The Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers introduced a valid and soon to be raging quarterback controversy into the Baghdad By The Bay area.
My initial response was to pooh-pooh the possibility that Alex Smith would be replaced by Colin Kaepernick this year, in mid-season. It is not a favorite tactic of either good NFL coaches or experienced cowboys to change horses mid-stream. One can easily end up being all wet.
But then I have re-watched the Bears contest for a second and third time, and Kaepernick IS more than impressive. He is quick to decide and quick to throw. He throws accurate, tight spirals that have speed and a low arc to connect on slants. His passes hit the receivers in stride and increased their YAC stats because of it. He had a complete grasp of multiple formations and plays and seemed to be in control of the extensive Jim Harbaugh playbook.
The only complaint I had was that he once held onto the ball too long and took a sack rather than throwing the ball out of bounds. Oh, and he overthrew a couple of guys.
Alex Smith is a good, solid and perhaps even great quarterback. His stats are way above average and his game sense is very good. He has a great win-loss record during the Harbaugh era of 19-6-1. On any NFL team, even one with high expectations like the 49ers, he would be a definite asset.
In addition, I have spent many hours writing and editing articles defending Smiths’ skill and value to the 49ers. I stand by all of them.
But Kaepernick may be one of those freaks to come on the sports scene once in a lifetime. His size, strength and speed are way above that of the normal quarterback.
The NFL is a league that thrives on strategy and power and speed. Every play depends on timing. A receiver runs a route with a metronome ticking in his head and turns to expect the ball at a certain beat. An offensive lineman hits a defender and moves him out of the way just long enough for the running back to slip by and break into the secondary. A running back blocks a blitzing defender, moving him back around the quarterback just long enough for the ball to be successfully thrown.
The quarterback is the maestro that conducts that timing. The quicker and more predictable he is, the more successful he and his team will be. A throw delayed a split-second may result in a drop, an interception or a sack. Timing is everything.
Colin Kaepernick was dead on with his timing during the Bears game. His receivers had a field day, catching balls in stride and running after the catch. He seemed to thrive on throwing while moving to escape blitzing defenders. Long passes were thrown and caught, shredding the Bears deep backs.
49ers fans that scream for the long ball must have been in NFL heaven.
It must have been frustrating for the Bears defense to have his passes arrive so quickly and accurately that they could not defend against them. Even Frank Gore benefited with handoffs that were exactly on time and made in the right place for him to hit the hole at the split-second while it was open. He made several 11, 12 and 13-yard runs that caught the defenders off balance.
It would make sense for Colin Kaepernick to play another game or two while Alex Smith heals up from a concussion. And it would make sense for Alex Smith to again take the helm when he is fully recovered, with Colin being the favored candidate for next season.
A lot will depend on how he handles his job against the Saints, who can strike quickly and normally post high scores. If he has another game like he did against the Bears, the controversy will deepen into fans and sports pundits demanding an immediate change. Even the coaches will have to seriously consider such a move, even with history being against such mid-season shifts in personnel at that crucial spot.
Whether Colin Kaepernick does replace Alex Smith as the number one quarterback of the 49ers is not yet known, of course. But the possibility is definitely out there, being discussed, argued over and picked apart by fans and sports writers alike.