With the San Francisco 49ers only hours away from its first preseason action, now is a perfect time to attempt to gauge how the 49ers’ quarterbacks will fare throughout the upcoming 2011 season.
While it’s tough to gauge how quarterbacks Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick will perform in 2011, there are a few signs that can give some potential insights for their performance on a weekly basis.
Here are some game-by-game predictions for the 49ers’ quarterbacks for the upcoming season.
Rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick
If it isn’t apparent already, making these predictions is tricky business. The Niners are working in a new system around coach Jim Harbaugh (which for Alex Smith will be his third head coach in seven seasons) and will be putting in a lot of new additions on the offensive side of the ball.
Alex Smith is expected to be the starter for the 2011 season, with rookie Colin Kaepernick taking the backup role.
However, Alex Smith has only played one full season (2006). For the purposes of this slideshow, both quarterbacks will have projections listed weekly, even if only one plays.
Each game slide will have a short preview of the defense they will play against, whether the Niners’ quarterbacks will perform better or worse than their opponents and projected stats for Smith and Kaepernick.
For one of the first times in years, protection to the quarterback should not be a major worry. Featuring Joe Staley, Adam Snyder, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis and newly signed center Jonathan Goodwin, count on fewer sacks to come than the 44 sacks allowed last year.
The wide receiver corps has been a source of questions this offseason, but it should provide more value with the addition of former New York Jets receiver Braylon Edwards. Beyond Edwards, Michael Crabtree will have to fight back from injury to get back to full production, while Josh Morgan has been another solid option in the passing game.
Frank Gore has been productive, if not slightly injury-prone, and the running game should also help take off some pressure from the passing game. Expect rookie Kendall Hunter to pick up some carries from Gore as well.
Defensive Matchup To Watch: This could be a promising matchup between the 49ers receivers and the Seahawks secondary. Lead cornerback Marcus Trufant is 30 years old and one of the only veterans of the unit.
Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Walter Thurmond are only in their second year in the league.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: I’m not sold on Tarvaris Jackson. He sputtered big time when filling in for Brett Favre, has had a nasty run of injuries and is inaccurate when the system he moves into requires pinpoint passing. 49ers take this matchup.
Stats-Alex Smith: 250 yards, two TDS, zero INT
Stats-Colin Kaepernick: 200 yards, one PTD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: While the Dallas Cowboys appear to have an improved pass rush, the team will be frustrated with injuries building up in the secondary.
With Terrence Newman possibly out for this matchup, the team will have to rely on Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Alan Bell to get some results.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Tony Romo and Jon Kitna are a pretty impressive pair to be running the Cowboys’ offense. Cowboys take this matchup.
Alex Smith: 190 yards, one TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 175 yards, zero PTD, one RTD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: While the Bengals will have struggles in their secondary, especially after losing cornerback Johnathan Joseph to the Houston Texans, the defense will have to rally around its secondary.
Expect the linebacker corps of Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers and former 49er Manny Lawson to have a busy day.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: The Bengals will most likely turn the reins of their offense over to rookie Andy Dalton. Expect some growing pains for the quarterback fresh out of TCU.
Backup Bruce Gradkowski is not what one would call a show stopper either. Surprisingly this a pretty even matchup.
Alex Smith: 225 yards, one TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 200 yards, one PTD, one RTD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: This has bad news written all over it. The offensive line will have their hands full with a stacked defensive line including Cullen Jenkins and an energized Jason Babin.
Even worse, a deep secondary including corners Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will punish any errant throws.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Michael Vick and Vince Young win this by a landslide. Not even close.
Alex Smith: 175 yards, one TD, three INT
Colin Kaepernick: 150 yards, zero TD, two INT
Defensive Matchup: The Bucs defensive unit’s struggles from last year may continue as the team continues to develop its young talent. Most worrisome is the lack of depth at cornerback.
Ronde Barber is getting up there in years, while fellow starter Aqib Talib may find himself missing time for his seemingly endless rap sheet. It could be a good day for the Niners receivers.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Josh Freeman has emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league and one who many 49ers fans hope Colin Kaepernick can imitate as he develops in the next few seasons. Advantage: Tampa Bay.
Alex Smith: 250 yards, two TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 225 yards, one TD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: Look for the Niners quarterbacks to be on the run in this matchup. The Lions boast a devastating defensive line, including Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and rookie Nick Fairley.
The immense pressure at the line should take pressure off of what is a less than flashy secondary.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: This is a bit tricky. While Matt Stafford is a much more talented quarterback, his injuries have made him a continual disappointment in the Motor City.
With a rag-tag group backing him up, the Niners get the advantage here.
Alex Smith: 190 yards, two TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 200 yards, one TD, one INT
(NOTE: Week 7 is the 49ers' bye week.)
Defensive Matchup: This rag-tag defensive unit will face some growing pains as it adjusts to using a 4-3 defense. While there is some talent in the secondary, specifically corner Joe Haden, the defense will make or break on whether or not they can find production from its linebackers, like D’Qwell Jackson.
