(SportsNetwork.com) - Jim Harbaugh is hardly the first coach to fall on his
sword for an underperforming quarterback but his reaction to queries about
Colin Kaepernick's recent struggles was perplexing.
"I think he's doing a heck of a job," Harbaugh told reporters earlier this
week when asked about his signal caller's issues. "I guess I'd be puzzled to
why people would think that (he is struggling). What's most important is what
we see. I'm puzzled to why you or anybody else thinks that."
Let's see. Kaepernick has thrown for a total of 218 yards over his past two
contests -- losses to NFC South heavyweights Carolina and New Orleans -- and
San Francisco has fallen 3 1/2 games behind the powerful Seattle Seahawks in
the NFC West.
He has thrown only 11 touchdowns in 10 games, his passer rating is a
pedestrian 81.8, and Kaepernick is ranked 31st in the NFL with a completion
percentage at 56.2.
Meanwhile, remember the knock on Alex Smith when he was leading things in San
Francisco? It was all about Smith's inability to make the big play and stretch
the field. Well, despite his prodigious arm strength, Kaepernick has produced
just 24 pass plays of 20-or-more yards in 2013, good for 30th in the NFL.
Puzzled now coach?
There are really only two explanations for Harbaugh's off-base critique of
He's either trying to protect his struggling frontman and being purposefully
disingenuous -- the most logical and acceptable answer -- or he is attempting
to deflect people from revisiting the benching of a guy who is currently
28-6-1 over his last 35 NFL starts (Smith).
Harbaugh looked like a genius at this time last year, devising what may have
been the best game plan of his career on "Monday Night Football" in Chicago,
turning Kaepernick into Superman against the NFL's most opportunistic defense
during an emphatic 32-7 Niners win over the Bears.
Expecting a run-first quarterback, the Bears were stunned to see a confident
Kaepernick stand steady in the pocket and throw for two touchdowns in his
first career start.
Playing in place of the injured Smith, who was suffering from the effects of a
concussion he sustained in a tie against St. Louis the week prior, Kaepernick
finished 16-for-23 for 243 yards and led the 49ers to scores on their first
Kaepernick's first game at the helm of the 49ers produced more yards and
touchdowns than Joe Montana's and Steve Young's debuts combined.
So, despite winning 20 of his last 26 as the quarterback in San Francisco
Smith, who is now 9-1 as the leader of the Kansas City Chiefs, would never
start another game for the Niners.
Kaepernick is now only 12-7 as the Niners starter since that explosive debut
in the Second City and that includes his impressive playoff run which ended
five yards short of a Super Bowl championship. As a regular-season starter, he
is 10-6, a good but certainly not great "full season."
Harbaugh has contributed to Kaepernick's woes this year by pulling back the
reins a bit, the result of seeing Baltimore's Terrell Suggs ignore the inside
run during the Super Bowl to take aim his QB time and time again.
What's supposed to set signal callers like Kaepernick apart, however, is the
dual-threat ability and while he is currently fourth among QBs with 335 yards
rushing, Harbaugh seems spooked to let Kaepernick loose because backups Colt
McCoy and McLeod Bethel-Thompson can't run the same type of offense.
On the other hand, the 49ers impressive supporting cast has masked some of the
hiccups in Kaepernick's game and more help is on the way in the form of
receiver Michael Crabtree, who returned to practice this week for the first
time after suffering a torn Achilles back in May.
Crabtree, though, probably won't be activated for Monday's game with the
Redskins meaning Kaepernick will have to finds other ways to get the ball down
field for at least another week.
"We'll see," Harbaugh said of activating Crabtree. "I think he's close."
To be fair to Harbaugh, Smith is what he is. The Utah product has never lived
up to his billing as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and has
settled in as a game manager, a tag most quarterbacks feel is comparable to
kicking their dog.
That said, a coach has to understand his own situation and this 49ers team is
good enough everywhere else to win a Super Bowl with a Brad Johnson-like game
Remember being 6-2-1 with Smith in 2012 and losing in the NFC Championship the
year prior wasn't good enough for this organization. So why is 10-6 over the
last 16 regular-season games with Kaepernick acceptable?
His purported big-play ability has been overblown, his accuracy spotty and
Kaepernick has lacked consistency from week-to-week, the very word Harbaugh
mistakenly used to describe him,
"He's been consistently good," the coach overstated. "He's been like that
every week he's been backup or a starter."
Now that's puzzling.
The Sports Network