49ers vs. Chiefs: QB Comparisons Begin Heading into Week 5


The comparisons between current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith comes naturally. As the two approach a head-to-head matchup on Sunday, the comparisons will begin again. With both the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs coming off a huge win in week four, this looks like a good matchup in the making.

The Chiefs absolutely dominated the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, proving they are a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.

The 49ers knocked off the formerly unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles, exiling some of their demons and proving that this team is just as good as the ones that have reached the NFC Conference Championship the last three years.

The history between the two quarterbacks is well known. Kaepernick replaced Smith in week 10 of the 2012 season when Smith suffered a concussion. Kaepernick would start every game for the rest of the season, leading his team to a 5-2 regular season record before guiding the 49ers to the Super Bowl. While he fell short on the grand stage, Kaepernick established himself as the 49ers quarterback of the future.

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Smith got the short end of the stick towards the end of his run in the Bay Area. He lost his starting job only because of his injury, not due to poor play. After he was cleared to play, he never got a chance to earn the starting job back, instead riding the pine and watching someone else guide his team to the Super Bowl. Before the 2013 season, Smith’s tenure in San Francisco ended when he was traded to the Chiefs.

Comparing the two signal callers is almost unfair. Smith and Kaepernick are two completely different quarterbacks. Keapernick is flashy, known for his huge runs and blazing velocity on his throws. Smith is much more subdued, being seen as the quiet game manager who makes smart throws and limits mistakes.

Both of these players are great athletes. Kaepernick has fantastic speed, and is one of the fastest quarterbacks in the game. Smith is not necessarily as fast as Kaep, but his athleticism and intelligence allows him to get outside of the pocket and make big runs despite being a bit slower.

Their running numbers are very similar. In 2013, both quarterbacks averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Kaepernick gained 524 yards on the ground, fourth highest in the league among quarterbacks, and ran for four touchdowns. Smith picked up 431 yards, good for sixth among passers, but found the end zone just once.

This season, Kaepernick and Smith are first and second in the NFL in rushing yards by a quarterback. Kaep enters week five with 189 yards. Smith owns 103 yards, but a better average yards total, with 6.1 per carry. Neither has a touchdown yet.

Passing is where these two are very different. Kaepernick has been known to make some bad throws, and his accuracy has been quite suspect at times throughout his career. He has a cannon for an arm, but he seems to trust his arm too much at times and makes extremely risky throws.

“[Smith]’s super intellegent. He has a very high-football IQ” – Chiefs QB Coach Matt Nagy

Smith is known throughout the league as one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league. In this 2013 interview with Chiefs Quarterbacks Coach Matt Nagy, Nagy described Smith as “super intelligent. He has a very high-football IQ.”

Smith is the prototypical game manager. He doesn’t have the deep ball accuracy to throw down the field constantly, but he makes up for it by making safe, smart throws to his receivers to just move the chains. He utilizes his tight ends and running backs very well as check-down options.

One knock on Smith is that he takes a lot of sacks, but that is another example of his football IQ. Smith will take a sack instead of forcing the throw to a covered receiver and risking a turnover. To a smart player like Smith, a loss of seven yards is much better than a loss of possession.

Kaepernick has also taken a lot of sacks and hits so far this year. But he has also forced a few throws to avoid the sack, resulting in interceptions. His game against the Chicago Bears is a perfect example of him hurting his team by trying to make plays in the face of a strong pass rush. Against Chicago, he turned the ball over four times, three by the way of interception and once on a fumble.

Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, both quarterbacks have experienced great success. In his short tenure with Harbaugh leading the way, Smith played extremely well, like a number one overall pick is expected to. He completed 64.3 percent of his pass attempts, threw 30 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, and compiled a 19-5-1 record as a starter.

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Kaepernick’s numbers have been very good as well. With Harbaugh as his coach, he has completed 60.9 percent of his passes, thrown for 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and owns a 19-8 win-loss record as the starter.

If these two are compared, Smith has enjoyed slightly better success. In fewer games, he owns a better winning percentage, completion rate, and touchdown-to-interception ratio. But Kaepernick has thrown for more touchdowns and yards, and his playmaking ability is what really sets him apart.

In 2014, both quarterbacks own a 2-2 record, but Kaepernick actually owns the better completion percentage, more yards and fewer sacks. Smith has thrown more touchdowns and fewer interceptions, and has been lights out over his last three games. Since throwing three interceptions in game one, Smith has completed 69.9 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no picks.

If someone were to ask me which quarterback is a better fit for the 49ers, my honest answer would be Smith. To me, Smith is the kind of quarterback who could perfectly manage the passing game while the focus is on the running game with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. He won’t make mistakes and will almost always put his team in a position to win.

Colin Kaepernick is not ready to carry to a team yet, judging by this season. But continuing with the comparisons, it took Smith seven years in the league before he really figured things out under Coach Harbaugh. Kaepernick is only in his second full season as a starter, and he has plenty of time to figure the game out.

Heading into their week five head-to-head contest, these two are looking to prove which one is the superior quarterback and settle the debate once and for all. Kaepernick will have to play a mistake-free game, maybe an almost Alex Smith-like game, to put the 49ers in a position to win.