By now we’re all pretty familiar with the eccentric genius that is Jim Harbaugh. He’s won a Coach of the Year award, successfully revitalized the 49ers franchise and Alex Smith’s career, and made the term “tough handshake” an NFL meme. Everyone understands that he’s smart, he’s fierce, and he’s dedicated to winning.
But there comes a point and time where a coach tries to be too smart for his own good, and we’re watching it unfold. I’m talking about the Colin Kaepernick experiment.
I get the idea. Coaches love mixing it up because they think it keeps defenses on their toes. And because of that one magical season where no one could stop Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat, everyone thinks it’s a viable offensive option. And it can be, sparingly: Kaepernick had the first two rushing TDs of his career this season.
But the problem with this sort of offense is that the pros don’t outweigh the cons. Sure, a couple of rushing TDs are nice, but when Colin comes in, it can disrupt the flow of the drive. Let’s look at a hypothetical situation the 49ers face this year. On 1st and 10, Smith tosses a 6 yard pass to Crabtree. 2nd and 4. On the next play, Smith connects with Vernon Davis for 13 yards and a 1st down. Then he hits Crabtree again with another 6 yard bullet, 2nd and 4. Then they decide to put Kaepernick in for a run play. He gets stuffed at the line, loss of 2. So now you have Alex Smith, who had completed 3 straight passes, come in on a 3rd and 6 situation. He just gained 25 yards in 3 plays, and his reward is to cool off while Kaepernick loses ground. Then, if Smith misses the throw or doesn’t get the extra distance, the drive is stalled.
Let’s look at a not-so-hypothetical situation. Last night in the 4th quarter, the Niners were driving on the Seahawks trying to put the game away. They were running the ball well and got inside the 10 yard line. After another running play, they let Kaepernick come in and set up in the shotgun. He proceeded to lose a yard, setting up an obvious passing situation on 3rd and goal from the 7. When they trotted Smith back out, he immediately threw an interception that killed the drive and kept Seattle’s hopes alive. I’m not saying that Smith would’ve fared better if he had stayed out on the field, but they may have done better on 2nd down, and they wouldn’t have been in such an obvious situation on 3rd.
In addition, Kaepernick has taken some shots down the field a few times rather than try to run, which also bothers me. I get that his running and passing makes him a dual threat, but you’d probably rather Alex Smith the one hurling deep bombs towards our Straight Cash Homey friend. There was a play against the Giants where Kaepernick tried to hit a deep pass on 2nd down and missed by a good 5 yards. I’m not saying Smith makes that pass 100%, but he probably has a better chance of it, seeing that he’s, you know, the starting fucking quarterback and all.
It makes no sense to disrupt a quarterback’s rhythm like that, especially one who isn’t exactly known for being an established quarterback. Smith had a good year last year, but his career before that has been marred by uncertainty and fear of losing his job. Having a 2nd year guy come in for no reason other than to “shake things up” can’t be good for Smith’s rhythm or confidence. And maybe it’s just coincidence, but Smith has already matched his total interceptions last year in the first 7 games.
The 49ers are in a pretty good position. They lead the NFC West, although not by as much as they would like. (Side note: the NFC West is the most competitive division in football, while the AFC East is deadlocked in a 4-way 3-3 tie. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, NFL?) They are still one of the best teams in the league. But with their hold on the division tenuous and the Falcons continuing to do well, the Niners can’t really afford to get cute. Kaepernick should be doing what most other backup quarterbacks do: holding a clipboard, going over play pictures during defensive possessions, and sticking pins into the Alex Smith doll he keeps under his bed.