ends and wide receivers who have combined for just 251 receiving yards this season.  

Is he up to the task? Maybe he has already turned a corner.

On Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, he was incredibly sharp for the first two-and-a-half quarters, completing 11 of 13 passes for 163 yards and rushing eight times for 70 yards and a touchdown.

For the first time this year, the 49ers heavily featured the read-option, and it had a positive effect on the third-year quarterback. ESPN Stats & Info tweeted this stat about his performance:

Still, only one of Kaepernick's 13 completions went to a tight end or wide receiver not named Davis or Boldin. The current offensive game plan works against the Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams (four teams not projected to make the playoffs), but will it work against the Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and/or other potential NFC playoff teams?

Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman haven't opened up the playbook for Kaepernick since San Francisco's Week 1 win against the Green Bay Packers in which he threw for more than 400 yards.

By the end of the regular season, they'd be wise to let Kaepernick air it out more. Come playoff time, they'll need a quarterback who has the confidence to lead a 17-point comeback, not one who's thrown for more than 200 yards once in the last six weeks. 


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