San Francisco 49ers' Future at Quarterback Murky After Week 3 Blowout

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2015

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) looks to throw against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers should start looking for a new quarterback.

After the 47-7 blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, it’s clear Colin Kaepernick is not the franchise guy. But before we dismiss him, let’s give him credit for trying. The guy tried really hard.

He was always the first to arrive at the practice facility and the last to leave, and he studied under countless quarterback gurus, such as Jim Harbaugh, George Whitfield Jr. and Kurt Warner.

It’s just that Kaepernick never improved. At times it seemed he had improved, but he couldn’t sustain that growth. After three years as the Niners’ starting quarterback, his best performance is still his first start—a 32-7 annihilation of the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and his passer rating was 133.1. He threw deep passes with touch and accuracy, showed poise in the pocket and went through progressions with the grace of Joe Montana. Kaepernick looked like a future Hall of Famer. That was 2012.

Since then, he seems to have steadily regressed. Sunday’s game against the Cardinals was probably his worst performance in the NFL. He pretty much lost the game all by himself.

Yes, the offensive line played poorly, and Kaepernick was under a lot of pressure. He certainly was under pressure when he threw his first pick-six on the 49ers’ third offensive play of the game.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

But you can’t blame that interception on the offensive line. Kaepernick chose to throw late and off his back foot. He could have chosen to throw the ball away, or tuck it and take the sack. Either decision would have been better than the one he made.

The second pick-six was a lot like the first. It came on the fourth play of the Niners’ second offensive series. Again, Kaepernick was under pressure. And again, he threw late and off his back foot for another pick-six.

Just like that, the game was practically over. The Cardinals had a 14-point lead and all the momentum, while the Niners—players and coaches—stood on the sideline with expressions of shell shock. The next two offensive series, San Francisco’s coaching staff didn’t let Kaepernick attempt a single pass, meaning they had no confidence in him.

But they couldn’t exclusively run the ball the rest of the game—it was still the second quarter. So near the end of the first half, after Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had thrown a pick, the Niners let Kaepernick cut one loose downfield.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Kaepernick had a clean pocket and an open receiver, tight end Vernon Davis, who had a step on safety Tyrann Mathieu. Somehow, Kaepernick underthrew the pass. Mathieu easily intercepted it.

For good measure, on the first play of the second half Kaepernick fired another pass downfield and got intercepted for the fourth time. Again, he had all the time in the world. Again, not the offensive line’s fault.

At least three of Kaepernick’s interceptions came on throws that traveled outside the painted numbers on the field. Those are the really difficult throws. Over the middle, passes tend to be easier because they usually don’t travel as far.

Why am I bringing this up? Check out what Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson said last week, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: “We have to contain (Kaepernick) and try to keep him throwing the ball outside the numbers, because we don’t think that’s his strength.”

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks at a playbook on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Guess what? Jefferson is right. Force Kaepernick to make long throws toward the sidelines and he melts down. He doesn’t throw with anticipation, and he doesn’t see underneath coverage—never has, never will. He is an interception waiting to happen when he throws across the field.

If Kaepernick could improve this part of his game, he probably would have by now. He turns 28 in November. This may be who he is—a running quarterback who’s a perpetual work-in-progress as a passer.

The Niners have needs all over their roster. Still, they should spend their first-round pick on a quarterback next year. Cal’s Jared Goff would be a good pick, and so would Michigan State’s Connor Cook.

Either guy would be an upgrade over Kaepernick.

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