Andy Benoit of the MMQB recently wrote this article that essentially states the 49ers have been winning despite Colin Kaepernick. Now, the MMQB has been an excellent website since its inception this summer, and the article has many good and valid points, but I do take exception to some of them. Let’s quickly break this article down.
1) Pocket passers have traditionally been successful in the NFL while running quarterbacks traditionally have struggled.
1a) If pocket passers can scramble, even better, but “run-oriented” quarterbacks have always struggled.
1b) Few quarterbacks have ever been able to run and throw with the best runners and the best throwers, usually it is one or the other that a QB is top-notch at while being able to do the other one well. (Think of a right-handed basketball player who can drive left, but still goes right 80% of the time and you have what usually happens. The equivalent of a player shooting both right- and left-handed hardly ever happens.)
This first point has, in fact, been true through the history of the NFL. Benoit also does an excellent job reminding us of the difference between a scheme such as the read-option and players’ abilities.
But [Steve] Young, [Donavon] McNabb and [Steve] McNair never had to run; they could work deep into their progressions from the pocket. And they didn’t have otherworldly speed and agility—they were just very capable scramblers who could fully capitalize on opportunities with their legs. Russell Wilson falls into this class; Colin Kaepernick does not. Kaepernick has the long strides, acceleration and burst to create game-changing opportunities with his legs. And being a primitive field-reader, he often has to.
Calling Kaepernick’s gifts “rare,” CK is compared in this article to one Michael Vick (in his prime), in terms of being able both to run well and throw well. The differences? Vick was short, had a smaller frame, got hurt a lot more, and did not have as good of accuracy as Kaepernick. Even so, Kaepernick is called a “limited field-reader” with “unrefined mechanics” with a solid enough team around him that his deficiencies can be overcome. Once he has a weaker supporting cast — which, with today’s salary cap structure, is inevitable — Benoit does not believe he can be as successful as, say Tom Brady for two reasons: 1) Brady is super-smart on that football field and 2) It is not really possible to build around the “randomization” that Kaepernick brings to the table.
Please do not get worked up either way yet. That time will come. Read on.
As Benoit states, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman do have to be given credit for their excellent scheme work, especially in the power running game. What Benoit fails to mention, however, is that Harbaugh ran essentially this same offense with a certain Andrew Luck under center. For as good of a college player Luck was, it is oft-forgotten that he played in an offense that handed the ball off a whole lot more than they dropped back to pass. In two years of coaching Luck, Harbaugh’s offense handed it off 1,007 times and threw it 686 times. I do not recall anyone claiming Harbaugh dumbed his offense down for the Stanford QB. True, the pass patterns and reads are somewhat different, but that is always the case when you have different personnel. They have changed quite a bit in the short time since Michael Crabtree‘s return.
Benoit then goes into a critique of Kaepernick’s momentum-shifting 45-yard run vs. the Green Bay Packers a couple of weeks ago. He shows Kaepernick missing a pair of open receivers — Vance McDonald was definitely open for a short gain; Vernon Davis looks open at first glance, but a pair of defenders are playing spy coverage nearby and likely would have been able to react to most balls thrown to the area. True, Kaepernick did take off running a tad faster than most quarterbacks, and yes, I will admit I have been frustrated more than once by his doing this and failing, but his combination of speed and power cannot simply be thrown out the window. Like rushing the middle in the first half at the Carolina Panthers last week, the 49ers’ offense cannot simply ignore what it is good at. Sometimes you struggle, but eventually you pop one for a big gain.
Benoit then reminds the reader of the last few plays in the Super Bowl XLVII. On second down, Benoit says Kaepernick waited too long to throw to Crabtree in the flat on a roll-out. I do not think Crabtree was ever that open, but the receiver towards the top of the still picture Benoit inserted sure looks like he could have been led for an easy touchdown. My point? Hindsight is always 20-20. Same goes for the third-down play: Delanie Walker was open, Kaepernick missed it, but all quarterbacks make mistakes. Was Kaepernick not hailed as the reason the 49ers made the Super Bowl in the first place? Remember Alex Smith? Remember how everyone was a little quick to pull the trigger on the Kaepernick-rules-Smith-drools storyline? (Forgive the pantomime of a four year-old and go with me on this one.) Look at all Smith did this season: 9 game winning streak for a team that won two games last year, a 11-4 regular season record, and 44 points in a playoff game in which his defense collapsed. Not bad.
Yes, quarterbacks get all the credit and all the blame, but to hail a man as the savior then condemn him as the problem in such a short span means someone, somewhere made a mistake — and based on Kaepernick’s record so far, I am not about to say the mistake was acknowledging his helping hand.
Does Kaepernick have room for improvement? Of course! Benoit at least acknowledges that changes to his game should come in the offseason. I do not think, however, that he is a liability currently for this 49ers team. Can Kaepernick be somewhat inconsistent making incredible plays as well as some stupid ones? Sure, but that, along with his early Super Bowl loss, reminds me more of one John Elway than anyone else. Perhaps Kaepernick will take ballet and get his footwork all figured out, like that Hall of Fame quarterback. Kaepernick will grow, of that I have no doubt, but he certainly is not the problem. He will be the solution.