It wasn’t that long ago that the San Francisco 49ers appeared to be centering the future of their franchise around Colin Kaepernick. With core players such as Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree all nearing free agency in the next season or two, the team would be forced to try and make their contracts work around the huge deal Kaepernick was expected to receive as the team’s franchise quarterback. After what may have been the worst performance of his young career in Week 10, a new contract should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. The real issue is whether or not Kaepernick can even be a productive starter in the league, let alone a franchise player.
After rising to stardom in 2012 and leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl, expectations were sky high for Kaepernick coming into 2013. Even with only 10 starts under his belt (including the playoffs) many thought that the 49ers were now Kaepernick’s team. Week 1 gave no indication to think otherwise as he dissected the Green Bay Packers to the tune of 412 yards and three touchdown passes. The sky was the limit for the Kaepernick.
Then, something happened.
It started in Week 2 at Seattle. The confident Kaepernick who had so often appeared to have ice in his veins looked confused and uncomfortable as he was chased around by a relentless Seahawks’ front seven. It looked as if Kaepernick was hesitant to let the ball go and was often unsure if he should take off and run for yards or try and make a throw. While some thought it may have been a product of trying to deal with the noise in Seattle, the same issues presented themselves in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts as the 49ers again struggled to get anything going offensively. In the back to back losses, San Francisco only scored 10 points combined and Kaepernick had trouble even completing passes. He went 26-of-55 in the defeats with no touchdowns and six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles).
After the loss to the Colts, the 49ers seemed to scrap the plan of centering the offense around Kaepernick and returned to the power running game. San Francisco was again forcing it’s will on opponents and as the team went back to centering the offense around Frank Gore, they began to win games again. Five straight wins with a dominating running game and an opportunistic defense helped the 49ers to a 6-2 record going into their bye.
Kaepernick was up and down during the winning streak, only throwing for over 200 yards once. In his defense, the 49ers were in control during most of the games and they did not need to pass the ball very much. It gave the team some hope that as players got healthy and Kaepernick got more comfortable, the passing game would start to open up. That all came to a screeching halt in Week 10 as the 49ers’ air attack was non-existent against the Carolina Panthers. Kaepernick completed only 11 passes of 22 attempts for 91 yards and failed to lead his team to an offensive touchdown for the second time this season.
So why has Kaepernick regressed so much from Week 1?
For starters, he seems incapable of switching reads once his primary receiver is covered. He freezes for a split second which, in NFL time, is an eternity in the pocket. That split second could be the difference between a sack and a completion. Moving forward that is a very concerning factor. It’s one thing if it happened early on and he’s adjusted, but he doesn’t seem to be growing at all in that department as the season wears on.
Kaepernick also seems to be afraid to cut it loose and make a mistake. A lot of that could be because of the play calling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who uses Kaepernick as if you would a quarterback who is completely immobile. Kaepernick mostly stands like a statue in the pocket and looks hesitant. When he does scramble, Kaepernick appears unsure of himself and often seems somewhere in between taking off to run and trying to make a throw. With running an after thought, he has only managed over 25 yards rushing in three of nine games this season. Roman seems unwilling to make adjustments in the passing game to help Kaepernick. Moving him around via bootlegs, running screen passes, etc. are ways to get him some easy completions and also diversify the offense.
As far as the players he has around him. The offensive line has looked over matched at times against teams with strong pass rushes, specifically Seattle and Carolina. While he has had pressure, Kaepernick has also made things worse by not making quick decisions with the football and taking more sacks that he probably should. This makes the o-line look worse than it actually is in pass protection.
Another issue could be the lack of receiving options beyond Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. A lot has been made about the receivers not getting separation but, unless one has access to the game films, that is very tough to make a definitive determination on. It could be a mixture of receivers not getting open and Kaepernick not being willing to throw the ball into a tight window.
While he has clearly regressed, one should remember that Kaepernick is still a young quarterback. He has only started 19 NFL games and has a lot of room for growth. The 49ers have to hope his play this season is just a young player taking his lumps, and not a quarterback who may have already peaked.
Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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