On Paper, Kaepernick Move Puzzling

Ian Logue
December 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm ET

The Patriots have another tough match-up this Sunday night against the 49ers, the second ‘litmus test’ in less than a week to see how they measure up to yet another NFL Division leader.

A lot of talk has centered around the quarterback situation in San Francisco and taking a closer look, Jim Harbaugh is either crazy, or he’s a genius.  The latter remains to be seen because the numbers certainly go against his initial decision to bench Alex Smith in place of Colin Kaepernick.

Colin Kaepernick appears to be the guy going forward for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. (FILE:USPresswire)

In Smith’s last two outings, he’s missed on just two passes – two – one in each game.  He finished his last full start 18-of-19 for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns (no interceptions) in a 24-3 blowout win over the Cardinals back on October 29th, and was 7-of-8 for 72 yards and a touchdown one week later against St. Louis before getting taken out of the game early in the second quarter due to a concussion.  The last pass he threw was a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, and he hasn’t seen the field since.

Overall he’s 152-for-217 (70% completion) for 1731 yards while throwing 13 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.

Typically if a guy is struggling and he’s turning the football over, or if your team is losing,  there’s usually signs that a move needs to be made.  In this case, Harbaugh appears to just be going with the fact Kaepernick seems to be a lot like he was as a player.  For anyone who watched Harbaugh when he became a starter in Indianapolis he wasn’t the most gifted passer by any means, but he was tough, gritty, and in quite a few games just outworked guys who was better than he was.

Until of course, the Colts eventually replaced him with Peyton Manning.  Then it became more about skill and execution, and Manning clearly was better at both.

Some have compared what’s going on in San Francisco with the situation that transpired here in New England with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady back in 2001.  In that case, things were certainly a little different.

Over the course of Bledsoe’s final two regular season starts as a Patriot, here are how his numbers compared with Smith’s final two games in San Francisco:

Drew Bledsoe:  40-of-66 (60%) for 400 yards 2 touchdowns, 2 INT’s – 0-2 Record
Alex Smith: 25-of-27 (93%) for 304 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 INT’s 1-0 Record*
*since his final pass came with 8:17 left in the second quarter – I’m not crediting him in the tie against the Rams.

Coming off of a 5-11 season Bledsoe didn’t have the track record under Belichick to save himself and the offense was inconsistent over his final two starts.   Unfortunately it set up a great opportunity for Tom Brady to earn the job, and all he had to do was play well.  Obviously he did, and the rest is history.

For Smith, it’s a different story.  He hasn’t been a super star by any means, but he’s a guy that finished last season having thrown 17 touchdowns compared to just 5 interceptions.  Not outstanding, but not someone who you have to worry about him potentially making a bad play.

Looking at Kaepernick, he’s a good athlete with a strong arm and a guy that certainly has his moments making plays with his legs.  He’s already carried 46 times for 351 yards and 5 touchdowns.  He does a good job of improvising when he’s chased out of the pocket so the Patriots will obviously need to contain him, and if nothing else keep him from getting outside and force him to use his arm to beat them.

Watching a couple of games on him, he’s definitely not the most mechanically sound quarterback you’ll ever see.   His throwing motion looks very similar to Tim Tebow but with a faster release and a stronger arm.   The one difference between those two is he’s a lot quicker moving around and much more elusive, and he does a good job throwing the ball on the run.

Taking a step further he throws the deep ball well, and has a cannon for an arm.  He had one throw on a flea flicker last Sunday that was perfectly executed and nearly had Randy Moss for a touchdown.  To let you know how far he threw it, he let go of the football at about his own 45, with the ball hitting Moss’ hands just inside the endzone.

He’s shown a lot of potential and ability, and he’s 3-1 so far as a starter.  Harbaugh seems to like the intensity and fire Kaepernick plays with, and it fits the personality he’s trying to instill in his football team.

How that translates into wins long-term remains to be seen.  In the end the decision has been made and it will be hard to go back now if it doesn’t work out.  The fact it was even made in the first place is definitely curious to say the least, and while it may have worked out here in New England, it’s a different set of circumstances.  Unlike Bledsoe Smith was playing well enough before this all unfolded and on paper, the numbers don’t back up the decision.

But the games obviously aren’t played on paper.  Smith for now has done enough to earn a job somewhere else after this season, because from some of the reports out of San Francisco it sounds like enough damage has been done where he won’t be around next year.

It’s a risky move to say the least, and Sunday night is the start of a final stretch of games for Harbaugh that will ultimately determine if it was the right one.