Who doesn’t like a good ol’ QB controversy? In the 49ers 32-7 embarrassment of the Bears on national TV, backup QB Colin Kaepernick showed the skills of a veteran quarterback and that he can be a pocket passer. Kaepernick had a great performance in prime-time against one of the NFL’s top defenses and made them look like they were overrated. The question now for Jim Harbaugh and Niner fans is who should start at QB, Kaepernick or Alex Smith?
For San Francisco 49ers fans the team has not had legitimate quarterback controversy since, well, I am not sure when. The last time I can recall is when Steve Young was quarterbacking the 49ers when Joe Montana came back from elbow surgery. Before start of 1993 season the 49ers wanted Montana back, but Young had been leading the 49ers the last two seasons and players were split in who they wanted under center. Montana was traded to the Kansa City Chiefs. Since then there have been QB controversies for the 49ers, but it’s been because of the bad play by the quarterbacks rather than two players competing for a starting job.
After hearing the news that Smith would miss the game against the Bears because of his concussion, I thought Harbaugh would have his offense deploy a cautious game plan with Kaepernick making his first NFL start. Man, I am glad I was completely wrong. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman unleashed Kaepernick on the Bears with an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, he threw a 22-yarder to tight end Vernon Davis.
On the next drive for the Niners, Kap showed off his arm strength with a 57-yard completion to Kyle Williams. He probably threw the football at least 40 yards to hit Williams in stride to bring the offense to the Bears 3-yard line. On the next play he hit Davis in the end zone for the game’s first TD. After two drives the Niners led 10-0, with Kap completing 7-of-8 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown.
In his first two series, Kaepernick completed 7-of-8 passes for 114 yards and floated a 3-yard touchdown to Davis to give the 49ers a 10-0 lead. From there the 49ers offense was able to continue their dominance in the game not only because of how well they were playing, but also because the defense continued to hand the football back to the offense. By the end of the game the 49ers would win 32-7 thanks to Kap completing 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns and he finished with a 133.1 rating.
What impressed me the most was there were no turnovers by Kaepernick. He showed confidence throughout the game and had the presence on the field of a QB who has been starting all season. We are accustomed to seeing him run the football any chance he can get, but against the Bears he showed he can be a prolific pocket passer as well with good accuracy. There is no doubt Kap is ready to be an NFL starter.
There are three big factors that Kaepernick gives the offense that Smith cannot provide: A strong and accurate arm, a running threat and excitement to the offense with his style of play. Still, Smith was not playing bad the last two games and all season. He has completed 26 of his last 28 passes, leads the NFL in completion percentage and is third in passer rating. Also, he has a 20-5-1 record in the regular-season dating back to the start of last season. But the question has to be asked, would Smith have been able to duplicate Kap’s numbers against a Bears defense that only allowed 14.8 points per game and had a league leading 30 takeaways entering the game? Probably not.
One reason Kaepernick was so successful against the Bears defense was his ability to complete six passes of at least 20 yards or more. His strong arm and confidence to go down field transformed the Niners into a more vertical offense of which Vernon Davis was a beneficiary of with 6 catches for 83 yards and one touchdown. In the previous four games, Davis averaged 2 catches and 25 yards with Smith under center.
The debate of the pros and cons of Kaepernick taking over the starting job at QB is underway. Kap has strong pros like him constantly looking to throw the football down the field, while Smith looks for mainly short passes and check downs. The cons of Kap starting is despite his high-octane performance, it was just one game. Does Harbaugh roll the dice with Kap to see what happens against the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday? One pro for Smith is he has not only regular-season experience but playoff experience as well. Something Kap does not provide for the 49ers. Is Harbaugh ready to go into the playoffs with a second-year QB with no previous experience?
Harbaugh on Kaepernick starting next week:
We’ll see. We usually tend to go with the guy that’s got the hot hand and we’ve got two quarterbacks that have the hot hand.
Kaepernick on starting against the Saints:
Definitely. I wanted to come out and show what I was capable of, show that I could be a starter. That’s what I’ve been trying to prove since I’ve been here.