While Peyton Hillis has been excellent in diverting attention away from the young quarterback, McCoy would be best served by the Browns adding in another weapon to the receiving corps. I’m calling this one a draw.
Alex Smith: 250 yards, one TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 225 yards, one RTD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: While the Redskins’ defense disappointed last season, it seems little has been done to address the team’s faults.
Once again, the bulk of the work will fall on linebackers London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and Brian Orakpo. The secondary will have some holes that can be exploited.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: The Redskins enter the season riding their prospects on John Beck, who while confident is largely untested. Backup Rex Grossman lived up to his last name, showing up at camp in the shape of a blimp.
I typed Rex Grossman into the Google search bar...only to have my search finished with the word fat. The era of "Sexy Rexy" may be over. Advantage to the 49ers.
Alex Smith: 250 yards, two TDS, zero INT
Colin Kaepernick: 220 yards, two PTD, one RTD, zero INT
Defensive Matchup: The best part of this defense is the play at the line. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre Paul will create trouble in the backfield and will quickly test the Niners line.
Alex Smith: 190 yards, one TD, zero INT
Colin Kaepernick: 210 yards, one TD, zero INT
Defensive Matchup: The key addition for the Cardinals defense is cornerback Patrick Peterson.
While he will take some time adjusting to NFL speed, by the time this matchup comes around, this prized rookie will be a major part of the defense. Throwing in his direction could spell trouble.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: While Kevin Kolb is largely untested, he has shown tremendous upside in his first few starts (even if his record is 3-4 in those games). The advantage tentatively goes to the Cardinals.
Stats-Alex Smith: 200 yards, two TD, one INT
Stats-Colin Kaepernick: 180 yards, one TD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: While this group has gotten older, they are in no way less dangerous. The key defensive pieces this year are the same names we’ve seen for years.
Ray Lewis. Terrell Suggs. Ed Reed. Bernard Pollard will be an excellent addition to the team’s secondary.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Joe Flacco has been very reliable as starter in Baltimore, and with a few better receiving options (at least better than a weakened T.J. Houshmanzadeh), he could be an All-Pro.
The team might consider looking into acquiring a veteran backup, in case they aren’t satisfied with incoming rookie Tyrod Taylor. Advantage Ravens.
Alex Smith: 180 yards, one TD, two INT
Colin Kaepernick: 190 yards, zero TD, one INT
Defensive Matchup: Building slowly through the draft, the Rams have amassed a nice collection of young talent to solidify their ranks.
The Niners should expect to see the most damage from defensive end Chris Long and imposing linebacker James Laurinatis.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers?: Sam Bradford has had an excellent first few years in the league. Bradford would be a good example to cite should the Niners want to push Kaepernick into a starting role immediately. Advantage St. Louis.
Alex Smith: 220 yards, two TD, one INT
Colin Kaepernick: 190 yards, one TD, zero INT
Defensive Matchup: Another major issue for the Cardinals’ defense are the number of aging players putting in major minutes. Can Joey Porter and Kerry Rhodes still be counted on to put up big tackle numbers?
Age and injuries could really suck the wind out of the Cardinals, making some question the value in giving up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to get quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: At the backup spot, John Skelton failed to wow critics when placed in for limited action. Advantage 49ers.
Alex Smith: 240 yards, two TD, two INT
Colin Kaepernick: 220 yards, two TD, two INT
Defensive Matchup: The Steel Curtain is in full effect, and the strength of the unit will come through its secondary. Troy Polamalu is a constant threat to inaccurate passes, and James Harrison will likely be sure to lay out a few big hits on receivers crossing through his zone.
It might be a rough day under center for the Niners.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Few quarterbacks have an ability to pull wins out of thin air like Ben Roethlisberger. While Big Ben’s decision making on and (mostly) off the field will affect his legacy, there’s no denying the guy is a winner. Advantage Pittsburgh.
Alex Smith: 230 yards, one TD, three INT
Colin Kaepernick: 190 yards, zero TD, two INT
Defensive Matchup: While the Seahawks lack depth in their secondary, the changes in the defensive line could present some issues. The main focus for the line is newly signed Alan Branch.
The 6’6”, 340-pound monster from the Arizona Cardinals should play a big role in stuffing the run. Should the Niners lose their ability to run the ball, it could put additional pressure on the quarterbacks to manage the game.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers: Charlie Whitehurst will most likely take snaps when Jackson is out either due to injuries or poor play. It will not be much of an upgrade (if there is one). Still taking the 49ers here.
Alex Smith: 195 yards, one TD
Colin Kaepernick: 200 yards, one TD
Defensive Matchup: The Rams will hope that newly acquired strong safety Quintin Mikell will be able to add to the team’s pedestrian interception numbers.
Mikell has brought in three each of the past three seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.
Team’s quarterback(s) better or worse than 49ers?: Behind Bradford is the underwhelming A.J. Feeley. Advantage in the backup battle goes to the 49ers.
Alex Smith: 220 yards, two TD, three INT
Colin Kaepernick: 190 yards, one TD, two INT