There has been controversy about the 49ers’ quarterback situation ever since Alex Smith was benched, but Colin Kaepernick silenced a few of those critics with a good game against the Cardinals on Sunday.
But is it a sign of things to come?
Kaepernick has been on-and-off, as he has dominated the Bears, Patriots and Cardinals while struggling against the Seahawks, Rams and Saints. He also had one balanced performance, in which he performed just like Alex Smith would, against the Dolphins, in a 27-13 win.
He was clearly rattled in the rambunctious environment that is CenturyLink Field in Seattle, as he threw one interception while almost throwing many more. He struggled immensely there, showing that he can be rattled on the road. That is a concern against the Falcons, in a dome, where it will be loud if the two meet in the NFC Championship Game.
However, a bigger concern is Kaepernick’s tendency to force passes. He has gotten away with some mistakes in his six starts, and if he is careless with the ball, the 49ers will lose. So, he will need to be careful, and even conservative, with the ball. His decision-making hasn’t been perfect, and turning it down a notch is a big thing to ask of a guy with six starts under his belt, especially in the playoffs.
I still think Alex Smith deserves to start, because he was the perfect compliment to a great defense and running game. While I don’t expect the pressure to get to Kaepernick, I do think that he will try and do too much, like we have seen multiple times.
I can think of a few near-interceptions off the top of my head that were mistakes by Kaepernick, and there won’t be many dropped interceptions in the playoffs. So, he basically controls how the 49ers do solely with his decision-making, not his performance. Assuming the 49ers play the Packers, Aaron Rodgers won’t be putting up 40 points. When they met at Lambeau Field, the 49ers allowed just 22 points, and seven of those were on a punt return.
The 49er defense should pummel the Packer offensive line if the two meet, so Kaepernick won’t have to be Superman to get a win. He will just have to control his emotions and play like he played in the Cardinals game.
Kaepernick is a very talented quarterback with the impact to change a game, but he hasn’t been better than Smith, in my opinion. He was clearly rattled against the Seahawks, and Greg Roman’s play-calling has made him less effective (abandoning the run when playing from behind). Kaepernick almost seems to panic and take too many shots downfield when that happens, which is concerning, especially with tough, tough opponents coming up.
Sometimes, his deep throws work out. Other times, they don’t. Usually, in the playoffs, they won’t.
If Kaepernick tries to do too much, opponents will take advantage. It’s exceptionally difficult for the strong-armed quarterback, but he has to take the “whatever I can do to help my team win” approach. It will make him even more dangerous if he isn’t taking an abundance of shots downfield, because he is a downfield threat.
He has Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, all three of which are playmakers. The 49ers are a very talented team, and they don’t need a heroic effort from the inconsistent Kaepernick. The Arizona game is completely not a sign of what is to come, since Kaepernick has been so on-and-off. The fate of the team lies in his decision-making.
So how much does his actual performance matter? Not very much.